Graduation address given by Professor Peter Skilling

Professor Peter Skilling gave the following occasional address at the Faculty of Atrs graduation ceremony held at 9.30am on 8 May 2009. Professor Skilling is University Buddhist Education Foundation Visiting Professor, School of Languages and Cultures, Faculty of Arts, University of Sydney.

The photo of Professor Skilling is copyright Memento Photography.

Professor Peter Skilling

Graduation address

Peter Skilling, Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient

As a visitor to the University of Sydney, I am immensely impressed by the international atmosphere of this institution (and of the city of Sydney). I am honoured to be here today, and to address the graduates in the Faculty of Arts. Worldwide, the Faculty of Arts of the University of Sydney counts as one of the top faculties for humanities and social sciences. You have been able to benefit from the presence of internationally recognised researchers, to develop your research skills, and to forge new and lasting friendships, both local and international. You have gained valuable knowledge of a range of disciplines in the humanities, liberal arts, media and communications, the social and political sciences, and languages.

I am here in Sydney as visiting professor of Buddhist studies, in a new programme which exemplifies the multi-culturism and the broad vision of the University. A good university should always be ready to embrace new fields and new dimensions. To stand still is to stand behind. Buddhist studies is a multi-disciplinary enterprise that covers the study of ancient and modern languages, both classical and vernacular, as well as history, art history, archaeology, and anthropology – to name but a few of the fields we draw upon. It entails the investigation of the culture, literature, art, and society of most of Asia. That is, Buddhist studies is not just a facet of religious studies. It is, rather, an integral component of Asian studies. This century is often described as the “Asian century” – the century in which Asia will take the lead as never before. As Australia grows closer and closer to – or even joins – Asia, what can be more important than to deepen our understanding Asia. And this includes Asia’s rich Buddhist heritage.

Perhaps I embody certain aspects of this international and Asian age. I am a Canadian. I was educated in Canada, the US, and Austria, and I eventually received my doctorate at the Sorbonne in Paris. I arrived in Thailand on Dec 16, 1991 – incidentally the day Bangladesh was born – and I have lived in Thailand ever since. I have travelled extensively throughout the region. At present I work for a French organization, the Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient, which was founded over 100 years ago, but I am stationed in Bangkok, where I do research in, among others, the Thai, Tibetan, and Sanskrit languages. I do not seem to fit into any mould – or do I? Perhaps the diversity I enjoy is a sign – and an encouraging sign – of the times.

Your achievements mark a significant rite of passage. Graduation means the end of one phase of life and the beginning of a new one. But graduation should not mean goodbye to education. Education is a lifelong process. I hope that you all will continue to learn, for only when we learn can we grow. Learning is living. And it is important to encourage learning among one’s family and friends, and to support learning – everywhere. To speak up for the principles of education, to support and speak up for the human sciences – this is the way to express our gratitude for our education. At present governments around the world turn away from “pure education” towards profit and “student processing”. In particular, they fail to see the value of the human sciences, of arts, languages and cultures, as if they were dispensable.

They are not dispensable. Humanities and social sciences, languages and cultures are international in scope, and the humanities are the key to the future. In this rapidly changing age of globalization, what can be more vital than the communication, understanding, and respect that comes with knowledge of languages? What can be better than to deepen our understanding of culture? Through liberal arts, though intelligent use of media, communications, and languages, we can share and celebrate our marvelously rich and diverse human heritage. We can promote the exchange of arts and ideas and join hands together to fashion our future.

Thank you.