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Address at the Commemoration Ceremony Faculty of Law and Faculty of Performing Arts

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at the Commemoration Ceremony

Faculty o f Law

and Faculty o f Performing Arts

University o f Adelaide

Sen the Hon Amanda Vanstone

Minister for Employment, Education

Training and Youth Affairs


Wednesday, 30 April 1997




Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Distinguished Guests, Parents and Friends of Graduates, and Graduates.

Back in 1899 at the turn of the last century, just before we became a nation, Theodore Roosevelt was urging Americans to lead a strenuous life. He acknowledged that the nation’s future required deep foundations of material prosperity but wisely added that that alone was not enough. He described it this way:

“I wish to preach not the doctrine of ignoble ease but the doctrine of the strenuous life; the life of toil and effort; of labour and strife”.

“A life of ignoble ease, a life of that peace which springs merely from lack either of desire or of power to strive after great things, is as little worthy of a nation as of an individual...”

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though chequered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat”.

Roosevelt went on to use a classic example of the most difficult choice a nation could face - going to war with itself.

“If in 1861 the men who loved the Union had believed that peace was the end of all things and war and strife a worst of all things, and had acted up to their belief, we would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives, we would have saved hundreds of millions of dollars.

Moreover, besides saving all the blood and treasure we then lavished, we would have prevented the heart-break of many women, the dissolution of many homes; and we would have spared the country those months of gloom and shame when it seemed as

if our armies marched only to defeat. We could have avoided all this suffering, simply by shrinking from strife.

And if we had thus avoided it we would have shown that we were weaklings and that we were unfit to stand among the great nations of the earth. ...

Let us, the children of the men who carried the great Civil War to a triumphant conclusion, praise the God of our fathers that the ignoble counsels of peace were rejected, that the suffering and loss, the blackness of sorrow and despair, were unflinchingly faced, and the year of strife endured; for in the end the slave was freed”.


Thankfully, we can’t envisage having to make the sorts of decisions that send a nation to war with itself. But we all get the chance almost everyday to make a decision to improve things generally.

Even Homer Simpson had that chance.

In Homer’s Odyssey, Homer is sacked from the nuclear power plant in front of Bart who is visiting the plant on a school excursion.

He has trouble finding a job. Marge goes out to work to support the family. Homer lies at home very depressed and very unshaven on the couch. On TV he sees a Duff beer commercial but has no money to buy any.

In desperation he breaks open Bart’s piggybank and immediately realises what he has done. He decides to kill himself. He writes out a farewell note, ties a large rock to his waist and sets out for the bridge from which he will jump. The kids wake up thinking the house is being burgled. They find the note and wake up Marge. Together they look for Homer.

Homer is about to jump when Marge and the kids arrive. It looks as though they will be hit by a car. Homer saves them. It suddenly dawns on Homer that the intersection is dangerous and that some one ought to put a stop sign there. A beam of sunlight lights up Homers face.

“Kill myself? Killing myself is the last thing I’d ever do. Now I have a purpose, a reason to live. I don’t care who I have to face, I don’t care who I have to fight, I will not rest until this street gets a stop sign!”

The family is reconciled. Homer has a purpose; he approaches the local council who agree to put in the stop sign. Homer becomes a hero and decides to take on Mr Bums and the Nuclear Power plant.

As new graduates, sooner or later, consciously or unconsciously you will have to choose how to live your life. You could concentrate on your career and your personal life to the exclusion of just about everything else. You could always make choices on the basis of what is in it for you. You could have the view that you’ve earned the right to pursue that path.

But remember, very few of us achieve anything by hard work alone. Friends, family and luck in varying combinations will be in there somewhere. In the case of graduates, undoubtedly your family has played a vital role in you achieving this milestone in your life.


Friends, who in so many ways carry all of us through the rougher patches in life will have been there for you in hard times.

And then of course there’s luck. The luck of being bom with the intellectual capacity to do this, of having family and friends there to help you on your way, the luck of not having a personal crisis in your or your families life that prevented you from getting here or from passing; and so the list goes on.

You could, nonetheless, ignore all those other contributions, take your degree and go off to look after yourself. But before you make that decision, I ask you to consider just a few things.

When you next pass a can lady grabbing soft drink tins out of rubbish bins, like the lady who I understand frequents this campus, you might reflect on her position.

Just for a brief selfless moment.

You won’t have to tell her that she has no capacity to make the world a better place. She already knows that.

You won’t have to tell her that after a few years hard work (and it may well have been) you’re on your way to bigger and better things - she knows that as well.

You won’t have to tell her that you’ll have the chance to have more influence than she’s ever dreamt of and that you could use it to try and make the world a better place....because she knows that as well.

What she doesn’t know is whether you will seek that influence and use it to make the world a better place.

