Riverview Valete 2016
It is hard for me to believe that it is 44 years since I left Riverview. My wife says it will be obvious to you … Among so many fond memories, I recall a noisy third former called Abbott; a vice-captain who became a Wallaby; and a quiet boy from country Queensland, who received a British knighthood. Your very own Mr Rodgers was in the year ahead of me; while over in College Street in the city, my fellow school captain at Sydney Grammar was a confident but lonely young man called Turnbull.
I was not a typical entrant. I knew no one; I had never lived in Sydney; and my first meal in the Junior School was unappetising in the extreme. My parents, brother and sister were all in Canberra. Soon, they would move to Singapore and I would join them only once a year for the summer holidays. I used to board the plane with a sign around my neck announcing that I was an unaccompanied child.
The reason for telling you all this is that I consider myself fortunate. For six years, Riverview was my home and the mothers and fathers of my classmates were my second parents. I left school when I was 17 years old and learned many lessons in the years that followed. May I tell you some of what I learned? The mistakes, I will keep to myself. The first thing that I discovered is that Riverview is not an end in itself. It is a launch pad - the beginning not the end. Your next seven years, from age 18 to 25, are the years when most of you will establish the direction of your future life. It can be an exciting, exhilarating and memorable time. That is partly because you will be studying or training in one form or another. More importantly, it will be because you will be learning in the broadest sense – about the world, about relationships and about yourself. Enjoy it; make the most of it; but do not waste it.
The second thing you should know is that - and I mean this in the nicest possible way - Riverview is a bubble. You have more enlightened teachers here than at most schools, but there is no getting away from the fact that Riverview is a privileged private school, for boys only, in an affluent part of a small country, with a tiny population, in a remote corner of the world. Only New Zealand is more remote. So I would say to you – cherish difference and diversity; never be narrow-minded or parochial; avoid excessive patriotism; and recognise that other good people think differently, behave differently and have different values. Sometimes they are better people than we are.
The third thing that you should recognise - and embrace - is that during your lives, the changes in technology and the world order will be more extensive than at any time since World War II. Let me give you some food for thought:
1. When my wife and I were in North Korea a few months ago, we were accompanied by a young man called Mustafa. He was born in Aleppo in Syria, studied theology at Oxford, dropped out to build his own technology start-up, sold it to Google and then became one of its senior executives. He is only 31 years old and divides his time between London and Silicon Valley. What was he doing in North Korea? Well, he was looking form business opportunities of course…Now you probably hear bad things about North Korea but there is nearly always a better approach than confrontation. Nelson Mandela put it best when he said - ‘Trade with your enemy and he will become your friend’. The Google people understand the truth of what Mandela said even if the Pentagon probably does not;
2. Which brings me to the world order. The changes are happening before our eyes. China was once known as the Celestial Empire and there is little doubt that it will probably return to that role. Could I suggest to you that China is not the problem. It is part of the future. A wise American Secretary of State actually got it right at the end of the 19th century, when he said – ‘China is the storm centre of the world’ and that whoever took the time and trouble to understand ‘this mighty empire’ would have ‘a key to politics for the next five centuries’. Incidentally, I am sure you know that in the 16th century, the Jesuits were among the first Europeans to go to China, Japan and Korea. Some of you might be inspired to follow their example.
May I conclude with five brief suggestions drawn from my personal experience:
- INTEGRITY: It is the most important commodity you have. We all make mistakes. When that happens, do not try to deny or defend your mistake. Just admit the error and take the punishment. You will be a better man for it. We see it in court all the time, most recently involving two old boys from here, each of whom took a different approach when charged with the same offence in a high profile insider trading case;
- HUMILITY: I have found that the people who know the most, have achieved the most and have lived the most, are often the humblest. By all means, be quietly confident in your own abilities. But remember that modesty is the best policy;
- SPORT: I played a lot of sport. I was in a GPS winning rugby team and I never lost a match to St Josephs, which may be a record. But can I tell you, honestly, that it is not that important. Do not let sport consume your life - as a participant or as a spectator. Develop the other side of your life and keep a balanced perspective;
- GALLIPOLI: I mentioned excessive patriotism earlier. I am the son, and the father, of Army officers and the grandson of one of the ‘Rats of Tobruk’. Could I urge you not to become one of those young men who think that Australia owns the Gallipoli story. We do not. The French lost more men than we did; and the British lost three times as many; we did not land at the wrong place; and it was no one else’s fault;
- WOMEN: They are the most important people on the planet. None of us would be here, literally, without them. Once you pass through the school gates, you will stand shoulder to shoulder with women in every aspect of life and work and study. Never fail to respect them. And if you stray, or you see others behaving badly, just remember your own mothers and sisters.
Finally, when you go out into the world, find your calling. Do not worry how long it takes. Each one of you has a unique talent just waiting to be discovered. What matters is identifying it.
And for good measure, remember always to ask yourself the time-honoured Riverview question ‘How may I serve?’ And never underestimate the value of kindness.
Thankyou for the privilege of addressing you. And good luck.