University of Otago Chancellor Dr Royden Somerville QC awards former Chancellor John Ward an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree during Saturday's 4pm graduation ceremony. Photo: McRobie Studios.
The capping of former University of Otago Chancellor John Ward by his successor, Dr Royden Somerville QC, provided a very special moment during one of Otago's two graduation ceremonies over the weekend.
Mr Ward was awarded the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws from the University of Otago during Saturday's 4pm ceremony – in recognition of his exceptional service and commitment to the University over the past 15 years. He also delivered the graduation address for that ceremony.
Mr Ward was appointed to the University Council in 2003, became Pro-Chancellor in 2007, and in 2009 became the University's 18th Chancellor, and the first from outside the Otago region. He stepped down from this important role at the end of last year.
"My family, Vice-Chancellors and Council members of my time, partners in practice and business colleagues, all deserve to share in this award."
And for the quietly humble Mr Ward, who capped graduands at more than 110 graduation ceremonies during his nine years as Chancellor, being on the receiving end of the capping tradition was an “overwhelming honour”.
“There is a proverb that recognises achievement, not as a solo effort but as a collaborative endeavour: 'Anything that is accomplished is a tribute to the many who have made it possible',” he told the audience at the Dunedin Town Hall during his graduation address.
“From that perspective much more is achieved in a group environment when a participant is neither concerned about being in the limelight or getting credit. My family, Vice-Chancellors and Council members of my time, partners in practice and business colleagues, all deserve to share in this award.”
Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne says she was delighted for the University to recognise Mr Ward's substantial contribution to the wider community in this way.
“I think it incredibly fitting to see Mr Ward bestowed with such an honour at one of our graduation ceremonies – fitting not only because his professional accomplishments are so worthy, but also because he made so many contributions to the University of Otago during his time as Chancellor and he continues to be a strong ambassador for Otago throughout New Zealand and overseas. Among those many contributions was his pivotal role in presiding over graduation ceremonies. He took immense pride in that responsibility and sharing that experience with our students and their families.”
Dr Somerville was also delighted that the University honoured Mr Ward.
“Since I began serving on the University of Otago Council in 2010 I have been greatly impressed by his governance skills, outstanding leadership and unflagging commitment to the University.
"As Chancellor, John worked tirelessly for the University to ensure it continued to evolve, while maintaining its rich heritage as New Zealand's oldest university."
“As Chancellor, John worked tirelessly for the University to ensure it continued to evolve, while maintaining its rich heritage as New Zealand's oldest university. The University benefited greatly from Mr Ward's expertise in accounting, business and banking. He has been a fine ambassador for this University.”
As well as expressing his gratitude during his speech, Mr Ward also had some strong messages of persistence for the graduands.
“I urge you take advantage of the opportunities that will come your way,” he told the audience in the Dunedin Town Hall. “Don't be afraid to fail. Get out there, get amongst it, be brave and innovate, look for opportunities to make positive changes. Be decisive, participate but manage risk too. Don't dither and watch opportunities pass you by.”
He referred to the lyrics in Ed Sheeran's song Castle on the Hill – to reinforce his message for students to work hard to realise their potential – but to be aware that life has hills and valleys.
“One friend left to sell clothes.
One works down by the coast
One has two kids but lives alone
One's brother overdosed
One is already on his second wife
One is just barely getting by,” he quoted.
“You get the theme: Some of you will overachieve, others not so much and for a variety of reasons, some plausible. The best performers, in my view, though, understand the real benefits of healthy balanced lifestyles, and vibrant families.”
Mr Ward urged the graduands to “keep looking, learning and growing”.
“Also, don't overlook the noted psychologist Angela Duckworth's findings that 'sheer grit is a better determinant of success than innate ability'.
“You will also endure rotten luck on occasions too. That is not necessarily a bad thing as you will be conscious of the role of chance in life. From that you will discern that sometimes success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. Think more about that.
"Get out there, get amongst it, be brave and innovate, look for opportunities to make positive changes."
“Whilst you have youth on your side and the world is open to you, the information age involves us all and no one knows where we are heading. Your generation, though, will have to deal with problems – overpopulation, diminishing natural resources, global warming and economic inequality –
challenges of this time.”
Mr Ward, an Otago graduate, was well-placed to advise the graduands – boasting a long line of achievements himself.
During Mr Ward's time as Chancellor the University flourished – highlights were increasing numbers of Māori and Pacific students; an ambitious capital development programme; and the signing of Memoranda of Understanding with Iwi around New Zealand, particularly related to matters of healthcare.
As a founding Carisbrook Stadium Trustee he played a pivotal role in championing the construction of Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium, and the University's associated Unipol Gym, Plaza Café and Foundation Year building. He also served as President of both the Otago and Southland Cricket Associations.
A Chartered Accountant, he was a principal in the successful Southland and Southern Lakes chartered accountancy practice, Ward Wilson Ltd, before stepping aside in 2001 to pursue other commercial and private interests, including serving on the University Council, and chairing such entities such as global tourism icon A.J. Hackett Bungy, the 117-year-old retailer H&J Smith Ltd, and SBS Bank.
While he has relinquished his Chancellor role, he continues to actively contribute to the University of Otago as Chair of Otago Innovation Ltd and the University of Otago Foundation Trust.
Four of his six siblings attended the graduation ceremony, along with his wife Sue and daughter Nerina.