Tuesday 20 February 2018 3:31pm
The Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand's Prime Minister, speaks at the University's 2018 Convocation ceremony at Forsyth Barr Stadium last night. Photo: Sharron Bennett.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern received a standing ovation for her speech at Otago’s 2018 Convocation ceremony last night, in which she urged the more than 4,000 incoming first-year students to overcome their internal voices of doubt, and fulfil their own potential.
Held at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium, the University’s fourth annual Convocation ceremony was sometimes solemn, sometimes inspiring, and sometimes hugely entertaining.
Her speech was an opportunity for the Prime Minister to address members of the first cohort of students to receive her Government’s fees-free package.
“You’re welcome,” she said.
She went on to share insights from her own university experiences. A University of Waikato graduate, she admits she was terrified when deciding where to study, at first contemplating study at an overseas institution, before deciding to enrol closer to home.
“In the end I did travel,” she said. “I travelled 25 kilometres from Morrinsville to Waikato.”
"We can give you access to university, your lecturers can teach you. Only you can convince yourself how far it will take you."
One of the first members of her family to attend university, she said she worried whether she was up to tertiary study.
“I was a Mormon living in Morrinsville. I loved politics but I never dreamed I would have a future in it.”
She described a recent conversation she had with a group of secondary school pupils, in which she asked them what they would like to do, and what they thought they would do. When asked what she would like to do, one girl told the Prime Minister she would like to be a doctor. But when asked the crucial second part of the question, without missing a beat the girl replied that she would “probably work in travel”.
“This girl hadn’t yet finished high school, and she had already talked herself out of her future.”
“Confidence may not be an issue for you,” she told her audience at last night’s Convocation. “But if you are one of the many who are plagued with self-doubt from time to time, have some self-belief. We can give you access to university, your lecturers can teach you. Only you can convince yourself how far it will take you.
“The voice inside saying you can’t do it can be the most overwhelming. You may never rid yourself of the voice, but you can learn to ignore it.”
She told the students New Zealand needs them – their education and their confidence – to help tackle some of the greatest challenges facing the country, including climate change, inequality and child poverty.
In addition to hearing from the Prime Minister, the audience also received words of wisdom from Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull, University Chancellor Dr Royden Somerville QC, University Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne, and the 2018 Otago University Students’ Association (OUSA) President Caitlin Barlow-Broome.
All spoke of the lifelong friendships formed in university life.
"Your time here is what you make of it. Make new friends, try new experiences and make it the best time of your life."
Ms Barlow-Broome said it was not long since she had been a first-year sitting at her own convocation – and that the person sitting next to her then, was now working alongside her as her OUSA Vice-President.
Professor Hayne told the group how proud she was to be their Vice-Chancellor, and issued them with three challenges: to create great memories, be grateful, and act like a superhero.
“Call out bad behaviour. Racist, sexist, prejudicial behaviour; behaviour that hurts people’s feelings. It takes great courage to be the kind of superhero who puts themselves on the line and does the right thing.
“Otago is not only a school, it’s a community. Make this a community where everyone feels valued and accepted.”
Mr Cull welcomed the students to the city and encouraged them to explore beyond North Dunedin and discover more of what the city and environs have to offer – to visit the galleries, libraries and pools, to see the local wildlife, tramp, windsurf on the harbour and go mountainbiking.
“Your time here is what you make of it. Make new friends, try new experiences and make it the best time of your life.”
He also asked them to treat the city, its streets and its citizens like they would their own home – with respect.
A highlight of the ceremony was the energetic and mesmerising performance of Otago music graduate Metitilani (Lani) Alo who sang two songs, and left the stage with at least 4000 new fans and a standing ovation.
Ms Ardern asked him to teach her how he did that – and in turn received her own standing ovation.
The ceremony closed with humour, Dr Somerville encouraging Ms Ardern, who is expecting her first child in mid-June to “consider Otago for her own family”.
He said Professor Hayne would give her an Otago application form for 2035 – name and gender to be inserted at a later date.
Check out some more photos from the University's 2018 Convocation, with thanks to photographer Sharron Bennett: