Remarks by Ambassador Bill Tweddell
(International) General Certificate of Secondary Education [(I) GCSE] Assembly
British School Manila, Taguig
24 October 2014
• Mr Simon Bewlay - Chairman of the Board of Governors
• Mr Simon Mann - Head of School, British School Manila
• Ms Helen Olds - Head of Senior School, British School Manila
• Mr Glenn Hardy - Head of Primary School, British School Manila
• Ms Catherine Johnson - Deputy Head
• Head Students - Peter Bateson and Joshua Whyte
• Council of Trustees and Board of Governors of the British School Manila
• Ladies and Gentlemen
• Girls and Boys
I was very honoured to be asked by Mr Bewlay to speak to you all today – honoured but also daunted by the prospect of having to say something which might be relevant to the interests and needs of bright, media savvy, young people some 50+ years younger than I am.
My first and very happy duty today is to congratulate all awardees. The certificates you receive today testify both to your intellectual gifts and to your capacity for hard work.
I acknowledge also your families whose support has helped you achieve this distinction.
The pride which awardees, parents and siblings feel today is well-founded. Carry that pride and pleasure with you throughout life.
I speak with authority on this point. I know what it is to have loving and supportive parents, siblings, partner and friends. Parents who allowed me to dream and backed me uncritically.
When I look back on my eight years at primary school and the four years I was at secondary school – the very last year in my home state of Queensland before it moved to a five-year system – I am struck by how vivid some of my memories still are. I remain somewhat amazed at what a critical, formative influence those years, all that time ago, had on me. Your time here at this fine school may also prove to have had even more of an impact on you than you can yet appreciate.
After finishing my secondary schooling, I went on to obtain degrees in English Language and Literature and in Economics, from James Cook University in North Queensland, mostly studying part-time while I worked full-time, happily, at James Cook University itself, which made access to lectures, tutorials, sports facilities, etc very convenient.
I joined Australia’s diplomatic service in 1976.
My career in diplomacy has given me the opportunity to live and work in some fascinating countries – Bangladesh, Greece, India, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, the UK, Vietnam and the Philippines – and to visit many others.
I hope there will be some interest for you in some brief reflections upon what I have learned from my student and working lives.
Some things are universal. And they don’t need to be high-brow or overly philosophical.
It is often said that life is getting increasingly complex – and it is certainly more uncertain in the current global turmoil. But in many ways it is as simple as ever.
Be the sort of student you would like to teach. Be the sort of employee you would like to have working for you. When you rise into management positions, try to be the sort of boss for whom you would enjoy working.
Some of you will know with some clarity already what you want to do with your working lives. Perhaps you have known for many years. You may already be well on your way to realising those dreams.
Others of you might be far less sure what you want to do with your adult lives – as I was.
That is no big deal. Work hard and keep an open mind.
Your achievement, as you progress through your student years, testifies to your capacities and your application. Those might lead you in surprising directions.
In my own case, my work experience in the James Cook University library and administration – and my degrees in English and Economics – launched me, as much by accident as by design, into a career in diplomacy.
One of my tasks in the Academic Services Division at JCU was to look after visitors from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs who were touring universities on the lookout for suitable Foreign Affairs Trainee candidates among the student population.
The fellow I looked after in 1975 encouraged me to apply. I did so and, following an exhaustive process of interviews and tests, I made it. And I have never looked back.
Not that success was preordained. I have to admit that a couple of years ago, in response to a question from a journalist in my home town, Townsville, my late father acknowledged that he never imagined I would become an ambassador: my chief interests had been females and sport! Perhaps some of you can identify with that!
In this profession, I am surrounded by colleagues with academic qualifications in areas as diverse as law, politics, medicine, the classics, mathematics and business.
The first High Commissioner for whom I worked, in Bangladesh, was a physicist. (I should perhaps explain that “High Commissioner” is what you call an ambassador sent by one Commonwealth country to another.)
My deputy when I was Ambassador to Vietnam was a graduate in music. A recent head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had a doctorate in mathematics.
Another former colleague, who went from being High Commissioner in Kingston, Jamaica to being the Federal Member of Parliament for Kingston in South Australia, and later Minister for Development Cooperation and Pacific Island Affairs, trained as a dentist. So: a dentist who became a diplomat who became a Member of Parliament who became a Minister of State.
The point I am making is this: the sort of education for which your studies here give you a wonderful grounding will help you to achieve a winning combination: a trained mind, a capacity for application and hard work, intellectual curiosity, flexibility, adaptability and problem-solving skills.
That combination will do two things: first, equip you to make wise choices about your future studies and career; and second, make you attractive to future employers, whatever your formal qualifications.
If you haven’t already, you’ll find in the years ahead that the quality of your mind will be important, but so too the quality of your heart and your soul. Integrity and reliability are precious assets. Ask any boss.
And there’s no reason to confine yourself to the notion of a single career: many now go on to have several often quite different and rewarding careers.
But when you finally enter the workforce try to choose jobs that you really enjoy. Work is going to be a large slice of your life, so do your best to make sure it is interesting.
A graduation day speaker several years ago at my old university urged graduates, among other things, to keep learning, to take the time to be well-informed (not just about matters affecting their profession) and to strive to be resilient in the face of setbacks.
He told graduates:
“growing longevity means life for all of us is likely to be a very long time. Each of your lives will involve a series of twists and turns, triumphs and failures, perhaps even several careers. Plain dumb luck – good and bad – will determine some of the key things that happen along the way; persistence through the bad times can pay huge dividends”.
How wise that was.
Back in 2005, one of our generation’s great innovators and business success stories, the late Steve Jobs, of Apple Computer and Pixar Animation Studios fame, gave a commencement address at Stanford University.
I want to quote two extracts from his address.
The first was this advice:
“You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your [life partners]. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle”.
Toward the end of his remarks, after describing his own brush with pancreatic cancer, and reflecting on mortality, Jobs gave the students this counsel:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary”.
That, dear students, will do me as my second last piece of advice.
My last is to encourage you, when finally you have moved on to other things, to stay in touch with BSM. Your school and other alumni will want to be able to follow your achievements and take pride in them.
You might not see the point in that now, and pretty soon you will be consumed with so many other priorities.
But I’m so glad I have done so. For one thing, you have a better sense of what you have achieved if you maintain strong links with where you came from.
My thanks again for the great honour of being asked to speak to you.
And, to all today’s students, with the start you have been given by BSM, may you go on to have rich and rewarding educational and professional lives – and enjoy fulfilment in your personal lives.