To the Principal and Board of trustees, the teachers, pupils and parents, greetings to you all.
Thank you for inviting me here today. It’s always a privilege to be with young people who are on the cusp of an exciting new stage in their lives, and I’m delighted to congratulate scholars who are working hard to uphold St Cuthbert’s enviable reputation for academic success.
Congratulations to the scholars – and to the people who helped make it happen for you – your teachers, your family and your friends.
If I am to give you a piece of advice as you transition to a new life after school, it is to be open to new possibilities.
Be prepared to give new things a go. You will never know unless you take risks and there is no shame in later deciding that you want to take a different course.
And don’t be too anxious to determine your career path early. Things often become clearer as you experience more.
I didn’t have any particular goals when I started my law degree, and I could never have imagined that after working for a time as a university lecturer and then as a lawyer, I would work for some years in the corporate world, become a Director of listed companies like Air New Zealand and Sky City, a Chief Crown negotiator for Treaty Settlement negotiations, co-lead an inquiry into our Security and Intelligence Services or indeed become the Governor-General.
I am the 36th person to hold vice regal office in NZ – the first was Governor Hobson who signed the Treaty of Waitangi on behalf of Queen Victoria in 1840 - though I’m just the third woman to take on the role. I am sure that the frequency of female Governors-General will increase in the future, but I am afraid I can’t offer any tips on a career path that will take you there – because there is none.
You are most likely to achieve success if you are doing something that you believe in, that interests you, and that you do well.
That could be anything from inspiring audiences with performance or artistic expression; it might be through using professional skills and knowledge; it might be educating the next generation; or starting a company or doing research; or through your words, your skill, kindness, and compassion, to assist others in times of stress and despair.
In other words, it could be anything, but whatever it is, try do something that brings you moments of joy.
While I have a captive audience, I shall take the opportunity to cast some light on a question you may very well be asking yourselves – and that is, what is the role of our Governor-General?
I will try to give you the short version of the answer.
As I’m sure you all know, New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy. Our Head of State is Queen Elizabeth and I am her representative for a five-year term of office. I perform the role of Head of State in NZ on behalf of Her Majesty.
For example, I swear in the new Government after an election and read the speech from the throne outlining what that Government intends to do.
I hold investiture ceremonies where outstanding New Zealanders receive Honours for their contributions, achievements and service to our country. In fact, I have just held five investiture ceremonies here in Auckland over the last three days, and will hold another four more ceremonies here next week.
In all, I will have conferred Honours on over 80 New Zealanders from an amazing variety of backgrounds and with some extraordinary achievements, like Distinguished Professor Dame Margaret Brimble and sportswomen Barbara Kendall and Lydia Ko, and many others who have dedicated large parts of their life to voluntary work for their community.
A similar number received their awards at Government House in Wellington two weeks ago.
I also receive new Ambassadors to New Zealand before they officially commence their duties. They come to Government House in Wellington to present their credentials.
When members of the Royal Family visit New Zealand, they often stay at Government House in Wellington. Like Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, when they visited last year.
Governors-General represent New Zealand at significant international events, such as funerals for other Heads of State, or significant commemorations, like the recent WW100 commemorations .
Within New Zealand, I have a community engagement role. My aim is to showcase and promote individuals or organisations that will help New Zealand to be a prosperous, inclusive and environmentally sustainable nation in the future. I am particularly focused on events or organisations that promote and support creativity, innovation, diversity and leadership. And I am Patron to around 140 different charities.
It’s a busy, complex and fascinating role.
You may wonder why New Zealand continues to be a constitutional monarchy in the 21st century. Especially where our Monarch is based in the UK.
It may well be that we will change that system of government in the future – but it’s good to remember that some of the most stable, egalitarian, and prosperous countries in the world – are also constitutional monarchies.
If and when we do decide that we want to change our system of government, your generation may be part of that decision-making.
Big decisions make us consider what we value. You are fortunate to have experienced values-based education at St Cuthbert’s, because that will help you decide what is right and wrong, and what path to take in the future.
As a nation, we have thought a lot about what we stand for in the aftermath of the Christchurch massacres.
Our collective values were brought into sharp relief, and I like to think that we united in deciding that respect, tolerance, empathy and compassion are the strongest weapons we have against the politics of hate and exclusion.
I like to think that we have agreed that we should not give oxygen to morally repugnant utterances and incitements to violence.
I like to think that we have realised how important it is to call out racism and other forms of discrimination relating to gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, or sexual preference.
We have a moral obligation to do what we can to make Aotearoa New Zealand a better, more inclusive country;
to work with others to achieve that goal;
and to encourage still more people to work for positive change.
Young people have a heightened awareness of the challenges of the 21st century – not least, mitigating the impact of seven billion people inhabiting the planet.
As Dr Jane Goodall reminds us, if we do our bit, and know that millions of others around the world are also making changes, we know that we can make a positive difference.
We can make changes and live our lives in much better ways, and I hope that the high achievers of St Cuthbert’s will take their place amongst the leaders who take New Zealand through that transition.
Once again, congratulations to St Cuthbert’s scholars, and I extend my very best wishes to you as you follow your dreams, wherever they make take you in the years ahead.
Kia ora huihui tātou katoa