Autumn Conferrings 2009
Devere Hall, Áras na Mac Léinn, UCC, 11 Sep 2009
Dr Colin Hunt, Division Director, Macquarie Capital
Autumn Conferrings 2009
10.00am & 12.30pm Friday 11 September 2009
President, members of Governing Body, distinguished guests, former lecturers, parents, partners and most especially those who have just received their freshly-minted degrees:
I was honoured to be asked to return to my primary alma mater. As a recovering economist, I believe that every opportunity to participate in a joyous occasion should be seized with eagerness and enthusiasm, particularly in what is euphemistically described as the current, challenging climate.
I had a wonderful time here as I am constantly reminded. Not only did I get two degrees from the place but I found a wife here as well. I left UCC in 1992. It wasn’t the easiest time to be emerging into the world of work. The Celtic Tiger had not been heard of, the world was struggling economically and mass unemployment was still a depressing feature of the national landscape. However, the highs and lows of the intervening years remind us of the fact that the economy is ever moving through a cycle. Today, we stand close to the bottom of that cycle and there are some signs, admittedly tentative ones, that the bottom may already lie behind us. We can say with confidence that an upward path lies ahead. It may not be as steep as we would wish and we are unlikely to see the return of the sort of growth rates in the near term which were taken for granted less than two years ago. However, the one thing we can say with anything approaching certainty is that better days lie ahead. All of us have a responsibility to ensure that we play a part in the building of that better future.
Still, many of you will be understandably troubled by the challenging climate into which you have graduated. Opportunities are scarcer now than they have been for quite some time and the economic outlook, both at home and abroad, is uncertain to say the least. Yes, there have been better times to leave university and many of you will be tested in ways you could not possibly have foreseen when you entered this institution. But if I can offer you one piece of advice, it is this: Treat today as a milestone in your life experience, not as a destination. Constantly seek to improve your skills and talents whether through formal continuing education, professional qualifications or simple learning from all that life, work and play throws at you.
Today, you leave UCC equipped with heads full of facts, formulae, methodologies. Most importantly, you leave with an ability to think, a highly-portable apparatus that you can choose to use for the rest of your lives. Continue to explore, to analyse and to adapt and you will make a successful contribution to your community and to society. If you are to be true to the qualifications with which you have been conferred today, you must treat learning as an unending process. Knowledge is no load.
High-quality, third level education plays a vital role in the building of a stronger economy. In pure, utilitarian terms, a university education builds the stock of human capital, helps us to compete internationally and makes a direct contribution to our capacity to grow. At an individual level, it leads to higher incomes and inspires innovation and entrepreneurial flair.
However, these benefits are only part of the whole. In my view, the biggest, most potent impacts of university education lie in the broadening of minds, the shaping of citizens, the enriching of our culture and in the inspiration of creativity. The benefits to society of your education are at least equal to the positive economic impacts. In terms of investment by the taxpayers of this country, I can think of no other area which produces anything like the rate of return of education investment. But don’t just take my word for it. The OECD last year estimated that the internal rate of return to higher education in
I recall a song that my brother, who was a scientist but secretly wanted to be a classicist, loved. According to the oracle of truth and wisdom that is Wikipedia, this song, called De Brevitate Vitae, On the Shortness of Life, is a popular academic song in many European countries, and is mainly sung or performed at university graduation ceremonies. Despite its use as a formal graduation hymn, it is a jocular, light-hearted composition that pokes fun at university life. It is better known by its opening line, Gaudeamus Igitur. In the vernacular, that translates as Therefore, let us rejoice.
It’s a pretty appropriate sentiment today. As graduates of this fine College, you can rejoice in your success, in the experiences gained and, perhaps most importantly, in the friendships that you have made here over the past number of years. Those friendships, forged in the lecture theatres, on the field of play and in the societies that play a critical role in the vibrant life of this institution will continue to be a major part of all your lives.
For parents and family, you too can rejoice on this day in the lives of our new graduates. After years of nurturing your offspring and of making sacrifices to get them to this point, today they are emerging into the world as graduates, equipped with one of the best educations which this country can offer and with all the capabilities necessary to compete in a globalised marketplace. You have every right to be proud of their achievements and the major, formative role you have played in their lives.
Your lecturers also have occasion to rejoice today. Guided by their expertise and commitment to learning, you have come through challenging degree programmes and, I imagine, a gruelling set of exams. Today, you will cut your high frequency ties to them but I am sure they hope that you will keep in touch in the future as distinguished alumni.
Today is a day for celebration: Celebration in your academic achievements, celebration in the relationships which you founded here and celebration in your futures. The opening lines of that song I mentioned are as valid today as they were in the 13th century when they were first sung.
Gaudeamus Igitur. Therefore, let us rejoice.