Graduation address given by Adjunct Professor John Egan

Adjunct Professor John Egan gave the following occasional address at the Faculty of Economics and Business graduation ceremony held at 2.00pm on 8 May 2009. Adjunct Professor Egan is Chair, Faculty of Economics and Business Advisory Board, University of Sydney and recipient of the title of Honorary Fellow of the University.

The photo of guest speaker Professor Egan is copyright, Memento Photography.

Adjunct Professor John Egan

Graduation address

(Deputy Chancellor, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Faculty Deans, Professoriate, colleagues, families and friends and most importantly, graduates.

I acknowledge the people of the ancient lands on which this great institution has been built.

Thank you for the opportunity to address you at your Graduation Ceremony.

I have a significant affection for this place, having been involved in many aspects of the University’s life for well over a decade.

Firstly, my heartiest congratulations to today’s graduates.

You represent a special cohort of the global community. I know that the Faculty of Economics and Business has among its staff and students representation from over 100 countries by way of heritage or arising from their recent arrival to study at the University offering great cultural diversity and learning opportunities.

Through graduating with Masters degrees you represent a segment of an elite community with the benefit of earlier success at high school and university, with many of you only now about to embark upon the world of work or higher academic studies, whether in Australia or abroad.

Today is also a celebration for those who have guided you and supported you during your progress to date, particularly your parents and teachers, the latter both at high school and at the university. Without their contribution the quality of your progress would be substantially diminished.

I wish today to also acknowledge the contribution of those either in this great hall or elsewhere who have been part of your journey.

While your current focus may well be that of the world of employment, over the decades ahead and as part of your life’s journey many of you are likely to form partnerships and marry, have children, live in different parts of the world, observe communities of varying wealth and qualities of life.

A number of you will have already commenced your engagement in a profession, in business, in teaching or in Government. Some of you will have chosen your first work assignments overseas, others by choice will be contributing in the not for profit sector and within that context, some of you will choose to work in disadvantaged communities.

Your focus on work in the near term will be substantially influenced by your somewhat impoverished financial circumstance, a position which has arisen from your extended period as a student with limited funds.

As you progress through life, I hope you achieve many successes. Most, if not all of you, will experience disappointments and some failures. While celebrating your future success it is often helpful to reflect on the accomplishment of others who have achieved immeasurable success in their chosen field and in many cases made a significant sacrifice causing you to reflect on your own accomplishments with some humility.

In addressing disappointment and failure, it is often wise to elevate your spirits by reflecting on those less fortunate.

As life’s journey unfolds you will be required to adapt to continuous change and need to continually develop skills to enable you to meet these challenges, which for many may be further overlaid by different cultures, languages and economic prosperity across the globe.

I would like to encourage you today to keep to yourselves some small part of your life and to use it to celebrate being part of the human race. We are very lucky to belong to our communities – our family, the local community and the community of the nation. We take it very much for granted. But those communities need our involvement as much as we need them. And being involved in a community is as rewarding as it is useful. We take for granted the comfort of belonging but that is not something the just happens.

There is a huge diversity of ways to contribute to the well being of others and their success. I am not going to encourage you to join a particular group or engage in a particular charity. Some of us like dealing with strangers, some of us dread it. Some like to create things for other people, some like to help them be creative. I do encourage you to look around and find the contribution that you can best make and pursue it, not as a discipline, but as a rewarding social engagement.

I look at my own family and see how wide a range of things can be done. Members of my family have devoted time to the disadvantaged and elderly, to the local community including voluntary fire fighting while I have enjoyed years of involvement in my profession, the University and support for our local hospital in Leura through opening our country garden to thousands of paying visitors.

While I was orphaned before I had completed my high school education, I have subsequently led a privileged life benefiting from a university education while a resident of a campus based university college, where I became a member of the House Committee and ultimately accountable for the Treasury function.

When I first commenced my employment I was mentored by a wise manager who introduced me to my next employer of more than twenty years. That employer sponsored my continuing education, offered me ownership in the business, retired young so that I could lead it. This channelled my engagement with the Institute of Management Consultants, initially as the firm’s representative and then President.

A Professor at university, who mentored my postgraduate training, introduced me to the National Advisory Board of AIESIC, with whom I stayed for a period of ten years, retiring as its National Chairman, before joining the Faculty’s Board of Advice in 1995 and being appointed Chairman in 2001.

Most of my opportunities have been introduced and sponsored by others who were aware of my strengths and were generous enough not to call upon me to pursue tasks where I have obvious limitations.

I have found my participation in voluntary organisations to be a great learning experience and the source of many enduring friendships. One of my most challenging and rewarding experiences was in the bicentenary year in 1988 when AIESEC, the world’s largest student organisation decided that they would strive to achieve 200 international traineeships for Australian graduands and graduates. AIESEC has a presence in over 1,700 universities in over 100 countries. To reach their target, they had to raise sponsorship from local employers to offer 200 traineeships in Australia for foreign students and graduates. They exceeded that target and this created a new platform for their continued engagement in encouraging personal and professional development for members of Australia’s university communities.

At the University of Sydney, while my engagement with the Faculty of Economics and Business has been a long one, it has been enjoyable, not only arising from my involvement with a significant number of generous colleagues who have given substantially of their time for the benefit of the University, but also arising from the great success achieved by Dean Peter Wolnizer in uplifting the Faculty’s spirits, providing it with clear direction and momentum and then setting about to achieve ‘best in class’ nationally, an accomplishment which has been recognised in Europe, North America, and Asia and more recently in Peter Wolnizer being the first non-US resident Dean to be appointed for a second term on the International Board of AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business).

I have been challenged in these voluntary communities by their management structures or where they sit in the broader enterprise of which they are part, whether it be local government, a professional body, a student organisation or a university. AIESEC was probably the most challenging as the predominant leadership at both campus and national level changed annually and changed entirely every two years. I have found that you deal with these impediments to your traditional ways of doing things when the enterprises that you join are well led.

You are a group notable for its talents, its intelligence and its capacity for hard work. Use your skills and boundless energy to do something for the benefit of others outside your family and work. If you are or become overwhelmed by the demands of family and work for a period, don’t lose sight of the opportunity to contribute in the future.

On each occasion of my personal engagement in voluntary communities, I have been approached by a business associate, neighbour or friend, to lend a hand. As young graduates, you might seek engagement in the near term in youth fellowships, sporting organisations or continuing education outside of your most recent studies. You may take up painting, learning a musical instrument, carpentry, flamenco dancing or whatever. These initiatives will continue to represent the rich fabric of your life as you continue on the journey of continuous learning.

I am not asking or suggesting that you rush out and immediately join St John Ambulance or the Little Sisters of the Poor or Save our Planet Society. However, if you are receptive to what I have put to you today, you will recognise invitations to participate and I encourage you to think about them.

Probably the best part of these community engagements is that you are really needed to make a contribution and a difference. It’s nice to be needed. Children need help to learn to read, schools and hospitals need fundraisers, troubled youth need mentors and leaders. People contribute in all sorts of ways, people prepare ancient manuscripts for publication on the web, others find long lost relations and friends.

Maybe each of you have a secret passion to cook, to paint, to garden or indeed to master something which troubled you during your studies. There is a group in the community that needs you.

As you make choices on your journey ahead always ensure that your decisions reflect the right values and in situations where you don’t know the best way, choose the path that conforms with your sense of integrity and what is right.

If still in doubt, base your decision on the protection of your reputation and integrity. Ultimately, that’s all you will have.

I look forward with great anticipation to your continuing involvement with the University and contribution to the communities in which you live over the decades ahead.