2004 Press Releases
Conferring ceremonies continued today (16 September 2004) at University College Cork with almost 500 undergraduate and postgraduate students conferred from the Faculty of Arts.
The Conferring addresses were given by Professor Enda McDonagh, Chair of UCC?s Governing Body (see below) and Dr Barry McSweeney, Chief Science Advisor to the Irish Government (see below).
Text of address by Professor Enda McDonagh:
The University and its Contexts
In the celebratory rejoicing of today?s graduation ceremonies you remain no doubt aware of the formative years spent at UCC as the context in which you arrived at this caterpillar to butterfly transformation. The dazzle of the butterfly wings and of their flying colours wipes out for today and perhaps forever the dreary caterpillar hours in lecture hall, library and home study. But much remains; inspiring teachers, unexpected and exciting insights and experiments, fresh pleasures of body, mind and soul, camaraderie in victory and defeat and friendships beyond victory and defeat. In truth a range of glad mornings, or for pm people of glad evenings, when it felt so good to be alive and to be students in UCC.
Of course it could have been another university in or out of Ireland. But it was University College Cork which shares so much with the great universities around the world but has its own distinctive excellences and, let it be said, its own limitations, although they are not the concern of the occasion. That university context and its Cork incarnation might bear a little further reflection on this day in the presence of new graduates, their families and friends.
A Learning Person in a Learning Community
As today the graduate gown and cap replace the undergraduate L-plate your membership of the learning community of those undergraduate years moves into a new phase but it has not we trust come to a premature close. The sharp focus of undergraduate learning offers a body of knowledge and understanding in your particular disciplines which will continue to enrich your adult life. More importantly perhaps those years of concentrated study may have instilled in you the habit and skills, the attraction and joy of further study and learning in career and life-experience as well as in more structured approaches. One legacy of a university education should be the capacity for and commitment to life-long learning in a variety of formal and informal ways. That capacity and commitment should be seen primarily as burden dictated by some aged and arid professor but as rich and enjoyable possibilities, as fun and not just self- or society-improvement. Anyone who considers her or his learning days are over and who beyond that sets up to learned is likely to be mentally paralysed if not dead. Society and university may have their fair share of such mentally paralysed.
A bit awkward that earlier phrase on self- and society- improvement but it does underline two important aspects of learning both in the university context and that of the wider society. Only the individual student can master the particular subject and satisfy the standard demanded at university level. This fosters personal responsibility in the moral sense as well as intellectual freedom and maturity. Yet learning is also and always a communal enterprise. Only in community, in relationships do persons properly develop and grow and this applies to learning at university in a particularly critical way. The competitive system of entry and to a less extent of graduation which reflects the strongly competitive nature of our society has a valid and perhaps irreplaceable role in assessing certain intellectual capacities and achievements. It carries its own dangers too of locking students and citizens into a highly individualistic and ruthlessly competitive way of living, promoting a totally ?me society? in place of the much healthier, fairer and more joyful ?we society?.
University life in lecture-hall, laboratory and library, in club and pub and the myriad student societies is life of persons-in-community and of a community-of-persons. The interaction of students and staff, academic, administrative and domestic, at its best transforms the simply competitive into the complexly cooperative and not just between contemporaries but between present, past and future. The cooperation of past figures and achievements in this and other universities applies not just to the study history or ancient classics but to the most advanced scientific knowledge in nano technology for example with current practitioners standing as the saying goes on the shoulders of former scientific and technological giants. As these past giants and achievements in all disciplines are alive for the benefit of today?s scholars so the work of the present generation of graduates and staff will shape directly or indirectly, in their scholarship, professional work, family inspiration and civic engagement the university of the future. It is not just that the UCC of the past and future has shaped you, you are shaping the UCC of the future. That future we hope will build on the traditions, values and achievements you have inherited, shared and developed in your student years. In its personal dedication and communal celebration, in its competitive-cooperative search for excellence the university ethos should remain an integral part of your personal, professional and social lives. In a society where most major institutions in religion, politics, finance and justice have betrayed their trusts the virtues and values of a true university may stimulate significant social renewal.
The University in Context
As major public institutions enjoying major public funding universities are continuously and rightly scrutinized on their performance as educators of the new generations and contributors to the public good. Some of this scrutiny results in gratifying appreciation of its educational achievements and its services to society as a whole. This appreciation is enhanced when it is accompanied by acknowledgment of the poverty of resources with which universities often have to work and not just financial resources but the kind of human resources which a much wider access programme for students at present excluded for reasons of poverty, age or other disability would have to offer. The huge growth in university numbers in recent decades must not obscure the impoverishment which these exclusions entail. Indeed the recent growth based on the radical extension of second-level education since the f sixties and the positive impact this has had on Irish economic development confirms the case for further extension at third level. This case may be made more forcefully and acutely by the imminent OECD Report on Higher Education in Ireland.
