Charles Sturt University
Graduation Address – 2 April 2009
Dr. Melinda M Muth
Chancellor Willett, Deputy Chancellor Pitkin, Deputy Vice Chancellor
Prof Gorman, members of the faculty, family members, and most
I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, the
people of the Wiradjuri nation and I would like to say ‗thank you‘ for
the honour of inviting me to address you on this special day.
It took me awhile to decide whether I should accept the invitation. My
instructions were to inspire you and so wanting to get it right, I made
a quick check of my understanding of the word ‗inspire‘. Reviewing the dictionary entry made me want to ‗expire‘ with the enormity of the task; phrases like ‗to infuse an animating or exalting influence into‘, to
communicate or suggest by a divine or supernatural influence, to
breathe life into‘. I took this to mean ‗don‘t be so boring or talk so long that the audience needs oxygen by the end of the address.‘
I also hesitated because I see participating in a graduation as a real
responsibility, because to me this day is not just a ceremony, but an
important rite of passage. In our society earning a degree confers a
new status upon us but we often fail to recognise the psychological
significance of that new status and the opportunity it creates for
French anthropologist, Arnold van Gennep outlined three phases that celebrate a transition from one status to another: separation, liminality and re-incorporation.
In the first phase, separation, people withdraw from a group and begin moving from one place or status to another. There is often a physical departure, which is associated with symbolic actions and rituals. Indigenous people would understand this well, for example, taking adolescents to a sacred site to undergo the rites and rituals associated with becoming an adult. Separated from their
communities, new knowledge would be shared by the elders with the young people, they would be tested and participate in ceremony before re-entering their community to take up a new identity and new responsibilities as adults. Some of you left home to study at this university, many would have attended some sort of orientation event, although I realise that for some of you the first phase of your passage may have been a deep breath as you turned on the computer to download the study requirements for your first course. Whatever it was, there was movement into a new place, space or mental state. Then the liminal phase, a period between states, during which people have left one place or state but haven't yet entered or started the next. It‘s a new way to think about online tutorials - located in the ‗liminal‘
Finally, re-incorporation, where elaborate rituals and ceremonies take place, like today – a university graduation. And so we are here with
robes, mace, and unusual headwear to recognise the completion of a
significant journey with the public award of a testamur for the degree
you have earned. However, in my mind there is a far greater purpose,
and that is to take time to reflect on not only what you have achieved
but what you will do with the knowledge gained in the next phase of
your career, and life. In my experience, one cannot separate the two
and be truly successful.
I would like to use a short story to illustrate what I mean with
apologies to the unknown author:
A CEO was on holiday in a beautiful coastal resort. He took a
walk to a small village nearby and wandered down the pier.
While he was there, a small boat with just one fisherman
docked. Inside the boat he could see several quite large
barramundi. The CEO complimented the fisherman on the
quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.
―Only a little while‖, replied the fisherman. The CEO asked why
he had not stayed out longer to catch more fish, and the
fisherman said he had enough to support the immediate needs
of his family.
The CEO then asked, ―but what do you do with the rest of your
time?‖ The fisherman said, ―I sleep late, fish a little, play with
my children, have lunch with my wife and stroll into the village
each evening where I sip wine, catch up with my neighbours
and play guitar with my friends. I have a full and busy life.‖
The CEO scoffed: ―you should spend more time fishing and
with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from
the bigger boat you could buy several boats. Eventually you
would have a fleet of fishing boats.
Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell
directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery.
Then you could leave this small coastal fishing village and
move to a big city like Sydney, and eventually Singapore or
London where you would run your expanding enterprise.
The fisherman asked, ―but how long would all this all take?‖
The executive replied, ―15-20 years, maybe faster if you get an MBA.‖
―But what then?‖ the fisherman asked.
The CEO laughed and said, ―That‘s the best part. When the
time is right you would float your company on the market and
sell your stock to the public and become very rich. You would
The CEO said, ―Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal
fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with
your children, have lunch with your wife, stroll to the village in
the evenings where you could sip wine, catch up with your
neighbours and play your guitar with your friends.‖
The story may be too simple, but I think it illustrates several points
that apply equally well to the success of businesses and individuals.
First, there‘s the issue of growth and making money. Business
people, governments, banks, farmers, most of us like to see things
grow especially sales, profits, shareholder value and superfund
accounts. The question is what is enough, and whether the
accumulation of wealth is worth it without real meaning and purpose
in our lives.
Growth does create scale and opportunity. Success in the business
world is all about owning and selling great products or services and
being better than your competitors at delivering them. And while a
small or medium sized company can certainly be profitable, if you
want to continue to grow profits in the global business world, it often
means you have to scale. But an enterprise that grows large and
complex with no other purpose than profit runs the risk of promoting
decision making that jeopardises quality, safety, job satisfaction and
in the end, efficiency and profits. Think Chinese milk scandal, Enron,
ABC Learning, Storm Financial…the list goes on.
