Education for a World of Change

Griffith University Graduation Ceremony
Griffith Sciences and Griffith Business School
Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre
Broadbeach, Queensland, Australia
July 25, 2014


Chancellor Forde; Vice-Chancellor and President O’Conner; members of the official party; members of the academic and administrative staff; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen and members of today’s graduating class.

I am deeply grateful to the university for bestowing this great honor upon me, and having grown up on the Gold Coast only a few miles from here, it has very special significance for me. I only regret that my late mother Joyce, to whom I more than anyone owe my love of all the great arts of civilization, could not be here. She would have been very proud.

I would like to thank some of my family and friends who have honored me by their presence here today.

I am delighted that my sisters Pamela Cafarella and Diana McRobbie; my uncle David McRobbie—the first in our extended family to graduate from university; my cousin Alice-Anne Boylan; my niece Camella McRobbie—who I am delighted to say is a student here at Griffith University; and my brother-in-law Vern Gibson could be here.

And I would like to acknowledge old friends from my years in Australia—Gwynne Bentley; Helen and Ian Harris; and Alan Knight and Kathy Egea.

And finally I want to acknowledge my beloved wife Laurie.

Growing up on The Gold Coast

As someone who, as I mentioned, grew up on the Gold Coast, this honor is especially meaningful to me.

I received a good and solid education at Surfers Paradise State School and Miami State High School that helped me make the transition to university with confidence.

But in those days there was no university on the Gold Coast and only one in Queensland, and only 14 in the whole of Australia.

The Gold Coast is, however, vastly different today. What was then a small beachside resort when I left in 1967 with a population of around 50,000 with only one building over 10 stories high, has now grown to become Australia’s sixth largest and fastest-growing major city, with a population over half a million and over a million in total in the broader region. It has, over the years, developed many of the necessary institutions one expects of a sophisticated, modern, cosmopolitan city, though maintaining the enormous attractiveness of its peerless seaside location.

Such institutions include a fine research university. And here Griffith University deserves great credit for having seized the opportunity to become the Gold Coast university when it shifted its center of gravity here in 2007. A dynamic and rapidly growing research university is essential to a dynamic and rapidly growing city.

Education for a World of Change

As graduates of Griffith University, you have received an education that has prepared you to contribute in far-reaching and influential ways to the prosperity and progress of this region, this nation and the world. That education also provides you with the skills to adapt to—and prosper in the face of—unexpected, rapid, and global change.

In the course of your lives alone, the pace and scope of such change has already been truly astounding—with much of it driven by constant advances in information technology.

Today, the enormous impact of innovation in information technology pervades nearly everything we do. It is no exaggeration to say that almost no area of human life has been untouched.

As graduates of the Griffith School of Business and Griffith Sciences, you are all acutely aware of the myriad ways in which information technology has transformed your disciplines, bringing about both unprecedented progress, but also raising complex questions and difficult problems, as progress always does.

The massive amount of information now at our fingertips is transforming the way companies and governments operate, enabling extraordinary improvements in productivity and responsiveness. But it has also dis-intermediated whole areas of the economy with grave social consequences and raised serious questions and concerns about individual privacy and security.

In the space of your lifetimes, information technology has enabled researchers to map the human genome, paving the way for personalized medicine, but also opening up complex ethical arguments about discriminatory genetics.

These remarkable opportunities and sobering challenges will be a constant in your lives and the exciting careers that await you. And your Griffith education has provided you with the skills of analysis, discrimination, judgment, flexibility and adaptability that will enable you to succeed.

The Vital Importance of Research

An education of this quality is, of course, one of the two fundamental missions of a fine university like Griffith. The other is research. In fact the two are inextricably linked. The best education is one where the academic staff are both aware of, and contribute to, the frontiers of research in their disciplines.

Here, too, information technology has had an enormous impact in research in virtually every discipline from anthropology to zoology. Supercomputers, massive data stores and high-speed networks, for example, have become essential tools in the neurosciences, the life sciences, the physical sciences, and engineering. And their effect too, is now being felt more and more in the social sciences and in the humanities.

Overwhelmingly, it is the world’s great research universities where vital basic research such as this is now done. “Vital” because it is precisely this sort of research that not only provides a deeper and more profound understanding of man and the universe, but which also leads to radical innovations that immeasurably improve human life.

As a 2012 report of the National Research Council in the United States stated, “America is driven by innovation—advances in ideas, products, and processes that create new industries and jobs, spur economic growth and support a high standard of living… Innovation,” the report continued, “has been increasingly driven by educated people and the knowledge they produce. Our nation’s primary source of both new knowledge and graduates with advanced skills continues to be its research universities.”1

The report noted that investment in university research by the U.S. government has led to discoveries ranging from the laser to the MRI, from the algorithm for Google searches to GPS, from fetal monitoring to advanced surveying techniques, along with thousands and thousands of other inventions and innovations.2

The same is also true of investment in university research in Australian universities, which has led to the development of the cochlear implant—the so-called “bionic ear”, anti-flu medication, the cervical cancer vaccine and an understanding of the causes of stomach ulcers. It has led to the development of ultrasound, Wi-Fi, a means of safely storing radioactive waste, spray-on skin and many, many other innovations. All world-class achievements.

