Thank you and it is a great privilege to be here. There are few more significant milestones in life than graduation day. I remember mine vividly – it ages me greatly because it was 27 years ago – but the sense of satisfaction of having completed something worthy & worthwhile; of pride in the eyes of my parents; and nervousness about what that piece of paper would mean now that I got to face the real world are things that come back to me strongly this morning.
There are of course cynics about events like this and university education. Jeph Jacques said a Bachelor's degree make useful placemats if you get 'em laminated.
I’m not in the cynics camp.
Behind the piece of paper that I took with me in 1983 were experiences and learning that changed me life then and have been deeply shaping in every major decision I have made since .
One of the things I loved about uni was the opportunity to learn and connect to people I call enlargers. These are people who see things not as they are but as they could be. As a kid from Morwell High School in country Victoria with a weird fascination for politics most of my classmates didn't understand, I developed a passion for American politics and the great enlargers of the US political stage, like JFK.
JFK knew more about education and the value of a degree than Jeph by the way.
He said: "Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is the private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone..."
If you allow me a little nostalgia, two things stand out to me as I remember sitting where you are today and reflecting on what those years meant.
The first is a piece of advice from my father that I took to heart. He was the first in four generations to go past year 10 at school and his time at university meant a lot to him. He always told me that if I've got the opportunity to go, I should make the most of it, because the chances were that I would look back on that time as being amongst the best years of my life. I took him literally, and university immersion for me was as much about the sport, the social and the cultural as it was the educational. Dare I say it in this environment of discipline and career focus, but the eclectic opportunity to debate the relative merits of Pink Floyd and The Who or Ayn Rand and Karl Marx over that essential third glass of port at 2 am in the morning with close mates was an integral part of my university experience.
And I will never forget those professors and teachers who lit up the stage because they were passionate about what they taught. It didn’t happen all the time, but when you had those moments of deep learning and flashes of insight from someone who really cared about what they shared and what mattered to them it had real impact. These were the moments to me that left permanent footprints. I ended up working in finance because of a brilliant professor who brought the subject and numbers alive in a way that was compelling. I saw Australian history through the lens of what it actually meant to be in a place and time very different from ours, and how profoundly important that context could be in shaping behaviour we could otherwise be so quick to judge with the benefit of hindsight. And perhaps of greatest importance, I learnt that the so called soft questions about who we really are and the purpose of our existence are the hardest and most important questions of all. Those unanswered questions from Philosophy 1A still resonate in the chambers of my mind.
The skills and educational opportunities I had led to a wonderful opportunity to build a business backing and working with people who were passionate about what they did in the commercial world. In my 15 years at Macquarie Bank, I had the chance to build a team that was based on identifying great business entrepreneurs and supporting them to grow successful and profitable organizations. For a long time, I loved what I did, and I especially loved the chance to work with and learn from the founders and chief executives of businesses who had a passion for what they did.
In 2002, I did a 180 degree career shift. I wanted to share with you why that happened, because a lot of it had to do with things that I learned from and was inspired by as a university student.
In telling you this story I need to explain a sporting and Aussie Rules addiction; coaching my son’s footy team. I woke up one morning when we were in the processing of finalizing a significant sized new investment and was thinking about the footy, not the deal… it made me reflect on what really made me passionate and what really mattered… that moment led to the realization that what inspired me were the people JFK referred to who use their skills, capacity and education for the benefit of humanity.
That moment of personal epiphany led to the wonderful opportunity to start an organization called Social Ventures Australia. Our charter is to back not business, but social entrepreneurs. The sort of inspiring people we get to connect to are social entrepreneurs like Jack Manning Bancroft of Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience. The gift of what I know get to do, in partnership with a phenomenal team of 32 people who share a passion for connecting their heads and hearts by using their business and educational skills to help create social benefit, is to work with people like Jack.
The dumbest thing you can do is give gratuitous advice. So I won’t do that. But I will share with you three questions that I didn’t properly ask myself until I was 40 and I would challenge you to ask those questions now, and to do it frequently. They come from Norman Drummond, a friend & mentor and they are;
-Who are you?
-Why are you living and working the way you currently are?
-What might you yet become and do with the rest of your life?
Wherever you get to with those questions, I want to close with a reminder of what it is that matters from one of those American political enlargers I learnt about long ago Woodrow Wilson: “You are not here merely to earn a living. You are here to enrich the world and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.” This campus has a wonderful reputation for engaging in the community and enriching the society of which it is a part. Wherever you go and wherever you take your piece of laminated paper, remember his words.