Delivered May 22, 2019
It is wonderful to be here tonight. This is King’s at its best with its community gathered to celebrate our graduates, their family and friends.
And now in 2019 like you I will formally join King’s in my case as a Doctor of Civil Law. I am extremely honoured and happy to become part of this esteemed university. My sincere thanks go to King’s for allowing my involvement over 11 years and then asking me to be part of its family through this amazing and significant honour.
My role tonight is to close this dinner and start the perennial advice to the graduates of 2019. I will be brief. I did a bit of ‘walking research,’ or simply put ‘learning through listening and talking to others.’
For the past 2 years I have been mentor to King’s student and Loran Scholar Katie Clarke. The Loran scholarship covers 4 years and each student has a Mentor for that time.
Katie has taught me a lot as you will see, so I went to her for advice.
Plunging in over her head, immersing herself in school and the outside world through Oxfam and working for women’s equity across campus and through her summer placements in Victoria and now in Vienna…
This year she plunged into theatre at the Pit, King’s Theatre, where in one season she went from being a support hand to an actor, and then a winning playwright and Director. I attended these theatrical events – it was King’s at its best.
She epitomizes a King’s student who lives the dream. Her curiosity and enthusiasm and love of learning make her a valuable student and a strong contributor to civil society.
So what did Katie want to pass on to her fellow students? what does she care about?
In her words:
“Whatever you studied it’s valuable, you’re valuable, and your voice matters – use your voice to give space to those who are not usually heard, or if your voice is underrepresented, take up that space.”
This is a simple message but hugely important part of the King’s experience.
It’s easy these days to feel that one voice doesn’t matter and to question whether any of us are ready for the future and what it may hold.
In the context of a major demographic shift happening amidst a technology revolution where many traditional jobs will be replaced by robotics and we will be more intimately connected with others around the world – we may ask ourselves: Are we ready? What will matter?
But it is precisely in that world and in that context that foundational skills will be key and cultural awareness will be in demand. The mental flexibility and critical thinking that you have all developed over the course of your education here will serve you well in this rapidly changing context. The liberal arts, journalism and the soft skills that come from them – creativity, persuasion, collaboration will matter even more.
To many of us, certainly for me, the world seems to be in serious disarray and truth is hard to find, hard to understand and depressing to contemplate. It is not just ‘fake news’ – although that plays a part – it is the complexity of demographic shift, the severity of political discourse, and the massive technology change we see on the horizon.
It is hard to feel valuable in such a confusing world. However, as I look out, I see a room ideally suited to matter in this new world.
Your years at King’s have given you the skills necessary to tackle this disturbing world. You excel in one of the most powerful forms of communication, storytelling. Not fairy tales but evidence based, interesting stories about humankind past and present – for whatever you studied journalism or the humanities, your education has shown you the power of storytelling.
It is these human stories – reading them, writing them, sharing them – that create the connections that will allow us to ensure the focus on the human, and the humane, is not lost in this new world. It is these human stories, that will allow us all to feel empathy and to never lose sight of the human in the face of the political, the technological.
So go out into the world and – whatever you do, however you choose to use this education – do your own ‘walking research’ – listen and talk with others and then tell their stories, speak them, write them, share them, perform them.
Use your voice. For it matters. And use it in service of those who may not have a voice.
Do this with humility and with courage both. And finally, like Katie, never be afraid of jumping in over your head. Of seeking truth in areas of discomfort and fear. For you are needed.
Thank you for listening. Congratulations and good luck.