Graduation speech: University is a spacious house

Below is the speech I gave during my graduation ceremony – I was asked to thank the university on behalf of my fellow graduates.

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Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, university staff, distinguished guests, friends, family, and of course, fellow graduates, good afternoon.

I’m here, as our ceremony nears its end, to affirm all that has been said, and to say it again: congratulations, well done, we’ve made it to the end of our degrees.

To speak on behalf of so many, diverse human beings, is a daunting task; university is spacious house, home to many different people engaged in many different projects. I simply can’t cover all that goes on within Victoria’s walls, so what I’m going to do is talk about two key projects taking place within the university, and express my deep gratitude for both.

Firstly, thank you for being a House of Preparation. Or as it is sometimes said, ‘preparing us for the real world’. You know, thank you for all those transferable skills, for that industry-relevant training, for all that now sits proudly on my CV… Thank you for the opportunity to gain the sorts of achievements rattled off in my introduction, which allow me to enter into certain parts of society that I’d otherwise find difficult.

Early in my first year, I accidentally attended a meeting for Melanesian students – as the only Palangi in the room, I felt deeply out of place, yet I stayed and listened to everyone share why they had come to Victoria, and what they were hoping to get out of their time here: Many were international students, who would return to their home countries, to be greeted by expectations of leadership. They were to become lawyers, politicians, and teachers – they knew the importance of receiving practical outcomes from their study here.

My impression was, that for these students, university was to be a house of preparation. A place to come and get ready for what’s next. Perhaps some of you here today feel the same way. Perhaps these past however many years of working towards your degree were simply preparing you for your next step. You know, the nursing degree so you can nurse, the music degree so you can make music, the theater degree so you can perform theater.

The second project, is, in all honesty a lot closer to my own heart. Thank you for being a House of Critique. University is not only interested in preparing us for ‘the real world’, it’s also a space set apart to critique this ‘real world’.

I wasn’t immediately aware of this critical function, but it’s certainly there. By law, all of New Zealand’s universities are tasked with being the ‘critic and conscience of society’. These might sound like lofty words, but there they are, sturdy in the university’s legal bones.

I’ve spent much of the past three years getting all caught up in this second project of critique. Personally, that’s often meant going down to level zero of the library building; where I can find dense books of philosophical wisdom hidden amongst the piping. I’m thankful that Said, Butler, Marx, and Hegel are now all tangled up with my own thoughts, forever changing the way I think and act.

For me, a world without critical thought is a dark place. Unless we are content with all that surrounds us, we are in need of critical questioning and reflection. Quite simply, society needs some voices of discontent.

Finally, neither of these projects would be possible without support from those outside of the university. All of our thinking and learning takes place within a wider community of support: our parents, our loved-ones, our favourite study spaces, our friends, the places and people we spend our down-time with, and share our thoughts with. Thank you to you all.

So: we celebrate the gift the university has been to each of us, whatever shape this taken. If you’re well prepared and moving on to what’s next, I want to wish you all the best. And if you’re all set up and ready to critique – I want to encourage you to persevere. Thank you.

You can view my speech here


2 thoughts on “Graduation speech: University is a spacious house”

  1. First class address, Hayley and the sentiments you expressed were well explained, Congratulations, Pamela and Maurice Heyes


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