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University of Otago Convocation

Issue date: 
Monday, 20 February 2017
The Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy, GNZM, CVO, QSO

E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga iwi o te motu e huihui nei, tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou.

Kia ora tātou katoa.

In the few months I have been in this role, it has been a joy to meet many young New Zealanders, hear what they have to say, and see their passion, their confidence, and their poise.

So thank you so much for inviting us here today. Sir David and I are delighted to participate in this important rite of passage in your educational journey.

When I accepted this invitation, I didn’t fully appreciate that I was expected to impart what I hope will be words of wisdom, drawn from my own experience.

My own university years suddenly seemed a very long time ago – and if the truth be told – I must confess that my own study choice was largely determined by what would enable me to leave home and experience the wider world.

I was ready to spread my wings – and I chose a subject not on offer at the time at my home-town university.

As it happened, that subject, law, actually suited me very well.

I began my career as a law lecturer, then moved to a law firm, becoming its first female partner – then to the corporate world and then to the public sector.

So it’s fair to say that I have been privileged to have had a varied career.

I could not have predicted any of it when I was 17 and about to begin my first year at university. And most definitely, I would not have imagined, in my wildest dreams, that I might end up being Governor-General.

I guess my message here is that – at 17 or 18 – you have no idea what is in store for you. The trick is to keep your eye out for opportunities as they arise – things that you might not have expected.

If they sound interesting, challenging, and exciting – even if they will take you in a new direction – then be prepared to give them a go.

And don’t be afraid to stop studying something if it isn’t quite right for you. Try something else. This was the point made by an inspirational guest speaker at a reception I hosted recently for top scholars from the International Baccalaureate exam for 2016.

Her name was Carla Boniolo. In 2011, Carla was notable for achieving a perfect score of 45 points in the Baccalaureate exam.

In her speech, she recounted how she embarked on a conjoint degree, in Law and Arts, but mid-way through her university studies, came to the uncomfortable realisation that she did not want to be a lawyer – even though she had been given a scholarship by a major law firm to assist her.

Instead she realised she wanted to teach – and she is now a secondary school English teacher, and she is very pleased with her career change.

Her message to the 2016 top scholars was that it’s OK to realise that you made the wrong choice. It’s OK to change and go in a completely new direction.

That seems very sensible advice to me.

Having said that, you might like to fast-forward the years and imagine yourselves looking back on your lives as you near retirement.

As hard as that might be, I want you to imagine what it would be like to play the movie of your life – recalling the things that you were pleased you did – the things you tried, the things you achieved, the places you went to.

I guess that is one way to identify your bucket list – it’s never too early to make one.

It’s the approach I am taking now, as I think ahead to 2021, when my term of office ends.

I have a vision of what I want to promote and achieve, in the years until then - and I have identified four particular areas where I want to make a difference.

These are: creativity, innovation, diversity and leadership – and I want to talk briefly about how these concepts relate to you at your time of life.

First – creativity. I am passionate about arts and culture – I cannot imagine how bleak life would be without music, literature, history, art, film, and performing arts.

To my mind, they are what makes us human and makes life worth living. They feed the soul and they are an expression of who we are and what we can aspire to be.

The All Blacks might be our most well-known ambassadors overseas, but New Zealand is also known for our creative talents.

From our world class film industry, that can produce internationally renowned films such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy as well as kiwi classics such as The Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Our fantastic opera singers such as Otago alumni Jonathan Lemalu and Simon O’Neill, the Flight of the Conchords, Lorde, Eleanor Catton, kapa haka – the cultural list goes on, and I will be banging the drum for them all.

If you have a creative talent or interest, foster and develop it. See where it will take you. Even if it remains only a hobby,it can provide you with a lifetime of enjoyment and pleasure.

There is a close connection between creativity and my second focus – innovation. This is about adding value; finding new, smarter and better ways to do things.

We need this kind of thinking to address significant issues like climate change, waste management and pollution, conservation, sustainable food production, the eradication of disease and predator control.

