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Wellington College Dinner

Issue date: 
Thursday, 30 October 1997
The Rt Hon Sir Michael Hardie Boys, GNZM, GCMG, QSO

First let me say how pleased we are to be here tonight. This is a great school, with a fine record of educational excellence. My wife's father, and his brother, came here, so did both my ADCs and I am proud to be an old boy, and very proud too of the fact that I am the fourth New Zealand Governor-General to have been educated at Wellington College. It's something I like to emphasise, perhaps not always very tactfully, when I visit other schools.

I was here the year before last, at Mr Rees-Thomas' last Assembly, when we had a reunion of 6A of 1948 — what a long time ago that was. There were only 12 of us in the class; one had died, and several were living overseas, so we were a small group. But out of the 11 survivors, there were six University Professors, some of world renown, one of our leading scientists, an eminent doctor. Everyone had in one way or another made a major contribution to society. Some of us are going to meet again next month, and we will pause to remember another outstanding old boy, Paul Wilson, who was head prefect a couple of years after our time, and who became a leading orthopaedic surgeon, and who died just the other day.

But we were simply typical of Wellington College, of the quality of the teaching, of the goals that were set for us. Over the years since, I've been thrilled to read of the successes boys and old boys have achieved in so many ways : in sport, in examinations, in art and music and drama and debating, in the professions, in business, in science, in every area of human endeavour.

The school was a rather different place back in 1948. We had imposing buildings and a magnificent assembly hall, but they all became, not long after, the victims of bureaucratic vandalism; everyone wore shorts, socks to just below the knee and caps to just above the right eye. As you are today, we were strong in sport and in scholarship, but of course we had no computers or calculators. The world into which we ventured when we left school was rather different too. The country was united by the demands and the fears of the Second World War, it was a pretty egalitarian society, by and large we shared common values of integrity and decency, of responsibility and compassion. There was no television, no hard drugs, the newspapers reported news, no-one knew or cared much, unfortunately, about the Treaty of Waitangi, sex was a very private , or at least discreet activity; everyone could get a job. You didn't have to pay to go to University.

The school has changed, and the world about it has changed. Many of the changes have been wonderful, some not so. The challenges you fellows face when you leave school are such as we could not have dreamed of. Yet I believe that those basic values that we had in common are just as valid and just as important today, just as sure a rock on which to found our lives, as ever they were. I say that because I don't see much future in some of the ideas that have been around for a while now — the basic idea that what's good is what's best for you, that your own gratification is the only thing that matters. It's that sort of thinking that I believe lies behind so much of the unhappiness we see and hear about every day. Because it results in some people scrambling over everyone else to get to the top of the heap, and the rest being left resentful, purposeless, feeling alienated, rejected. And so we have addicts and street kids and so much violence, and poverty and a dispiriting level of welfare dependency.

OK, OK, you'll be thinking, but we haven't come here to listen to a recital of society's woes, we've come here to celebrate. And so we have. This Dinner is something new to me, and I think it's a great idea. I am all for celebrating achievement, and for recognising that we can all achieve in different ways. One school obviously can't celebrate all those ways, but I am so glad that you celebrate not only sporting achievement, but that you also celebrate as equally important, achievement of the mind and the spirit; for that I imagine is what is captured in the cultural awards. Warmest congratulations to those who are especially honoured tonight. But equally, congratulations to all others who have succeeded, in their own ways, and to all who have helped them succeed : teachers, parents, friends. No-one can reach the top on their own. We all depend on others to help us along. And that applies to everything we do. But watch where others lead you. [Wittgenstein story.]

A couple of weeks ago, we went out to Taita to the CCS Mini Olympics. There were about 90 youngsters, mostly primary school age, all physically disabled in some way or another, some of them very severely. They had field events and swimming, and we saw them racing C some running, some in wheel chairs, some in walking frames. The determination and commitment they showed would put most of us to shame. It's hard enough to win a sprint or a distance race when you are fit and strong. But how much harder, how much more determination it takes, to run when your legs won't work properly, and every movement has to be an act of sheer will power. The joy on their faces as they finished the course, even if well behind the winner, brought tears to our eyes. They had set themselves a goal and had reached it. You see, their games had been opened by one of our great paralympians, and she had given them this simple piece of advice : always strive to do your best; but don't stop there. Keep going for that little bit more than you thought was your best. And the realisation that they had done just that, shone from their faces.

