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Speech

Wellington College Prize Distribution

Issue date: 
Thursday, 14 December 1933
Speaker: 
Viscount Bledisloe, GCMG, KBE, PC

Our nearest neighbours both in Wellington and in Auckland are important scholastic institutions. The propinquity of these two centres of higher education is a constant reminder to me, as the nominal head of your National Executive, that the training of mind, body and spirit is the richest endowment that any country can possess or confer - the cultivation of that prolific human garden which, if neglected, can so easily become a wilderness, but, if rightly cultivated, can become a thing of infinite beauty and utility.

I have studied with interest the report of your much-respected headmaster. It shows that during the past year of economic tribulation your numbers have been more than maintained, employment has been found for those leaving the school, a high standard in school games and athletics has been maintained and several records broken, and new enterprises - notably the Travel Club, with its yearning after fuller knowledge of the world - have been initiated. All this indicated commendable vitality and progress in face of financial handicaps and occasional shortage of teaching staff. The same report refers with gratitude to the loyal and generous support accorded to the school by the parents and the Old Boys' Association and with pride to former students who have by well-deserved public recognition brought lustre to the school and justification to the efficiency of its past scholastic training. Sir Alexander Gray was a righteous and lovable man and an eminent lawyer, and both his great profession and the community at large are the poorer in consequence of his lamented death. The appointment of Theodore Rigg to the Directorship of the Cawthron Institute - notable throughout the Empire for the thoroughness , accuracy, and economic value of its agricultural researches - was a well-merited recognition of scientific genius and administrative capacity, which, unless I am much mistaken, will carry him in due course to the highest rungs of the scientific ladder. I join with you in wishing him all success in his new and responsible position.

Your headmaster has referred to the necessity for adapting our system of secondary education to the changing needs of the modern world, to the value of elementary biology as a school subject, and to the danger and inutility of mutual segregation of various branches of learning in separate watertight compartments. These suggestions are all worthy of serious and sympathetic consideration, and I feel confident that the educational authorities will pay due heed to them. Apart from the fascination of biological study and the wonders which biological research is every years revealing to us in larger measure, the increasing recognition of biological factors as influencing almost every department of human activity is opening up possibilities of remunerative vocational employment which were undreamt of even a decade ago. The study of the sciences of life is calculated to stimulate the imagination, broaden our outlook, and invoke creative zeal. I can well remember a mental tonic which I derived a few years ago after driving through the middle of one of the big trees - the Sequoia gigantea - of the Mariposa Forest in California, the trunk of which stretched right across the roadway, on realizing that I was surrounded by the oldest living things in the world, which had commenced their lives from five thousand to seven thousand years ago. A similar stimulus to the imagination is evoked whenever I call to mind that cultivated land, whether pasture or arable, is no lifeless inert mass, but that in every square foot of its top four inches there are myriads of minute living creatures - micro-organisms -eternally active in the process of fertilizing the soil which yields food for man and beast and carrying on a constant battle with other minute organisms which are intent on depriving it of its fertility. Similar activity on the part of living germs within our own bodies is affecting our physical condition for good or ill. A good example of the danger of pursuing knowledge in watertight compartments can be furnished by the theory held and taught by Liebig and other agricultural scientists a hundred years ago, that soil fertility depended solely upon certain chemical constituents and that the growth of a plant was proportionate to the availability of these constituents in sufficient quantities. The biologist and the physicist have since taught us that plant growth depends at least as much upon the "liveliness" of the soil and its physical condition as on the chemist's medicines. The tendency of medical science, as of agricultural science, is to enter into partnership with Nature and to encourage her own beneficent agencies rather than to supersede them.

The problem of the day is to make education sufficiently expansive to secure breadth of vision on life's problems and at the same time to avoid that nebulous vagueness of specific knowledge which makes for vocational mediocrity and want of thoroughness and accuracy.

