I read recently a speech I gave at the University of Wollongong twenty-five years ago. I have decided to reproduce it here as there still seems some relevance to present day existence.
Gateway was an equity program funded by the federal Labor government designed to give mature aged students another chance to enter university. It was concerned with literacy, mathematics and university life. Here then is the speech.
A Speech Given At The University Of Wollongong
26 June 1995
ELEVENTH GATEWAY GRADUATION ADDRESS
It is hard to think of a happier task for me than the one I am about to perform. In a few moments, with feelings of genuine honour, I shall present the Gateway prize for outstanding achievement.
For that prize I have chosen a book of words. Guildenstern says:
“Words, words. They’re all we have to go on.” *
Jean Paul Sartre called words loaded pistols. Rudyard Kipling saw them as “the most potent drugs used by mankind.”
And then there was Humpty Dumpty in the Alice Through The Looking Glass of Lewis Carroll.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, which is to be master – that’s all.”
I have been struggling with words all my life. It is such a hard task to win well or even survive. You need to work at it. Perfection with words is an elusive dream.
We all err and fall short again and again – like the Bangkok dry cleaner reported in the Sydney Morning Herald of January 10, 1992 who wrote:
“Drop your trousers here for best results”
or the Hong Kong dentist who advertised:
“Teeth extracted by the latest Methodists”
or Tony Greig who once said:
“Border’s shout of ‘No’ was quick and positive” and
“It’s been a night of misses as far as direct hits are concerned”
or Norman May many years ago, who noted on air that
“It was a dead heat between Azeem and the ball with the ball just winning”
or an early New South Wales Legal Studies Syllabus directive which said:
“All students must study this optional topic”
or Vice-president Dan Quayle who claimed to be
“…ready for any unseen event that may or may not occur”
or the unknown examination candidate who thought that
“Socrates died of an overdose of wedlock,”
Words can be among the most empowering of things. They can be surprising as well as potent. For example I can report that ergasiophobia is extremely rare in Gateway students. Ergasiophobia means “fear of work” or in some quarters “bureaucrat’s curse.” See what I mean? Similarly, I can say from experience that kopophobia is also rare in Gateway.** You probably know that it means “fear of exhaustion” or “students’ curse.”
And there is the question of politically correct language. Some politicians object to this constriction. Examples include not “manhole” but “sewer access hole,” not “maiden over” but “scoreless over,” not “abominable snowman” but “abominable snow creature,” not “dwarf” but “vertically challenged person,” not “bald” but “follicly challenged,” and not “accidental hospital deaths due to treatment” but “preventable adverse events.”
Ladies and gentlemen, that’s enough on my reasons for choosing a dictionary for this prize.
Before I ask the winner to come forward to receive the prize and because this is the eleventh Gateway graduation I have seen, I feel I have to say just a few more things that seem to me important. I have shared or am still sharing the learning journey with many Gateway students. I have seen the struggle and the suffering and the joy from very close range. Therefore my first message is obvious.
Congratulations to all Gateway graduands and where relevant the families and other supporters who have helped you to be here for this moment. It is not easy to reach this point. You have to dare to be wrong and learn to profit from your mistakes as well as from your triumphs. You have to be patient and dogged. Don’t ever forget that to meet the requirements of the Gateway program is an achievement in itself.
I want you to be really sure that you belong to a very special group of people – well over five hundred determined characters who have come forward to receive their graduation certificates at these ceremonies. And now the University graduates are coming through. The average performance of all former Gateway students at the University is just below the cut off for credit level. There are so many I could mention as pillars for your inspiration.
(I HAVE SUPPRESSED THE NAMES IN THIS RECOLLECTION TO RESPECT PRIVACY)
For example, **** ***********, from the 1989 Gateway Program, graduated in 1994 with First Class Honours in Education. From the same year’s group, ***** ******* gained Second Class Honours in Psychology and three to four weeks ago, ******* **** received her BSc with First Class Honours and the University Medal in Psychology.
I must mention too the 1990 graduates **** ****** First Class Honours in Sociology, the former President of the SRC, ***** **** Second Class Honours in Creative Arts, and *** ********** Second Class Honours in Education.
My space for names is limited. There are however a few other role models for you to think about. Recently I heard of a winner of an overseas scholarship. Then too we have among our graduates the winner in Glasgow in 1993 of the World Championship for Law Students in Client Interviewing. Other Gateway students are at present undertaking postgraduate studies and there is a very healthy number of pass graduates. Ours is the most successful identifiable undergraduate group in the University.
I think with great affection of the many people I have come to know who have changed their lives (and mine) by discovering reasons to believe in themselves. I congratulate you, as you become the new Gateway graduates, on reaching this end of your beginning.
Those of you who do enter the University should remember that on the first day of the next part of the journey, you will not be ranked – but will all be starting from the same position. Eleanor Roosevelt once wrote something that has helped me:
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
I wish you all much joy in the adventures ahead. Finally I mention the words of another wise commentator on life, Alexander Pope:
“Charms strike the sight, but merit wins the soul.”
I therefore have absolute delight in inviting ****** ***** to come forward to receive the
Prize For Outstanding Achievement In The Gateway Program.
*Tom Stoppard Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead Act 1, p.30
** For similar fascinating words see Peter Bowler’s The Superior Person’s Little Book Of Words and The Superior Person’s Second Little Book Of Words.