Monash University Graduation ceremony

Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, distinguished guests and, most particularly, graduands.

Firstly, can I thank you Chancellor for the honour you have given me this evening.

I began my association with this University nearly 42 years ago.  I was a young man working and studying part-time.  For a time I was the most junior employee of the university.  I might not have been paid much, or had much to say about the running of the University, but Monash had a big influence on the rest of my life.  Basically, I was encouraged – encouraged to explore my potential and encouraged to stretch to achieve; encouraged not to take the easy way.

It was at Monash that I met the first of a number of very real and very important mentors in my life – Dr Lawrie Austin who was then a new staff member in the very new Department of Biochemistry.

Lawrie taught me a lot, encouraged me greatly.  I can say with certainty that it is because of him that I am here today.  He started me off.  I remember him with great affection and gratitude.  And were he here, I am sure he would be happy to drink a toast or two….or three with the first of the many young people he mentored.

Monash has changed a lot since those days; I remember little things – playing football in red mud, squash on ice-cold courts and cricket on rock-hard pitches.

But more significantly, I remember many of the people.  They were people building something – a new University in a town that already had one.   They strived to build a great University – and I was pleased to be a very small cog in that growing machine.  And it is fantastic to see what it has become – in just 42 years.

I learnt a lot about what you can do when you try, while I was here.  And how individuals efforts, and team efforts, both matter.

Some of the people from those days have been friends through the rest of my life.  I suppose as Rod Stewart said of just one of his girlfriends, I could say that Monash is in my heart and in my soul.

So Chancellor, I greatly appreciate an award that, in its way, binds me to the University and makes me part of it again – something I will always cherish.

Let me now offer my congratulations to all of you graduating today.  It is a great achievement; the culmination of a great deal of effort and the result of a great deal of commitment.  You can all be proud of what you have achieved – you have earned the right.  Monash will have an enduring influence on your lives – as it has had on mine.

You science graduates have joined a rather special group.  You have talents and skills and knowledge that our world needs if this planet is going to survive and if humanity can enjoy a safe, secure and sustainably prosperous future.

You are prepared now for the next steps in your life, and the next steps in your career. It is an exciting time I know, because if I try really, really hard I can just remember my level of excitement when all those years ago I took the step that you are taking today.

Simply put, my cohorts and I all thought that it was the start of something big; it was a real high – much better than any other type of high commonly experienced in the ‘60s and ‘70s – I am told.  We were going…out there; we had finished what we had set out to do.  We knew with the certainty of youth that we could change the world (we thought for the better!); we were tolerant, idealistic and wise beyond our years.  We thought.  The world was indeed our oyster.

If the world was our oyster then, it is yours today.  Like us then, your excitement will be partly because of the achievement we celebrate today, and partly from the fact that not everything ahead of you is predictable – many of you will feel that thrill of nervous anticipation.

There are challenges out there; some big ones.  But you are well equipped to meet them.

Because of your fine education, you will be confident in the value of the scientific method – you will know that evidence is the basis of good science; that hypotheses are there to be tested; that scepticism is at the core of science; that robust debate and the contest of evidence-based ideas, not beliefs, is how we progress scientific knowledge; that for science and its applications to be useful we must work within an ethical framework that is consistent with community mores; and you will be able to deal with uncertainty and with probability because you know there is little that is certain in the experimental or observational sciences.

Because of your fine education, you won’t be daunted by complexity but rather you will be excited by it.  You will use your own scientific discipline and work with others as they put their disciplines, and their culture, alongside yours as you search together to solve problems, or at the very least, change their impact.

You know that the world needs changing for the better, and you will be confident that you can play your part wherever it may be that you choose to use your skills and your knowledge.  You will know that committed individuals can make a difference.

There are indeed some big issues in this oyster of yours. Ones like climate change; degradation of arable land and soil fertility; food supply; fresh water; pandemics and health more generally; ageing populations alongside population growth.  And many more.

It will be people with talents and skills like yours, with an education like yours who will discover what we need to do and use that new knowledge to yield many of the answers we need.  It will be quality thinking and quality work in all the areas and countries represented here today, relevant work and ethical work that is transformed into products that will help human-kind to meet the challenges head on – and win.

One of the great things about graduations (and my best estimate is that this is close to my 150th ceremony so I do speak from experience) is that I have come away 150 or so times convinced that the world has a chance.  Not just because they are happy and celebrations; but because if you look closely you can see that the world, or parts of it, is in good hands.  You see graduates with the hopes and the aims and the freshness to do good things.  Graduates equipped to take us to new levels, as we search out what we are, why we are, and how we got to be where we are.  Indeed, that basic understanding is another of the great challenges of humanity – learning the very nature of things. And so, too, is taking what we have learnt and applying it for the benefit of humanity.

So let me leave you with four simple thoughts: be proud of what you have done; never forget the less fortunate or the less privileged  – they need you to use your  knowledge and skills wisely for their lot in life to be improved; be strong  – determine your personal values and stand by them; and believe in what you can achieve as an individual when you try.

Through all that you have done – and all that you will do – I hope that there is time for enjoyment.  I hope that you enjoyed your studies.  Enjoy your work. And for now, enjoy your celebrations.

I thank you sincerely for letting me share this evening with you.