Great research universities are essential, then, to any nation that values and wishes to improve long-term economic prosperity, health, and security.

China’s leaders for example are acutely aware of this. I had the privilege in 2010 of attending in Beijing the centenary of the foundation of China’s finest university, Tsinghua University, where, in the Great Hall of the People in front of 7,000 people and the Chinese leadership, the then Chinese President Hu Jintao highlighted the critical role of the research university, its role in innovation and the importance of investing in them. He noted: “Innovation [is] the main driving force of economic social development, and intellectual innovation becomes the core factor of national competitiveness.”3

Previous Australian governments have invested heavily in research, recognizing that innovation and the creation of new knowledge can lead to vitally important developments that can improve the quality of life for all Australians, and indeed, for citizens of the entire world. It is essential to this nation’s prosperity and way of life that they continue to do so.

Griffith University: Engine for Regional Economic Development

Research universities make great contributions that can create or transform whole industries. But they also play a vital role in the economic development of the regions in which they are located through the well-trained graduates they produce, like all of you, and by providing a robust core of research and practice that fuels innovation and entrepreneurship.

The contribution that Griffith is making to the Gold Coast in this regard fits this description precisely.

The Griffith Health Centre brings together in a very impressive state of the art building, eight vigorous health science schools including medicine, dentistry, nursing and pharmacy, and over 6,500 students, and their colocation optimizes the opportunities for multidisciplinary endeavors from which innovation so often springs.

The Center is in turn collocated with the superb new Gold Coast University Hospital, which I understand it is the largest in Australia. And it will soon be joined by a major new private hospital presently under construction.

All of this is centered in the impressive Health and Knowledge Precinct, which I had the pleasure of visiting earlier this week, and which, in its breadth and capabilities, has the potential to rival some of the very best centers in the world for health science innovation. Many of you here today can help make this vision a reality.

In fact, I have remarked previously to the Vice Chancellor that because of these strengths, because of Griffith’s attractive seaside location on the rapidly growing Gold Coast with its beautiful weather, and because of the tremendous growth the university has experienced, Griffith has an outstanding opportunity to become something like the Australian equivalent of the University of California, San Diego, one of America’s leading universities for health science research.

Supporting Your Alma Mater

Graduates, you should take great pride in your accomplishments that have brought you here today. But this is not the end of your educations. Your educations, both formal and informal, will continue through your careers. But as the world changes around you, what will remain steadfast are the bonds you have forged here at Griffith University. It is my hope that all of you will acknowledge, remember, and reinforce those bonds by staying involved in the life of this growing university.

This is not a simple appeal for charity but a recognition of the spirit that resides at the heart of the American system of higher education and makes it the best in the world.

As the leader of one of America’s finest universities, I have been able to observe that spirit closely over many years and have found that, at its core, are the highly engaged, dedicated alumni who are one of that system’s vital and enduring strengths. At Indiana University we have 60,000 members in our alumni association, out of over 600,000 living alumni. Our endowment, to which our alumni contribute generously, is approaching $2 billion. We have just passed the halfway mark in a series of campaigns that aim to have raised $5 billion by our bicentenary in 2020.

This kind of support gives us a measure of independence from external pressures of various kinds and allows innovation to be vigorously pursued in ways difficult for others elsewhere in the world.

Engagement with and support for their alma mater, then, are the key ways in which graduates can strengthen the bonds they have formed over the years. Alumni engagement has proven to be essential to the strength of American higher education, and hence of the American economy.

Such engagement can also, with the support of graduates like you, become an even greater part of the strength of Australian higher education, and hence of the Australian nation.

By giving back you will recognize that education enriches the lives not only of those who receive but also of those who give. It is a gift that reflects a profound sense of hope for our future: the hope that our children will have better lives; the hope that we can make a difference.

Conclusion: Inventing The Future

As graduates of Griffith University, you have received an education at one of Australia’s leading universities—an education that will enable you to remain flexible and open to unexpected directions of thought and action.

It will enable you to respond with speed and knowledge to changing circumstances, and to generate solutions to unforeseen and challenging problems.

And it is an education that enables the creativity and vision required to create new industries, new science, and new understandings of the very nature of existence.

This university was named in honor of Sir Samuel Griffith. He was a visionary of extraordinary daring. He saw the opportunity to help weld six small independent states together into a great nation. This he helped do as the Father of the Australian Constitution. And then at the conclusion of an extraordinary career of public service he served as the first Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia.

Graduates, you now have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the great namesake of this university. It is to you that the world now looks for your commitment as citizens, for your energy and seriousness of purpose as you grapple with the most formidable problems that confront us, for your commitment to human dignity and freedom, and for all you can do to renew the global economy, to innovate, to build, to heal, to teach—to invent the future.

May you create an even brighter future for yourselves and for us all.

Thank you very much.

Source Notes

  1. National Research Council of the National Academies, Research Universities and the Future of America: Ten Breakthrough Actions Vital to Our Nation’s Prosperity and Security, (The National Academies Press, 2012), 1.
  2. This series is borrowed from Jonathan Cole’s The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence, Its Indispensable National Role, Why It Must Be Protected, page 4.
  3. Hu Jintao, Speech at the Centennial Anniversary of the Founding of Tsinghua University, delivered April 24, 2011.