Graduation address given by Ann Corlett

Ann Corlett gave the following occasional address at the Faculty of Economics and Business graduation ceremony held at 4.00pm on 9 October 2009 in the Great Hall. Ms Corlett is a member of the External Advisory Committee, Department of Government and International Relations, Faculty of Arts.

The photo of Ms Corlett giving the occasional address is copyright, Memento Photography.

Ann Corlett

Graduation address

Deputy Chancellor, Mr Alan Cameron, Dean, Professor Peter Wolnizer, Fellows of Senate, members of the Alumni Council, distinguished guests, and, most importantly, new graduates and their families and friends.

I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to give this address today. I congratulate you all on your significant achievement. My own graduation ceremony in this Great Hall marked the 100,000th student to be awarded a degree from Australia’s oldest university. This graduation ceremony marks not only your own academic success but the occasion of the final attendance at a Graduation ceremony of Professor Peter Wolnizer in his official capacity as the Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Business. Therefore, I would like to take this moment to acknowledge that, for me, Professor Wolnizer’s tenure as Dean has demonstrated so superbly that with intelligence, creative thinking, unbridled enthusiasm, optimism and a good sense of humour, one can indeed achieve great things. Thank you Professor Wolnizer.

Every graduate of this great institution benefits from the experience of attending a research university and thus learning, amongst other things, how to “create, test and criticise knowledge.” These skills are essential in challenging times if we are to not only endure these times but have the capacity to transform our world.

I would like to invite you to consider 2 attitudes that have, I believe, the potential to enhance your capacity to deal with the challenges that come your way. The first is the development of the perspective of the Realist and the second is to seek and always be open to wise counsel.

I believe that the perspective of the Realist can be a critical key to getting through difficult times. The Realist tells it like it is, neither blinded by too much optimism nor overwhelmed by the weight of pessimism. The Realist is the person who is capable of looking at truth. It is an ability to see the whole picture in a balanced way.

The idea that we are either someone who sees the ‘glass half-full’ (an optimist) or someone who sees the ‘glass half-empty’ (a pessimist) is, in my opinion, a somewhat limiting perspective. To acknowledge the truth that the glass is both half-full and half-empty is essential for the construction of sound opinion. In developing our ability to assess a circumstance from a number of differing perspectives, we can, not only deepen our understanding but create an opportunity for innovative solutions.

At this point I would like to make clear that I believe that a dose of optimism and enthusiasm can, not only help one pursue what one really wants out of life, but is also an important component of achievement at an elite level. Optimism and enthusiasm can also give us the bounce and drive to lift us out of our comfort zone in order to step up to a challenge.

An important skill for the Realist is to be able to listen without judgement. Often we are not truly listening because we are co-ordinating our counter argument with an intention to win rather than to resolve.

I have found that learning to listen without judgement enables me to more easily gain understanding of the other person and that person’s perspective. This develops connection and opens up the opportunity to pro-actively take steps together to solve problems more effectively.

If we ask ourselves ‘What is it that excellence calls us to do?’ Surely the answer is, to always be eager to more fully understand a circumstance wherever it may lie on the complexity continuum. To develop such skills as listening without judgement and being open to other perspectives - builds our instinct for well-grounded, thoughtful decision-making.

The second attitude I invite you to consider is that of seeking and always being open to wise counsel. This can be of immeasurable value in your life.

I once heard about a study of anxiety levels in paratroopers. “What the researcher did was to attach an instrument to people parachuting out of planes. This instrument measured anxiety levels, heart rate, breathing rate & so-on. There was a little clock in this mechanism in order to get correlations between changes in anxiety and what was happening at that moment.

What the researcher discovered in this study was, that for the first time jumpers, when the instruction was given to get into the plane, the anxiety went up, when the plane took off the anxiety got higher, when the announcement was made they were approaching the jump sight the anxiety got higher, when the door was opened on the plane the anxiety got higher and when the person actually jumped - acute anxiety.

For the veteran jumpers, that is those who had jumped many many times, - when they got into the plane, no anxiety, plane takes off no anxiety, approaching the jump sight no anxiety, open the door of the plane no anxiety, the jump no anxiety, but just before they hit the ground anxiety would go up.

And the researcher interpreted the data this way, - the veteran jumpers knew, by experience, that you never get hurt jumping out of the plane - it is the ‘damn ground you’ve got to watch out for’!”

We can all gain valuable insights from another person’s experience. To have someone in our life, someone who has ‘hit the ground 10,000 times’, who can let us know that they understand something of how difficult it is for us, - this person can be a source of profound assurance in the midst of challenging circumstances.

As the “exceptional Australian”, renowned cancer surgeon and researcher, the late Professor Chris O’Brien wrote so eloquently and sincerely in his autobiography ‘Never Say Die’, “I often wished I could test my ideas with or seek the guidance of another person who has no agenda or requirement or expectation of me (other than that I would fulfil my potential and be successful) and whose wisdom I respected, whose judgement I valued and who does not have a vested interest in the outcome of any of my decisions”.

To listen to wise counsel helps give us a clearer perspective for decision making.

To seek wise counsel from another can support your life and to seek to become a source of wise counsel can enrich your life and the life of others.

May you embrace all the opportunities that come your way with courage, integrity and a sense of responsibility to each other, the wider community and this precious planet of ours. May you do everything with 100% of your attention. And finally may you live your life with much kindness and much happiness.

Thank you