A note from Brett: the Governor-General on the importance of culture and taking risks

Last Saturday, I attended a graduation ceremony at the University of Melbourne, during which the Governor-General of Australia, Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC CVO, received an Honorary Doctorate of Laws. Ms Bryce delivered an occasional address to her fellow graduands, which I found deeply inspirational and suspect it would be equally inspiring for young people. It mentioned the importance of culture in our lives, and the need to take risk. I think it is useful for any creative person or young person to read, and so I’ve obtained a copy of the speech, some excerpts of which are below.

I hope you find it as inspiring as I did.


Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Faculty Deans, Graduands

Today my friends, signifies a marker in that most important journey of all, to the centre of oneself, understanding, knowing. I have been thinking very deeply about you, about your futures. I care about them very much, about what I want for you, what I expect of you, and for you. And as you might suspect, a grandmother of three score years and ten simply cannot resist giving advice and speaking from her heart on an occasion like this one. But before I do that, I want to thank the University for making this a most memorable day for me too.

I am honoured by your gesture that recognises my own journey, begun as a girl from a little country town in central western Queensland, inspired by noble ideals of justice, of fairness, of making the world a better place. Aspirations held close – always. Oh, youth, the strength of it, the faith of it, the imagination of it.

My friends, I have appreciated and enjoyed many visits to this much loved institution of learning, teaching, research and scholarship. Always impressed by your elegant classic architecture, and your techno-savvy design statements that enhance this city and engage strong opinions. There is something exceptional about this place that draws me in as I walk through the cloisters, crannies, pathways winding in and out, soft lawns under trees, spaces for laughter, for those conversations, testing theories and ideas – the essence of our halcyon days.

I respect your proud history, the way you value those academic traditions that really matter, and at the same time meet the challenges of being thoroughly contemporary in our modern society, as you constantly, energetically, stretch out for excellence. … That’s where we want our country to score; with our intellects, problem solving, innovation, creativity, exploration, expanding minds, nurturing brain power, encouraging a sense of wonder.

Graduands, here you are, scholars with academic excellence, knowledge across disciplines, community leadership skills. Scholars who are attuned to cultural diversity, active global citizens. As I look into your faces I am exhilarated by the possibilities that lie ahead of you. Your fields of study: education, law, commerce, business, are of enormous import to our country, to ensuring good futures for our citizens, recognising the dignity and worth of each and every one. They offer enriching personal and professional opportunities that my generation could only have dreamt about. Opportunities to give to share, to care. Opportunities for compassion, generosity. Be open to them. Grasp them in your hands. Say YES before you say NO. Ask yourself, “If not, why not?”. Be bold, be bold, be bold.

I want you to take good care of yourselves. Leave time for quietness, for true relaxation, for reflection, for the lovely things in life, poetry, music, romance, art, theatre; for those energies, enthusiasms, worthy causes, that develop and strengthen the inner resources we all need to draw on, especially in the dry gullies – the tough times. The stuff we need to help us face adjustments with courage, and triumphs with calmness and grace.

Graduands, I wish you the best of everything: good health, enduring friendships and love. I wish you exciting lives – with balance and promise – that you will stand your ground, and when necessary stand conventional wisdom on its head. Socrates asked the fundamental question “how should one live?”

He said this:

“Manage well the circumstances of the day.
Be decent and honourable in all your dealings with others
Bear easily and good naturedly what may be offensive in others – being as agreeable and reasonable as is humanly possible.
Do not be spoiled by your successes
Do not desert your true selves
Hold firm to goodness.”

Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Deans, Graduands, I can’t tell you how much it means to me to join your distinguished alumni today. Thank you my friends.

The above text is an excerpt from a speech by Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC CVO, Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, on the occasion of acceptance of an honorary doctorate from the University of Melbourne, 16 March 2013.

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