Victoria University Graduation Ceremony

  • Georgina te Heuheu
Women's Affairs

Michael Fowler Centre Wellington

What an honour it is to be here today with you, graduands, to acknowledge and celebrate your achievements. It also gives me great pleasure to acknowledge your family, friends, and lecturers who are here today to share your success.

What can I say? Congratulations! Kia Ora! Awesome! You did it!

Sure you were supported by family and friends. But it was YOU who kept the long hours. YOU who crammed for the exams. YOU who sat them. And YOU who passed them. And now YOU have a formal certificate to prove it. No-one can take that from you - ever.

This day truly belongs to you. And armed, as you are, with a professional degree, along with others of your peers also graduating at this time around New Zealand, the future of our country belongs to you.

There is another reason why I am so honoured to be here today as your guest speaker. It was from this university that I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Laws.

In 1972, when I graduated from Law School, I was the first Maori woman to do so. While my family and my tribe, Ngati Tuwharetoa of Lake Taupo, took some pride in that fact, I like to think that the reputation of this Law School and this University was also enhanced in some small way.

Victoria thank you. I am proud to call this University mine. Some things have changed a great deal since I left Law School. When I was studying Law, less than 10 percent of the class were women. When I was admitted to the High Court as a Barrister and Solicitor, of the 60 odd admissions, only six of us were women.

Last year, approximately 58% of all graduating law students were women. And as I look around this hall, I surmise that over 50% of law graduates here are women.

The increase in the number of women graduating in all disciplines represented here today is impressive. And that is as it should be. Because the challenges ahead for our country are significant as we move to the new millennium.

And it will be the case that you, as our future leaders, will be at the forefront of those challenges. At times like this I am reminded of the words of the jurist Hoehfeld, who said:

"For every right there is a responsibility, for every privilege received a duty is owed."
A similar notion is to be found in this Maori phrase:

"Ko tou rourou. Ko taku rourou. Ka ora te iwi."
A literal translation is:

"With your foodbasket and my foodbasket the people will be well.
In the modern context this can be translated as meaning:

""With your contribution and mine, we shall all prosper."
Both statements carry a simple but important message. It reminds us that we have a responsibility beyond ourselves, in return for the rights and privileges we enjoy. We have a responsibility to all the communities that we are a part of, be they domestic communities or global.

And speaking of contributions to wider communities, the community that I graduated into was significantly different to that of today.

I started my life in the working world with the prospect of being able to choose any career I wanted to, and to do so in my own time.

In 1972, there were only 39,000 students at universities around the country. Today there are 114,000.

In 1972, we danced to the disco beat, ate fondue and we drank Cold Duck wine - if we were sophisticated - beer if we weren't.

In 1972, the Treaty of Waitangi was almost nowhere to be seen. 364 days of the year it was consigned to legal closets or to footnotes in our history books. Once a year it was bought out on Waitangi Day and then put away again.

Thankfully, however, it has always been at the forefront of Maori thinking, and since its signing, has been the focus of Maori advocacy, Maori endeavor, and Maori commitment. That is why, today, the Treaty is everywhere. It is the platform for partnership that enhances every aspect of our bicultural nation. Its principles are given recognition, both in the public and private sector. It is now everywhere - as an integral part of the fabric of our society.

In 1972, ours was a skills based society. Today, however, the focus is very much on knowledge. The big challenge you face today is that you are not just competing with other New Zealand graduates for a place in your chosen field. You are also competing with graduates from around the globe.

The upside is that your success will be recognised internationally.

In 1972, the business environment was highly regulated. Market access for our goods was dependent on the benevolence of Mother England. 30 percent of our exports went to Britain compared to just 6 percent now.

Consumers had little choice, and subsidies for inefficient businesses were the flavour of the day. Farmers were guaranteed a minimum price for their meat no matter what the market price.

In 1972, the Government had a say in most aspects of our lives and government departments ran everything. And as we were later to find out, not with a lot of efficiency.

Today, however, the State runs a leaner and meaner ship. We have given the Private Sector the responsibility of running many former Government enterprises.

Businesses now operate in a competitive environment and foot it well on the world stage. But that doesn't happen by accident.

Our exports are now sent around the globe. Australia is the main destination for our exports followed by Japan and then America. The type of goods we export have also changed. In 1972, primary produce such as meat, dairy products, and wool accounted for about 70 percent of our exports.

Today they only account for about 33 percent. Manufactured goods and value added products now account for at least 25 percent of our exports. And we have to work harder to expand our exports in that area.

In 1972, 15,000 people waited patiently, sometimes for months, for a phone connection. Today we have a choice of telecommunications providers who will connect us to the fiber optic talk zone in a couple of days.

Cellphones are connected overnight and we can carry our palmtop computers in our pockets. In 1972, PC didn't mean personal computer or politically correct but police constable.

Today the internet has opened, not just a window to the world, but a door to a never ending corridor of information exchange.

The pace of technological change has been mind boggling.

Just think, if cars had advanced as rapidly as the computer chip, a Rolls Royce would go a million miles an hour and cost 50 cents.

Today we face a shrinking world, a world where we talk of people in other countries as neighbours.

Better telecommunications, better travel links, and the wonders of the Internet now define the global village. Today, when we talk about our world, we talk in truly global terms.

I was educated at a time when technological change was just beginning to accelerate. It has been remarkable to work through the last 26 years swept along by the hurricane of technological advancements. But let us remember that there have been major social advancements as well.

The pace of change today is moving at an exponential rate and you must be prepared for that.

I have heard a phrase which best epitomises the pace of that change.

"You cannot imagine what you can imagine." So, where do you fit into this wonderful world of ours?

We need you to help us as a nation to meet the economic and social challenges we face. We need you to be bold and innovative to harness the power this ever developing technology can give us.

You leave this place armed with fundamental knowledge of the intricacies of your chosen career, and the skills to continue to question. You must continue to seek out knowledge and use it wisely. And with compassion.

Albert Einstein, the man who unlocked one of the most difficult puzzles of our universe, said quite simply. "The important thing is not to stop questioning."

And remember, that all of you have the capacity to be leaders whether it be in a small community, urban or metropolitan centre, or on the world stage as an expert in your chosen field.

You must make a difference in this world of ours - and you can. It is your duty. It may be a small difference for the family you hold most dear, or, it could be the cure for cancer.

Whatever you decide to do, do not squander what you have learnt. You have the key to a better future for yourselves, and a better future for you means we all benefit.

In the words of that great wordsmith William Butler Yeats "Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire."

Your fire has been lit.

It is now your duty to take the hot coals of your desires, and dreams, and ambitions, and knowledge, and light the fire in others.

Thank you