Perhaps you could consider the problems of the three in ten kids who reach the final years of their secondary education without properly mastering the written word. Could you confidently walk up to one of these kids and just casually mention that your future rewards are really a function of all your own hard work. You got here on your own merit entirely. You could mention that you think the system’s pretty fair;

very equitable you could say. You could assure them that you have no intention to make the world a better place - as far as your concerned, its pretty good as it is.

But I don’t think fronting these people and saying those things is easy. Very few people, happily, publicly advocate selfishness. So if you want to just look after yourself you’ll have to live with being selfish in the closet.


You could of course choose another path. It’s a path that has always been open to men and women and always will be. It’s the path Roosevelt describes as a strenuous life.

Almost every day, you’ll get the chance to choose the more difficult path, to choose the strenuous life.

It might be something as simple and apparently mundane as refusing to use one of the trappings of a profession - exclusionary language, which enables people from within the same elite to talk to each other in a language completely incomprehensible to outsiders.

Don’t underestimate for one minute the isolation and helplessness of so many people as they hear on radio and watch on TV the elites busily talking to each other in their own specialised codes. If what you have to say is worth saying, it’s worth making sure others can understand.

There is nothing smart about using language other people don’t understand. All it really does is betray an insecurity. Your colleagues of course won’t like you for demystifying their code and taking away their security blanket.

You might be asked to defend the right to a fair trial for someone who on the face of it appears guilty as all sin of a truly terrible crime. Or somebody already found guilty by the media.

You know full well that all of our freedom depends on the right to not be convicted or imprisoned without a fair trial. But the crowd (through their self-appointed representatives in the media) baying for blood, can make it seem personally costly to do what you know is right. As soon as you stand by and let one person by found guilty without the chance of being heard, you diminish all of our freedom.

In a Man fo r All Seasons, Sir Thomas Moore explains to his son-in-law, Roper, that the law is like a thicket of trees, there to protect us. Roper replies that he’d cut down every law in England to get at the devil. Moore’s reply is a salutary warning: he effectively asks ‘when you’ve cut down every law in England and the devil turns on you, where will you hide?’

Whether they are small decisions or big ones, whether they are public or private you will get plenty of chance to make them.

Every little thing we do to make the world a better place has an impact. As Robert Kennedy said in 1966:


“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a

current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance”.

The message is that materialism isn’t everything. It’s what you do with your life that’s important. That’s where real rewards lie.

It’s as relevant today as it was when Roosevelt raised it at the turn of the last century, and as it was when Kennedy raised it in 1966.

To be slightly more contemporary, Crash Test Dummies recognised earlier in the 90’s that real heroes didn’t need big wallets or use long words - they simply did good deeds. Our childhood heroes Superman and Tarzan certainly had neither big

wallets nor an extensive vocabulary. As the “Superman” song says:

“Superman never made any money For saving the world from Solomon Grundy And sometimes I despair the world will never see Another man like him”.

“Tarzan was king of the jungle and Lord over all the apes But he could hardly string together four words: “I Tarzan, You Jane””.

In short, I hope you will look at the privileges you enjoy as graduates as something far more valuable than a meal ticket.

University studies traditionally have been and I am sure will remain far more than that - despite their undoubtedly increased economic value.

At a time when employment for young people entering the workforce has become significantly more difficult, is easy to understand the appeal of studies which have an apparently vocational orientation

The steady increase in the popularity of law and business studies reflects a view that they are pathways to jobs.

To some extent this is no doubt a matter of fashion and packaging. The fact is that many such courses do include a substantial content of traditional liberal arts education.

One of the great attractions of law as a field of study is that it combines both. It ranges from the higher flights of jurisprudence to the very earth bound concerns of


tax law. It gives its graduates the detailed knowledge needed to be a practitioner but it also teaches them to think.

Science, philosophy, literature, music or history - without forgetting engineering - are also valuable because they develop the critical and creative faculties, the ability to analyse complex issues, to question assumptions and view problems from a variety of perspectives. They are essential parts of a complete professional education.

As John Ralston Saul ( in The Unconscious Civilisation) has put it: “The problem is not to teach skills in a galloping technology, but to teach students to think and to give them the tools of thought so that they can react to the myriad changes... that will inevitably face them over the next decades.”

It is simply wrong to think of vocationally oriented courses and liberal arts or generalist science courses as mutually exclusive.

You do not have to choose between the two. You can have both.

The key is to find the right balance and the way to do that is to encourage diversity within and between universities so as to allow wider choice for individuals.

Another false dichotomy that we need to reject is the idea that universities have to choose between being businesses or being something akin to a monastery. I have said many times that I expect them to be business-like without being businesses.

They are capable of knowing their cost structures without losing their grip on values.

Over the centuries universities have adapted to many changes while maintaining their core commitment to learning. I have no doubt that they will continue to develop in ways that maintain their traditional values while making big gains in efficiency.

But it will not be achieved without a searching examination of the values that sustain universities. Above all it will involve difficult choices.

For institutions, as for individuals, real achievement calls for difficult choices. Real achievement calls for Roosevelt’s strenuous life. I hope you enjoy yours.