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Speech

Young Community Leaders awards ceremony

Issue date: 
Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Speaker: 
Lt Gen The Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae, GNZM, QSO

Rau Rangatira mā, e kui mā, e koro mā, e huihui nei, tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou.  Nau mai, haere mai ra ki te Whare Kawana o Te Whanganui a Tara.  Kia ora tātou katoa.  Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, warm greetings to you all, and welcome to Government House.

I specifically acknowledge: Jan Dowland, Chair of the Wellington Community Trust, and Frances Russell, Chief Executive, and Areti Metuamate, previous winner of the awards, and our host for this evening – tēnā koutou katoa.

It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you to Government House for the Wellington Community Trust Young Community Leaders Awards ceremony.  This is the first time I have hosted this awards ceremony, which have always been presented by the Governor-General.  Dame Silvia Cartwright presented them for the first time in 2005, and our immediate predecessors, Sir Anand and Lady Susan Satyanand, hosted them three times during their term. 

At this point, I want to specifically acknowledge Wellington Community Trust chief executive Frances Russell, who has been with the organisation for 17 years and is retiring this month.  Most of the credit for the awards being presented here in the first place is hers.  I am aware that from the beginning, Frances was a driving force behind these awards, and so I want thank her for her contribution, and wish her all the best for the future.

Having been the Governor-General for almost two years now, I can confidently say we’ve enjoyed all aspects of representing Her Majesty the Queen of New Zealand.  There have been some very special moments, whether that has been swearing in the government after the election, hosting Waitangi Day events, watching New Zealanders win international competitions, or travelling overseas advancing our nation’s interests abroad.  However, the opportunity we have enjoyed the most has been meeting New Zealanders who are making a difference in their communities for our country. 

Sometimes that interaction occurs when we visit community groups, businesses, schools and universities.   Other times, it is through honouring New Zealanders who have achieved, either at investiture ceremonies, or community award ceremonies like this one.

One group of people we have really enjoyed meeting are New Zealand’s young people.  Our rangatahi, like the young people here today, are our nation’s greatest taonga – New Zealand’s future.   You are our greatest treasure because one day you will inherit this beautiful country and you symbolise our hopes and dreams for the future.

While all this is may seem self-evident, young people often seem to get a bad rap.  In letters to the editor, on talkback radio and on television and social media, young people are often described in the most critical terms.  A good example is in the following quote where one person expresses dismay at the behaviour of young people in the following way:  “My confidence in the youth of this generation is waning rapidly.  They are defiant of authority, either civic or parental, they have little respect for law, order and decency and they deride as out-dated the moral principle on which our society is based.  Their mode of dress is unbecoming to either sex and they are too preoccupied with themselves and their pleasures to observe even the simplest moralities.  I fear there is no hope for them.”

I’m sure it sounds familiar.  These comments, however, aren’t new, and nor are they recent.  They’re a constant theme for an older generation’s view of the “young”.  The comments I quoted were expressed almost 1,000 years ago by a Frenchman, Peter the Monk, also known, not surprisingly, as the Peter the Hermit, as he clearly didn’t get out much.

Well, I do get out.  And my experience is quite different.  Rather than having no hope for our young people, I have nothing but admiration for them.  So often they demonstrate commitment and a maturity way beyond their years, and certainly more wisdom than I showed at a similar age!

I see it in events like the recent Top Scholars Awards ceremony we hosted here at Government House where some of New Zealand’s youngest “beautiful minds” were recognised for their academic excellence.  I see it in the work of the Student Volunteer Army, which in the days and weeks following the earthquakes in Christchurch saw thousands of students gift hours of their time to clear tonnes of liquefaction.  I see it in the Young Enterprise Scheme where young entrepreneurs are creating successful businesses that challenge the way we do business. And I saw it when presenting the Anzac of the Year award to two 12-year-old boys who dived into 1.5m swells at a beach near Waihi to save a man who was caught in a rip and almost drowned.

And I see it in the recipients of the Wellington Community Trust Young Leaders Awards, which we will present this evening.  Tonight marks the fifth time they have been awarded.  In my view, the reason successive Governors-General have wanted to present them is because they acknowledge, recognise and celebrate the capital’s young leaders. The standing of these awards has grown because they recognise leadership and young people who are making a significant contribution to the Wellington community.  New Zealand needs leaders like you, and your on-going development is important for the future of our country.  

While there are 20 finalists, only five can receive the awards.  However, I want to congratulate all 20 finalists for reaching this point – it is a significant achievement in its own right and reflects your standing in the community.  By being a finalist for this award you have shown leadership qualities that set you apart.  They include compassion, integrity, a resolute determination to achieve and most of all a commitment to the service of others.  You are role models in all sense of the words.

Your sense of purpose reminds me of the words of a great New Zealander and humanitarian, Sir Edmund Hillary, whose achievements we celebrated earlier this month, when we marked the 60th anniversary of him and Tenzing Norgay reaching the summit of Mt Everest.  He famously said:
“If the going is tough and the pressure is on; if reserves of strength have been drained and the summit still not in sight, then the quality to see in a person is neither great strength nor quickness of hand, but rather a resolute mind firmly set on its purpose that refuses to let its body slacken or rest.”

To the 2013 Young Community Leaders I congratulate you on your achievements in winning this award.  Your service, aptitude and commitment to others have brought us together today.  And as “young community leaders” you have demonstrated that the under-25s do contribute “good”, do much to improve our community and do stand as examples of hope for all New Zealanders.  I for one cannot wait to see what you will do in the future!  Thank you.

Kia ora huihui tātou katoa.

Last updated: 
Tuesday, 18 June 2013

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