But she didn't stop there. She taught them a song, and I'd like to read you a bit of it. (I promise I won't try to sing it). It goes like this :

You must have known someone like him / He was tall and strong and lean

With a body like a greyhound / And a mind so sharp and keen

But his heart was just like a briar / Which twisted round itself

So almost everything he did / Brought pain to someone else.

Oh, what's the use of two strong legs if you only run away?

And what's the use of the finest voice if you've nothing good to say?

And what's the use of strength and muscle if you only push and shove?

And what's the use of two good eyes if you can't see those you love?

It's not what you've been born with, it's what you choose to bear;

It's not how big your share is, it's how much you can share;

It's not the fights you've dreamed of, it's those you really fought;

It's not what you've been given, it's what you do with what you've got.

One of my predecessors, Sir Keith Holyoake, used to say at award ceremonies, that he hoped the winners would see their award not as a mattress, but as a springboard. A springboard to further and greater achievement, certainly. But also a springboard to leadership and through leadership, to service. Those who achieve, like those honoured tonight, are, whether you like it or not, looked up to by others as examples, as role models. You set the standards, you set the pace, for others. What sort of standards are they to be, what kind of pace? Surely the song is right. It's not the talents, the skills, the abilities we have, that are really important. It's what we do with them. Let me give you a cautionary tale to illustrate that.

Californian Court : Lawyer : before you signed the death certificate, had you taken the pulse. Pathologist : No. Did you listen to the heart? No. So, when you signed the death certificate, you weren't sure he was dead, were you? Well, let me put it this way C the man's brain was sitting in a jar on my desk. But I guess he could be out there practising law somewhere.

The first Wellington College old boy to become Governor General was Sir Bernard Freyberg, later Lord Freyberg. He had commanded the New Zealand Division in the Second World War, in Greece, and Crete and North Africa and Italy. He was one of the great generals of the war, an outstanding leader of men, and under the inspiration of his leadership the men of the New Zealand Division were perhaps the most respected of all the troops in that War. He was a fine athlete, and a champion swimmer. He just about made it across the English Channel twice, but his greatest swim, for which he was awarded the DSO, was at Gallipoli. The original plan was to put a number of his men ashore to light flares along the coast to trick the defenders into believing that that was where the landing was to take place. But Freyberg was not willing to risk the lives of any of his men in that way, and so he volunteered to swim ashore himself. And that's what he did, in the middle of the night, in bitterly cold water, for three hours, going ashore several times, and swimming two miles or more.

Later on in the war, on the Western Front, in France, he was awarded the Victoria Cross for what was described as the most distinguished personal act in the whole war. Despite having just returned to the fighting after being seriously wounded, and being wounded three more times in the course of the action, under fierce bombardment he led his men to capture an important vantage point. He was fearless, and always led from the front. He was a true hero, perhaps Wellington College's greatest son. I was at school when he became Governor-General and I remember him as a very simple man, but a commanding man, who whenever he spoke challenged people : not to be soldiers, but to be leaders; leaders not in war, as he had been, but in peace, not on the battlefield, but in their schools and communities : a task just as demanding.

And that is the challenge this Governor-General wants to give you tonight : a challenge to you achievers to be leaders. Let's remember that achievement is not an end in itself, any more than anything else is, education itself included. Just as important as the skills we acquire, is the way we use them. Just as important as the money and status we may earn through our skills, is the way we use them. In the end, there is no lasting fanfare for those who use their gifts just for themselves. The standing ovations are earned and the greatest satisfaction is achieved, by those who employ at least some of their talent in leadership, and in the service of others.

Thank you again for having us here. I wish all you boys continuing success in all you undertake. I know this great school will continue to flourish.

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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