New Zealand is a great little country with an area only 8,385 square miles greater than that of the Motherland and a population one twenty-eighth of hers, more British than that of Britain, and more highly favoured by Nature than any other part of the far-flung British Empire. But it is situate in mid-ocean, remote from the great centres of the world's industry, wealth, culture, and in days when the aspirations and activities of all civilized peoples inevitably act and react upon one another its great outstanding danger for the future is insularity of outlook, reflecting that of its geographical location and calculated to clog national progress and development. Boys, be ever on your guard against narrowness of vision, whether in religion or in ethics, in politics, economics, or social relationships. But, while using your own good judgement, trained in the wholesome atmosphere of this renowned school, in relation to the problems which may confront you, hold on courageously and tenaciously to those fundamental anchorages of honesty, truthfulness, and morality, without which no nation can attain to greatness and no civilized being can secure true happiness or maintain his self-respect. There is a species of broad-mindedness claimed by the self-styled "man of the world" which praises or glosses over falsehood and moral turpitude, blunting the keen edge of virtue and affrighting weak characters into desertion of principles and the scrapping of those ideals which are fostered at every great public school.

You come here to be educated. Education does not mean the mere acquisition of knowledge, but the process of applying wisely and usefully the faculties with which you are endowed. Its aim should be human wisdom and the ultimate benefit of the body politic rather than the self-satisfaction of the individual. Indeed, knowledge, coupled with human conceit, may effect the breakdown of civilization. It is noteworthy that the Bible - the best of all books - does not extol knowledge, but it does extol wisdom and sternly denounces human vanity. It, moreover, appears to rank truth in front of all other virtues. In this land of Nature's gentlefolk, the splendid definition of a gentleman in Psalm XV - known sometimes as "the Gentleman's Psalm" - is well worthy of constant repetition and reminder. It is the attributes of the character there portrayed, who, above all, "speaketh truth in his heart," which are particularly characteristic of our British race and have resulted in all important contracts in the South American Republics being executed "on the word and honour of an Englishman." If you are faithful to the great traditions of your race you will never pretend to be what you are not or say what you know to be untrue.

Closely associated with truth is the love of beauty and purity, and, above all, the beauty and purity of unspoilt Nature, which as part of your national heritage, you should ever scrupulously protect from desecration and spoliation. True education should not only be the fount of wisdom, but also the foe of vanity, self-sufficiency, or intolerance. Education is a great outstanding privilege, and every privilege has its corresponding duty, especially if the privilege is conferred or enhanced by the State. If it breeds intellectual conceit, class segregation, or contempt for those less fortunately endowed, it fails in its purpose. Its main function in forming and ennobling human character is stultified and sterilized if it eventuates in a self-satisfied individual, a social Pharisee. It then becomes a positive danger to the common weal, a sprag in the wheels of communal progress and social evolution. Education should in any normal individual of well-balanced judgement evoke and generate not intellectual or social monasticism, but broad-minded, tolerant, humble, and thankful human sympathy. Let is prepare every fortunate young New Zealander for his vocation in life, but let that vocation and the cultural leisure and pleasure, for which collegiate experience so richly equips him, be made the stepping-stone or the opportunity for promoting the greater happiness, contentment, and edification of the community at large. The constant self-interrogation of those in this Dominion who receive the priceless advantage of a good education should be "What can I do, what am I doing for New Zealand, which has done so much for me?" And in appraising the value to the nation of a good education in a young country like this lest us not be blind to the claims and needs of its rural population and the sane and sound leadership which it is entitled to look for from the human output of our chief schools and university colleges. Farming is your greatest national industry. Upon its enlightened conduct and its commercial success depend to a preponderant extent the opportunities and monetary rewards of professional vocations and of other industries. No vocation provides more abundant scope for a full, varied profoundly interesting, and elevating life, rich in opportunities for enriching our country or satisfying the needs of mankind. There is no worse snob, no more narrow-minded ignoramus, than he who regards or stigmatizes farm husbandry as relatively inferior to other vocations, or the garb of the rural worker as a badge of social or intellectual decadence by contrast to the stiff collar and black coat of the urban professional man.

Go forth, boys of Wellington College, to the enjoyment of a Merry Christmas, rejoicing in the conscious vigour of your youth and the enormous power for advancing human happiness that you possess, determined that so far as lies in your power you will each and all enhance by your achievements, however splendid or however humble, the reputation of the great institution whose colours you wear and whose fine traditions it is your duty to uphold.

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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