The CEO offered the fisherman a plan to scale his business and
make more money assuming that money motivated the fisherman.
While earning money is important, it is not the only reason people
work. Pay rates are much less important than most managers think.
―In studies dating back to the 1940s, employees always have ranked
other items, such as being shown appreciation for work done, feeling
‗in‘ on things and having interesting work as being more important to
them than their salaries.‖ (Nelson, 1996)
If I asked each of you to think about what motivates you most in your
current role or where you aspire to be, would you answer ‗the
I‘ve always believed a successful career is based on finding your
strengths and matching them with something you love because your
work will be enjoyable and chances are you will be very good at it. If
you have a passion for your work, it is easier to commit time and
energy, to build your skills, accept feedback and learn from mistakes.
When all these elements are present, it is likely that rewards will
The CEO in my story didn‘t ask the fisherman if he loved fishing or
had a good catch everyday, maybe his guitar playing was a better
option or maybe the fisherman had other hidden potential. I
encourage you to take some time after today to reflect on your
strengths, on the knowledge and skills you have acquired and
generate as many options as possible for matching them in a career
that has meaning as well as reward.
And then there is the issue of time, how long will it take and what‘s in
it for you (and again, I‘m not talking only about money). Think long
term, don‘t rush, be discerning. Why follow the herd and compare
yourself to people who are not you, be courageous for yourself.
Success is different for everyone because we all have different
strengths. Each individual nature has its own beauty.
And remember, you can have more than one go at a career, I‘m on my third and best I think. The linear career path up the corporate
ladder is one option but there are many others.
So let me draw to a close by saying something about social
entrepreneurship as a career option because I think it‘s clear there is room for improvement in our current capitalist system. If the
fisherman in my story were real he might be having trouble feeding
his family today. There is evidence that many parts of the ocean are
already over-fished and even if he wanted to expand he probably
couldn‘t get a loan for another boat right now.
We have been bombarded with negative news about the economy for
so many months now that it is easy to forget that times of crisis are
often ripe with opportunity. Social entrepreneurship, business based
on profits and principles has a lot to offer.
Tim Smit, a leading social entrepreneur in the UK says ―…everything
I am reading and hearing is telling me that 2009-2025 has the
potential to be this millennium‘s ―Dark Ages. One of the major tools
at our disposal to deal with it and end up on the sunny uplands (so to
speak) is to create a new vision for business which takes the best of
entrepreneurial spirit, but melds it to the benefit of a wider group than
simply the shareholders. ― (source: Pamela Hartigan blog)
It seems to me that we have to change our way of thinking about
markets so that there is, in the words of a 5 yr old at a sustainability
workshop, ―enough for everyone forever‖.
Some question whether this is possible. A journalist asked Pamela
Hartigan of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford ―If
we do change the way our markets work so that we focus on
combining profits and principles, won‘t it have significant negative
implications for the incredible global economic growth we have
experienced in the last few decades?‖
And her response was: ―Have you had a look at who has benefited
from that ―incredible economic growth‖? The current gap in wealth—
taking all assets into account, including home ownership, stocks,
bonds and pension plans—is actually far greater and increasing more rapidly than the much highlighted gap in income. The wealthiest 2%
of adults own more than 50% of global wealth, while the bottom 50% barely own 1%. The enormous gap in assets has contributed not just to the gap in home ownership, but also to the increased vulnerability of entire communities due to the current global crisis.
You can be the CEO and the fisherman, have purpose and make money. There is such a thing as creating a career for yourself in a for profit business doing good in your community as distinct from running a large business and maybe making donations or working in the non-profit sector. Rather than pursuing careers in businesses that seek to maximize profits often at the expense of society, there are a lot of people making careers out of combining profits and principles.
The founders of Waste Concern have created an income generating and sustainable community-based composting and recycling project to convert organic waste into compost that is then sold to fertilizer companies. The income generated supports slum dwellers whose work in the composting plants, addresses the public health issue of massive organic waste lying in the streets, and arrests agricultural top soil erosion resulting from the overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. And they make a profit doing it.
Students at Columbia Business School in Prof Ray Horton‘s course
on social entrepreneurship have developed businesses that are creative, yet feasible approaches to local and global challenges. One student, came up with Lemon Aid - an initiative focused on addressing malaria in disease endemic areas of Africa while
providing an income generating vehicle through planting and selling lemon trees.
Here in Australia, SVA (Social Ventures Australia) is launching its School for Social Entrepreneurs in the next few months.
I look at you and see the future. You have ability and you have equipped yourselves with skills that can be used to tackle big issues. There are many ways to be a success in this world and I‘m sure plenty of them haven‘t even been invented yet. Sometimes the only
limits are the ones we place on our own imagination through fear or self-doubt. And as you reflect today on the range of possibilities before you today, please consider these words from Ralph Waldo Emerson:
Success: to laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
I wish each of you your own special brand of success.