Winter Conferrings 2005
Devere Hall, Áras na Mac Léinn, UCC, 16 Dec 2005
Professor Michael Murphy, Head of the College of Medicine & Health, UCC
President, academic colleagues, graduates and guests…
Deans of Medicine and Health are accustomed to being invited to address doctors, dentists, and nurses; it is uncommon to have to entertain, much less impress with oratory, an audience of lawyers and engineers.
There is, of course a formula for these occasions.A Google search quickly identifies the ingredients. (1) Congratulate the graduates effusively; (2) acknowledge the parents at the back of the hall – telling them how terrific they have been by providing support to those in front; (3) thank the faculty for their unstinting work; (4) wax eloquently on the bright future ahead for those leaving us, to make their fame and fortune in the big wide world; and (5) intersperse with large doses of clever humour and profound philosophy and oh! (6) remind them to pay back their debt by contributing generously to alumni fund-raising campaigns.
Well, the President has already stolen the first two pages of my script by: (1) congratulating the graduates; (2) thanking the faculty, and (3) greeting the parents and significant others supporting the graduates – only more elegantly, and with more authority, than I would.So, that leaves me with (4) to wax eloquently on the bright future ahead for those leaving us to make fame and fortune in the big wide world and (5) come up with the humour and philosophy, and a brief word on payback.
Let’s get humour out of the way.Can you name any discipline that has delivered more material for jokes than medicine, law or engineering?Together, the three have provided material for most of the black humour in the English language.Most of you will be familiar with the food chain inbiology; one also encounters a feeding chain in jokes about professionals.Engineers make mistakes in design and construction;doctors maltreat and mismanage the resulting injured and maimed, in turn providing rich pickings for legions of litigious legal eagles.And looking at the published pickings of our top silks in the media last week, there is no doubt about who sits on top of this particular feeding chain!Anyway, I decided that if all three sectors were to remain in the room to the end of my of my talk – if I am to avoid sorely offending one of the three - humour is best avoided.
There is, of course, a theme to this ceremony.All of you are graduating from professional degree programmes and I might dwell, for a moment, on professionalism.Most of you will end up making your career in your chosen profession.I hope that, while you have been in UCC, you have become secure in your professional role, that you know what you can contribute to society, and that you can make that contribution with confidence.You will be interacting with each other in your future careers, lawyers with doctors and nurses, most commonly, hopefully in the interests of common clients; lawyers with engineers in pursuit of business success.I hope that you have learnt to value the contributions of the other professions because it is only when all work together that the best service to clients becomes possible.A key part of our job has been to develop in each of you a sense of your rightful place in society, a commitment to work for the good of society, and for the good of your individual clients.
You must never be disparaging of each other’s chosen profession, nor arrogantly self-centred in your own.This often betrays inferiority, not a superiority complex.Beware of those who are self-conscious of their role, or envious of the roles of others.If you are secure in your own role, and value the roles of others, you and society will both benefit.
All of you are entering your professions formally today.Each has developed codes of behaviour, codes of professional ethics, and codes of professional responsibilities.Always stay within those boundaries.If in doubt – ask.If you are unable to get an authoritative answer, don’t act.If an emergency requires you to act, report what you have done to a colleague or superior.Honesty is more than an ethical principle – it is an essential posture in professional survival.
In our careers, we all make professional mistakes. The workplace is often a stressful environment.If you make a mistake, report it immediately, regardless of any personal consequences to yourself.In the course of your professional life, you will meet many who have made professional mistakes and who have concealed them by blaming others or pretending they didn’t happen.This can be a source of deep unhappiness, affecting not only their own life, but the lives of those who love them and depend on them.Bad temper, bullying behaviour, arrogance – you will come across all of these things- often have their source in past battles, where compromise has won out over conscience.You will make plenty of small mistakes, particularly in the early years.Get into the habit of dealing with them openly and promptly; this will stand you in good stead in later life.
For a moment now, I would like to return to the second element of the standard graduation speech- the part where we applaud the parents.I want to go a little further than simply nodding thanks to the people sitting at the back of the hall, or sitting on the balcony.I want to spend a little time reflecting on their contribution to today’s celebration.And not just because large numbers of this morning’s graduates have received higher degrees, higher diplomas and doctorates where the sacrifice and support from family has been greater and of longer duration – certainly more than that demanded by the 3-4 year undergraduate degree programmes.
