Speech — Undergraduate Graduation: Welcome Address, 16 July 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 afternoon!

As President and Vice-Chancellor, I am delighted to extend a warm welcome to you all, at this wonderful milestone in Surrey’s calendar.

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

Your Surrey degree tells the world that you aim high, work hard and produce results. These are excellent qualities. Employers today are seeking candidates who are equipped to shape a rapidly changing world. Graduates must not only be qualified but educated, prepared, agile and adaptable. Today you prove that you are a match for this challenge.

Very few people start out extraordinary. It’s the extraordinary acts we do that elevate us. We all have opportunities for these, every day.

For example, Mary Dinah, who received a degree in International Hotel Management from Surrey in 2005, was recognised in our 2019 Alumni Awards for Outstanding Contribution to Society. Mary set up Nigeria’s first job centre – JobLink Recruitment Services – in 2014. Since then, JobLink has helped 10,000 young people find employment and given free employability training to 2,000 others.

People like Mary change other people’s lives for the better.

And, you will soon discover that the significance of your studies does not end today. Your intellectual training here at Surrey will help you learn to fully appreciate the crucial difference between information, knowledge and wisdom.

The American author and Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison said:

“In all of our education….we move from data to information to knowledge to wisdom. It’s easy to assume that data is really knowledge. Or that information is, indeed, wisdom. Or that knowledge can exist without data. And how quickly we can forget that wisdom without knowledge, wisdom without any data, is just a hunch.” [1]

By the way, Toni Morrison was the first black woman to win a Nobel Prize.

In the era of big data, we are often overwhelmed by the speed, connectivity and urgency of the virtual world.  Information goes through our fingers almost without going through our brain cells. But real knowledge and understanding are harder to achieve.

From experience, I know how important it is to have the patience to penetrate the superficial and discover true substance underneath. Only by so doing, will you be able to see a further vision and develop a sustainable life strategy, not only to deal with what is known to be important now, but to cope with the unknowns and disruptions of the future, and recognise the opportunities they bring.  My own journey has instilled in me humility, resilience and foresight, qualities that are invaluable for success and happiness, particularly in the face of great unknowns.

Graduands, your story is just beginning. The challenges and unknowns you face will make your life interesting and rewarding. Have faith in yourself. Be ready to stretch your limits, and to grow in understanding.

Finally, 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.

The first cohort of veterinary students. Credit: Paul Stead Photography


[1] Toni Morrison, The Source of Self-Regard, lecture, 1992.