We need it to develop further expertise in the digital realm, which has led to such exciting developments in areas as diverse as our screen industry, IT, engineering, medicine and design.

We need such skills and approaches for a flourishing, sustainable 21st century economy. Fortunately, our universities are in the business of turning out such people and no doubt some of this year’s Otago first-years will succeed in joining the ranks of New Zealand’s successful researchers, scientists, and entrepreneurs.

My third focus is diversity.

In New Zealand, a special focus of diversity is the relationship between the partners to the Treaty of Waitangi.

My experience as a Crown Negotiator for Treaty Settlements and my recent visit to Waitangi reinforced the significance of the relationship forged between Māori and my earliest predecessor, Governor William Hobson, in 1840, and it will be my privilege to continue and develop that connection.

Our sovereign nation was formed on the basis of a Treaty that asks us to respect and value difference, to listen, to act in good faith, and to seek to understand other perspectives. These attributes are to be valued in an increasingly diverse, globalised world.

The Treaty Grounds at Waitangi convey something of that positive spirit. It is a very special place – steeped in history, and one of the most beautiful spots in New Zealand. I recommend a visit to a new museum in the grounds. It vividly conveys how the Treaty came about and what it promised.

So much of our history has been a response to that document, which has also become such an important part of our constitutional framework – and having a good understanding of it is central to what it means to be a New Zealander.

Another area of interest related to diversity is gender equality. Through my work in 2016, before I became Governor General, chairing the joint working party on Pay Equity, I am aware that there is still much to be done. We cannot take the gains of the past for granted, and women have to remain vigilant about seeking the same opportunities for advancement and pay as their male counterparts. I was at University in the 1970s, when women’s liberation was an empowering and exciting concept.

It has been with a sense of déjà vu that I have seen the re-awakened passion in the recent women’s marches that have taken place around the world. Women’s rights remain an important touchstone for women in NZ and around the world.

Ethnic diversity is a fact of life for us in New Zealand. A quarter of our total population was not born in New Zealand, Some 200 languages are now spoken in Auckland and within a few years one half of its population will have been born outside New Zealand.

To those of you who are the children of recent migrants – your parents or grandparents came here for a better future and your Otago experience will be a part of that dream. Be proud of your own cultural traditions and use your years here to confirm and cement your place as a New Zealander.

To those of you who came here from another country - in order to be educated at Otago – a warm welcome to New Zealand. I hope your experience here will help you reach your life goals.

On your return to your country, we know that New Zealand will benefit from your friendship and your understanding of this country and our interests.

My final focus is on leadership.

I will seek opportunities to acknowledge the success and achievements of people who are making a significant and positive difference in their field, or in their communities.

I encourage you to become one of those people in the future. You all have potential to contribute, to achieve, to make your mark.  If you are lucky, you will have had mentors who have given you this message already, and I am now just adding my voice to theirs.

Our future leaders are amongst you. You hold the future in your hands. No pressure!

You are fortunate to have made it to university; take that gift and run with it – as far as you can – and don’t be scared to explore your potential. You will not always succeed at everything you try, but you can learn from your failures.

Your University studies will develop your powers of rational thought and will give you a useful toolbox of skills.

I hope your studies will also expose you to the insights of great minds, challenge your preconceptions and lead to a greater understanding of the ethical, social, political, economic and environmental dilemmas that beset the world.

In this way, you will be better equipped to take your place in society and assist us as we all work together for a better future.

Congratulations to all of Otago’s first-years for showing such excellent taste in selecting this venerable university.

Dunedin is tailor-made for student life and I am sure that you will remember your years here fondly. The lessons that you will learn – and the friendships that you will make – will stay with you for life and will immeasurably broaden your horizons.

All the very best as you embark on your academic endeavours.

Kia ora, kia kaha, kia manawanui, huihui tātou katoa.

Last updated: 
Monday, 20 February 2017

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