Graduates, consider this.Twenty-five, thirty years ago, your parents, now sitting at the back, were your age.Early 20s.I am sure that many of them are, this morning, themselves, looking back, to 1975 –1980, to their 20s, and, no doubt, contrasting the opportunities confronting them, their likely lot for the rest of their lives, with the vista that you behold this morning.15-20% of 20 year olds at that time had the opportunity to have a third-level education (not the 55% of today); most that did, had to pay fees.The lucky 15% had to listen, on graduation day to Donal McCarthy or Tadhg Carey, for, in those days, only the President made conferring speeches. This morning, I regret that change of policy!
Whether in college, or more commonly not, most in their 20s had to consider the spectre of emigration.Between 30-50,000 left Ireland each year to have the opportunity to earn a decent living – many in the United Kingdom where the popularity of the Irish accent waxed and waned with each terrorist atrocity – I can personally attest to the consequences of driving an Irish registered car through London on the morning after the Harrod’s bombing – or to the United States where the designation as a resident alien was preferable to the more common one of unregistered alien, with the risk of detection and deportation.Those who stayed here in Ireland paid, if lucky enough to be employed - paid taxes of up to 60% of gross earnings, paid to create the Ireland that you are inheriting.Paid to build the schools, to build the universities, the institutes of technology, the roads, the airports and hospitals – that have facilitated the economic miracle that is today’s Ireland, which you are now inheriting.The Ireland that has given you more freedom as a student than was enjoyed by any generation before.Just think – no student generation in Ireland has discoed, clubbed, drank, partied, fashion-dressed, or travelled like you.None has enjoyed the opportunity for education, the quality of education, the duration of education that you have.You inherit the Ireland that guarantees virtually all of you employment within one year, that gives you the choice between models of car – not whether you can have a car, the choice between the number of holiday destinations annually, not whether you can afford a holiday; and, in many cases, the choice between further degree courses, not whether you can afford a degree.This Ireland was created by those sitting behind you, through sacrifices made in the most bleak of times.
Yes, you have nodded your heads and you have applauded the de rigeur formula of the graduation speech –“thanks to those at the back for their support over the years”.In 2005, your round of applause records gratitude not only for personal support, love, affection, advice, money – the family bonds, but unlike the applause of the graduation class of 1975, your applause must recognize the unprecedented achievements of a generation that sacrificed mightily to create the future now open to you.In truth, those at the back, in 2005, deserve a standing ovation.
I will not dwell on further gratuitous advice on how to live your lives hereafter – section 5 of the Google model of the graduation speech.I wish to avoid the label of a sanctimonious moralizer! But it would be remiss of me not to point out your obligation, particularly to those sitting behind you, to bequeath to the next generation the benefits, greater still, if possible, that you enjoy.There will never be a utopia.Society will never be able to afford all that we would wish – whether it be in health services, education or social welfare support.There will always remain worthy causes, either at home or abroad.Please be as generous as your parents.While their sacrifices were more often of necessity, (limited resources, heavily taxed) yours are likely to be discretionary (high income, low tax – at least for the foreseeable future).Exercise the discretion generously; and remember that personal voluntary service, donation of time and skills, will be more valuable, and often more highly valued, than impersonal surplus cash.With the exception of the university sector (Google point 6!) of course where cash will always be welcome!A point not made just in jest – remember that in many of the wealthiest countries, the continuing well-being of universities depends more and more on the support of graduates.When you sit at the back of this hall, 25 years from now, I hope that my successor up here addressing your children will be as effusive and truthful about the generosity of those at the back, as I have today.
To close, graduates in Law, Engineering, Medicine, Dentistry and Nursing, (with Higher degrees or Lower) let me say that I hope that UCC has served you well; that we have prepared you for the career challenges that you face in the immediate future; that we have given you the skills to continue to learn and to continue to adapt, and that we have imbued in you some sense of loyalty to the institution.
On behalf of my colleagues in the Faculties and in the University I wish you well in your new careers.May you enjoy your work, may you find it rewarding and may those you serve respect you.Congratulations to you all.