A Nation of Opportunity

  • Deborah Morris
Youth Affairs


Good evening, and thank you for the invitation to speak to you tonight. In particular, thank you for the lovely meal. I'm sure you are all excited about the prospect of leaving school, but equally so some of you may feel daunted by what the future holds.

What is the world you are about to enter?

The key message to you tonight is this: the key to success is in your hands already. Although your life will probably be a whole lot different from school, it is up to you to make it happen - and you can.

We all know that the way of living has changed quite dramatically in New Zealand in recent times. We have experienced major economic and social change throughout all spheres of society. New Zealand is a different place to the one that our parents grew up in.

Often the youth of today are characterised as having more freedom and choice in the range of social, cultural, learning and working lifestyles. However, the changes have also brought, in many cases, a perceived uncertainty about the future.

Some would say that today the young face insecure employment conditions, costly education, prolonged dependence on their families and a variety of deteriorating social issues.

However, I would challenge that.

Sure, today is different from the past if we look back with rose-tinted glasses. However if you remove the soft warm-fuzzy view of the past what do you really see?

Twenty five years ago New Zealand was a country where:

only the Government could broadcast television programmes;
workers were obliged to join a trade union
movies took up to 18 months to arrive
there were just two types of refrigerators; and
to buy margarine you needed a doctor's prescription.
What a bizarre place!

As we look towards the year 2000, I believe we can afford to laugh at the State control of the past, and look with pleasure to the future. A country that is safe, healthy and enterprising.

We are living in a nation of opportunity.

The only catch is, that you have to find that opportunity. It's not delivered on a plate.

Some time around 400 B.C., during a period in China known as the Age of Warring States, there arose a general from the state of Ch'i known as Sun Tzu. His ability to win victories for his warlord gained him fame and power.

Sun Tzu knew the value of opportunities. He said, "Opportunities multiply as they are seized".

He was right. Another rather well known book said, "Seek and ye shall find".

That's another truism.

Sometimes it's not easy though, and that is going to be your task over the next few years.

The world is a complicated place and so are the problems we face. Complex problems cannot be resolved easily by Government or individuals with the stroke of a pen on a cheque book or the flourish of a sound bite in the media.

But they can stay solved if you are presented with freedom of choice and opportunity, the rights of reward and enterprise, and people's obligations to themselves, their families and their communities.

If you have the tenacity or stick-ability, and the right attitude you can achieve everything. I can vouch for these attributes. Add to them the opportunity that our parents and education present us with and the world is your oyster.

I will always remember what my mum frequently said to me. She said, "You can do what ever you want, as long as you can live with the consequences".

Consequences, of course, aren't always bad. I hope you discover the positive consequences that follow the choices you take from here on.

At this time in your life, as you move on to the next stage you'll become aware of a huge range of new 'rights' that you have. Many of these are fundamental to the way we live and co-operate with each other. But it's important to remember that rights are more than something you should just demand because 'they are your right'. With everything we do, we have responsibilities too.

A decent society is not based on rights. It is based on duty. The duty to show respect and tolerance to others.

Personal experiences

So, those are some of the things that characterise the road to success. However we also need to be aware that we all have different values and success can often mean something different to each of us. As you get older it is likely that your view of what being successful is will change. Certainly my goals and aspirations have shifted in the past ten years. It's not that today's goals are necessarily any better, they are just different. When I was in the 6th and 7th form.... [ad lib]

Being true

Most importantly, you should always be true to yourself. Follow your path, not the path that you think others want you to follow. If you're doing something you really want to do, then it is much more likely to be achieved.

The quote by Henry Ford, the great maker of cars said it well: "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you are usually right".

The truth is, our success will not depend on what we say today - but on what all of us do tomorrow. You are tomorrow.

I am reminded of a great scene in the film 'Apollo 13', where during the troublesome effort to get the spaceship home, the air filtering system broke down, and the astronauts were put at great danger of suffocation.

On the ground, the NASA staff gathered up everything that was available on the spacecraft and dumped it into a room with their top engineers and boffins. The director looked them in the eye and told them that they had one hour to find a way to build a new air filter that worked.

And then, in case there was any confusion, he added, "Failure is not an option".

For you too, failure is not an option. The world is yours, even if you only view it through the Internet. In what ever you do, you are the key to your own success. Conclusion

Finally, I'd like to close my remarks tonight by congratulating you all on what you have achieved so far. Of course there are others in your life who will have helped. You and I have many to thank.

I want to pay my thanks, on your behalf, to your teachers, school staff and, of course, your parents.

None of us exist in a vacuum - even if we sometimes get carried away by our own pre-occupations. It's all about working with each other to make things happen. And, it can happen for you.

Thank you.