Speech – Postgraduate Graduation, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences: Welcome Address, 11 April 2019


Your Royal Highness and Chancellor, members of the University Council and Executive Board, University staff, distinguished guests, our graduands, and ladies and gentlemen: Good morning! And a very special ‘thank you’ to the Cathedral for allowing us to hold today’s ceremony in this magnificent setting.

As President and Vice-Chancellor, I am delighted to extend a warm welcome to you all, at this wonderful milestone in Surrey’s calendar, as we celebrate the achievements of our students from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

It is also my great pleasure to welcome our guest speakers today, Sir Richard Stilgoe, and Julia Hulser.

To all graduands, I offer my warmest congratulations on your academic successes – the culmination of many years of dedication and hard work.

To our special guests – parents, spouses, family and friends of our graduands — I share your pride on this great day. Your support and love have been crucial on this journey. As a gesture of gratitude, graduands, please stand and give your families and friends a round of applause and cheers! Be loud and enthusiastic!

Your Surrey postgraduate qualification tells the world that you are ambitious, passionate and tenacious. It says that you will go beyond what is ‘good enough’ into something deeper. It shows that you are capable of ‘more’. These are excellent qualities. Employers today are seeking candidates who are equipped to shape a rapidly changing world. Today you prove that you are a match for this challenge.

However, these rapid changes we see around us can be unsettling, especially as you stand at the beginning of a new road whose twists and turns you cannot predict. “…Uncertainty … never goes away (not least for this country at the moment!).  The question is, do you know how to make uncertainty your friend?” [1]

Everyone here today, not least myself, has grappled with uncertainty and self-doubt. These are often described as negatives, to be avoided perhaps, rather than embraced.

In fact, uncertainty is your greatest ally, because when you don’t know the answers, you start to see unexpected paths and possibilities. Uncertainty is silence amid the world’s rush of noise and activity, in which you may hear an inner voice telling you what the right choice is. The Tao asks: ‘Can you remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself?’  Uncertainty can be our source of deepest strength and insight.

This capacity to make choices from a point of stillness is important as you face a new beginning personally — but also because you stand at a crossroads of history. Your generation will choose and shape the future.

Will you build walls and work in silos, keeping your success for yourself? Certainly some of our friends across the Atlantic like to!

Or will you knock down walls, and build bridges, spreading the benefits as far as they can go?

Will you insulate and isolate?

Or will you expand, and include?

Today I ask you to choose bravely not just for yourself but for future generations, and to shape a better future for the WHOLE world.

As Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest: “Past is prologue.” The end is where we start from.[2] This ceremony will soon be over, and your story is just beginning. You will see that the significance of your studies does not end today. You have learned how to reason, to experiment and to question; these are the most valuable and sophisticated activities a well-educated mind can perform.  You are now prepared to face the tests and rewards the wider world has to offer.

Your challenges will be different, but in many ways more interesting. Have faith in yourself. Be ready to stretch your limits, and to grow in understanding. At the end of the day, the true reward is the belief in all the triumphs and setbacks that make your path unique.

‘Life is either a great adventure, or nothing.’[3]

Graduands, I hope you will remember that the University of Surrey is forever your intellectual home. So please keep in touch, and come back and share your stories with us.

May I offer my warm congratulations again to you all, and my very best wishes for the future.

Thank you


[1] David Brooks, journalist, Wake Forest College commencement address, 2007

[2] T.S. Eliot

[3] Helen Keller