In the context of what is sometimes called the knowledge economy and more attractively the knowledge society such development at university level given the appropriate funding and management to ensure academic excellence will no doubt command widespread public and so government support.
Yet it would be foolish to ignore the dangers of a university system dominantly in service of a knowledge economy or even a knowledge society where that knowledge was dominantly scientific and technical and only marginally humane and compassionate, where in fact ruthless economic competitiveness overrode social cooperation and solidarity. The values of the good, the true and the beautiful remain central to a university?s vocation and are betrayed not only at great cost to itseld but to the society it would serve. A symbol of such university values is being completed on this campus just as you have completed your studies. The Lou Glucksmann Art Gallery will be a fresh and visible reminder of the great humanist values of this and other universities in a society where more shallow and trivial success is on the increase. Perhaps graduates and their co-celebrants might take this opportunity to view the new building which could be a rallying point for all UCC graduates from the past and present as well as from the 2004 cohort.
Ireland in Context
Despite last Sunday?s All Ireland Final and Cork?s magnificent victory neither Cork nor Cork form the total context of this university or of today?s graduates. We all live as the clichés have it in a globalising world. That global context has all the ambiguities of the smaller national and regional contexts, of the university context itself with their mixture of good and bad, of creativity and destructiveness. For today it might be proper to celebrate the potentially good and creative of this globalising movement although realistically it is well to remember that for many of you your undergraduate studies were bracketed the Twin Towers catastrophe in September 2001 and the massacre of the school children their teachers and parents at Belsam in Russia earlier this September 2004. The tragic dimension is never far away even if in the hope-laden phrase of poet Patrick Kavanagh tragedy is only unfinished comedy. The potentially good and creative which still invite us despite the tragedies will depend to a great extent on what given our gifts and skills we are prepared to contribute to the humanization of the globalisation process. We belong to one of the wealthier nations of the world. As university graduates we are still a relatively privileged group in our own country but in a world of illiteracy and poverty, of famine, civil war and HIV-AIDS we are unbelievably privileged. With that privilege comes responsibility. On the silver jubilee of this graduation will you just have enjoyed the privileges and ignored the responsibilities? Definitely not a fair question to ask you to ponder on graduation day. But there will be other times when it may be appropriately recalled. For today rejoicing shall prevail over reflection, comedy in its original meaning over tragedy and congratulations on a task well done as prelude to the life-tasks that will we trust be equally well completed. Beir bua agus beannacht.
Short version of address by Dr Barry McSweeney:
President, Graduates, Members of Staff,
I am delighted to speak at the Conferring Ceremony today, as a UCC Graduate and one who very much enjoyed my studies and other activities at UCC. It is also a great pleasure to return to Cork. Indeed for me it is a return to Ireland as for the past 10 years I have been working in Brussels and in Ispra, Italy.
The Ireland I left ten years ago has been transformed. Research is now thriving most noticeably in Universities. UCC is now at the forefront in this regard and can be witnessed by the world class research underway and the splendid new buildings on this campus.
The Government has made a serious commitment to investment in Science and Research and Ireland is rapidly recovering from years of underinvestment. However we must invest more particularly in Research Infrastructure both in terms of people and new buildings. The present momentum must be maintained if we are to make progress in really achieving the vision of Ireland as a knowledge economy. Science is a powerful driving force but the benefits of such development must benefit society by a general improvement in our wealth and quality of life.
Recently I have taken up the position of Chief Science Adviser to the Irish Government, the first person to be appointed to this position.
I am pleased that a Scientist has been asked to address today?s Conferring Ceremony. There are many connections between the Arts and Sciences which often go unnoticed. Let?s face it, the Arts have been around a lot longer than the Sciences and Philosophers and artists of the Renaissance periods could rightly also be considered men of science. De Vinci, Copernicus and Galileo are good examples.
When I am asked to comment on Science and Education, topical today in the context of the OECD review of the Irish Education System, I point out the relevance of Geography and Mathematics are key core subjects vital to so many areas.
Remote sensing by satellite coupled with mathematical algorithms have been vital in my role over the past 5 years as I was developing one of the biggest European security Research Centres in Ispra, Italy.
Another good example is Art and Human Anatomy and Art and Chemistry. The study of human anatomy and the extraction of natural colours from plants and animals were key activities in the busy studios of the Masters. Also knowledge and understanding of languages is vital to the careers of scientists in their constant travels to seek out the best sites of knowledge generation.
Time and time again I interact with Philosophers, Social Scientists, Lawyers and other ?non-scientists? when I construct my advice to Government on topical and often sensitive science topics. Science and Society issues are vital if we are going to succeed in raising the importance of Science to Society, as a whole. That is why it is important that early stakeholder consultation takes place in order to ensure an inclusive rather than an exclusive science agenda.
Finally for those of you who will shortly move on to other parts and maybe other seats of learning your time spent gaining your first degree will always be very special.
I hope you think back with great fondness at your time in UCC, I know I do.
Thank you and I would like to wish you the very best in your future careers.