14 December 2006

Speech by Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce, AC Governor of Queensland

Honorary Doctorate acceptance address, Conferral of Doctor of Laws honoris causa, UQ Centre, St Lucia Campus, 13 December 2006

To hear the address by Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce, AC Governor of Queensland, please go to our Podcast page. Fully referenced version of the address is available from Government House. Contact Senior Researcher on 3858 5700.

Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Distinguished guests, Graduands, Ladies and gentlemen.

I give thanks to the traditional keepers of the magnificent land on which we gather — the land of the Turrbal-Jagara people — and their successors:

• those who lawfully formalised the land’s dedication as a place of vast learning;

• who, in doing so, acknowledged its prior role in the survival of an ancient culture and ageless wisdom, still speaking through the layers of this university today;

• and those since, the esteemed guardians, scholars, leaders, among us this evening, who serve to protect, refresh, and put down those layers, and give voice and weight and bearing to the teachings that emerge from within.

My friends, I am thrilled to be here tonight — as always, when I return, I am warmed by a sense of coming home, of deep belonging and heartfelt memory.

Personal though my connection and allegiance to this place, it is:

• its presence and influence in the evolution of civilised society in Queensland;

• its chancellery in the intellectual, cultural, and social development of individuals, whose talents and promise lead us out , help us bring our past to the present, and swage our future;

• its rich contribution to the pursuit and creation of new knowledge;

• and to the fabric of who, together, we are;

• it is those things that endure beyond any one lifetime.

I am privileged to share this significant milestone with you, graduands — a public affirmation of your private achievements; a ceremony that initiates your heightened participation in civic life.

I, too, am sincerely complimented by my award — what it says of others’ perceptions of me, and the common value of my actions over my adult life thus far.

Yet, in receiving such an acknowledgement, I am humbled by what this university has already generously furnished, enabled, and sustained in me.

And, at the very least, I feel a duty to express my gratitude, usefully — to those of you who have a deal more potential ahead, than history in your wake.

On an occasion that honours and rewards higher learning, it would seem useful to consider the part of education in our many-dimensioned lives, or, more so, its part in shaping our view of ourselves, of others, and where we sit relative to one another.

To regard education as it is necessarily demonstrated this evening is to see it in its purest and most refined form — assiduous in its effort and dedication; proud in its accomplishment; supreme in its academic excellence; exhilarating, breathtaking in its possibility.

But to talk of “an education” as a discrete episode in one’s life, derived from a single source, characterised only by its echelon of award, is to disregard the myriad origins, and complex, wending streams of the human intellect and spirit.

And no fine university (as this is) will ever seek or claim to exclusively deliver such a thing.
What in our early lives is susceptible to easy definition, becomes — as we witness the patterns and smudges of our own conscious tread on the world —

• less clear;

• less comfortable;

• frequently tested by the reality to which we apply it;

• disparaged, minimised, resented by some;

• no longer a laurel upon which we can recline.

We are unsettled by questions that once never were, and for which we now struggle to offer ourselves adequate answers.

In our workplaces, our communities, our relationships, in all traces of our adult lives, as often as we are assuaged by the familiar, we are disconcerted, at times unseated, by its converse.

Perhaps the most challenging of the unfamiliar are those individuals whose education, skill, knowledge, success, and standing have not arisen along the conventional passages that lead into and from this hall, but along their own, less travelled paths:

uneven, unfenced, unprecedented — awesome, disarming in the strength, resilience, humour, compassion, and intelligence they bestow.

The young man of incipient genius:

• who thought in mathematics and music;

• who hadn’t attempted to speak until past the age of three;

• whose teachers thought him dull-witted because of his failure to learn by rote;

• whose friends regarded him a freak for his lack of interest in sports;

• who struggled to get a high-school diploma;

• whose mind so penetrated the eternal mystery of nature as to craft, among a great deal else extraordinary, the theories of relativity.


The small, slim Aboriginal child who, almost 73 years ago to the day, having just turned 13, left Dunwich State School on North Stradbroke Island, her formal education over, was now fit to be put to work as a domestic servant.
That girl:

• who grew up to be a nation’s legend — writer, conservationist, educator, artist;

• a great and passionate advocate for Aboriginal Australia — Oodgeroo;

• the recipient of two Honorary Doctorates of Letters;

• whose poetry, like relativity theory, will outlast much that we have done.

One of the world’s finest authors whose sincere account of his father in the early pages of Johnno tells equally of himself:

Wearing a leather apron and shorts, with his tool box open on the bench behind him, all its bits and chisels neatly stacked, and a stub of pencil behind his ear, he would work for long hours in the gloom under the house, planing, sawing, working away with his chisel and mallet at elegant dovetails and grooves.

He had left school at eleven to become a postboy on the Nanango mails and had never, as far as I knew, read a book.

In our engagement with others, we learn all over again to put aside our egos, our vulnerabilities, and the politics of difference, to observe quietly, listen watchfully, and respond respectfully.

We come to understand the preciousness of diversity, and its remarkable capacity for unity and collective action.

We begin to see our experiences as shared, not singular and separate.

We, at last, allow our education to do what it set out to do:

• not to secure us in a spot from which we can predict and assure every, or indeed, any, outcome;

• rather and preferably, to give us some reasonable and sturdy scaffold for living, for putting ourselves and our unique proficiencies to a wider, better use;

• to instruct and guide, but not shield us from onslaught and criticism;

• to grow with us, liberate us, and broaden our facility for constructive thought and application;

• to be nobody but ourselves.
Graduands, I praise each of you for your attainment of an award that represents: successful, and for some, outstanding completion; rigour; drive; and faith in the value of continuing self-improvement and renewal.

I urge you to guard and embrace those qualities, and proceed from here:

• to stir our passions and our sense of right and wrong;

• to elicit our minds and souls;

• to lead us into robust and intrepid debate;

• to call us to account for our views and our choices, but not shame us for their disparity;

• and demand of us an impenetrable commitment to truth and genuineness.

Stay connected with the world, talk honestly with yourself and others, protect yourself from shallow impressions, and permit yourself to be the person you are.

Psychologist, writer, and community activist, the late John Gardner — known as the uncommon American — said of meaning in life:

[It] is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life.

You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something.
The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you.

Travel well, my friends.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you.