Sir Roderick speaks to new graduates

Transcript of a speech given by Sir Roderick Carnegie at a graduation ceremony on 13 October to 200 graduates from the faculties of Information Technology and Art & Design. At the same ceremony Sir Roderik was conferred with the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa by Monash University Chancellor Dr Alan Finkel in acknowledgement of his contribution to Monash and the wider community.

A worthwhile life

"The next 50 years are short so you should plan to live using every minute.

You start level with the best in the world, since Australia is a good place to grow up in, and Monash has given you a good education.

But many of your competitors are:

  • Capable
  • Very hungry for their success
  • Envious of your starting position

On my holiday in Queensland, while my friends were snorkelling on the Barrier Reef; I tried to write something which might be worth listening to.

I chose the title “A Worthwhile Life” since that is what I wish for you.

I believe there are four major elements of a worthwhile life:

First: Doing the best with the talents you have been given over the next 40 years of your working life.

Second: Playing a constructive part in your family over the next 60 years.

Third: Contributing to the Australian society (or in your own country) so in a
changing world the country you live in remains a good community for your grandchildren to grow up in.

Fourth: Continuing your personal development which depends on keeping your mind interested in what is going on.

Four elements:

  • work
  • family
  • community service
  • personal growth


It is important to find something you like doing and spend the rest of your working life doing it to the best of your abilities.

This will take a few years to settle on what you want to do, and a few more years learning the basic elements of your trade and gradually moving up the skill ladder in this occupation. You have to build a reputation for fair dealing and for competence. Putting it bluntly, you need to generate a clientele who will pay for your time and your work. Perhaps some of you will be lucky like me and work overseas as well. In your forties you should be playing a leading role in your chosen field.

Between 50 and 60, you have to ensure your field remains relevant. We live in a changing society. Talented young men and women have to believe copying your career model will be a useful way for them to spend their working life. You have to see that your occupation in your chosen field is competitive in an international world. You have to ensure Australia does not slip behind international best practice. You have to be a mentor and a coach to your potential successors. You want them to learn from what you have done well and badly in your life.

All of you will find work involves the continuous exercise of your judgement. Making choices when many facts are not clear is not simple. You will find making decisions under uncertainty is hard. Much harder than you believe when you are young and when the older people in your life are slow to accept your ideas.

Doing your best with your own talent in your chosen profession is a major component of a worthwhile life.

Just in case you think ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull lad,’ I want to tell you something about rowing. For nearly 7 years I rowed at two Universities – around 1500 miles a year, 8 sessions a week, 30 weeks a year.

This taught me the importance of:

  • team work – everyone rowing in time, with each member of the crew, for every stroke
  • training – doing hard work with every stroke
  • accepting winning or losing and, whatever the result, getting on with life.

Rowing gave me a series of great friendships which have helped me through my life.

Life for all of us is full of the unexpected, both good and bad. At the age of 53, I was run into by a drunk driver who killed himself in the accident – and nearly killed me.

The fitness I attained through rowing helped me survive this accident.


Each of us has been a child, a grandchild and a student. Each of our families has contributed significantly to who we are today. In the next 40 years or so many of you will start your own family. You will become a parent and even a grandparent. You will know the trials and tribulations of bringing another soul into this world. You will learn the difficulties and pleasures of having a partner to share life with.

The one certain element in everyone’s life is change:

  • people grow older
  • parents and even partners die. I was extremely lucky to be happily married to
  • Carmen for 48 years before she died
  • children make their new lives
  • friends change their careers, their location, their partners and even their convictions
  • in Melbourne, only one thing doesn’t change: the football team you barrack for.

While we will work for 40 years, we are a member of a family until we die. Being a family member is harder than being a working colleague. You will worry about your parents who grow old and die. You will worry about your children who are born, are educated but then move on with their own lives.

After 50 years even your faculties will deteriorate. The demographic projections suggest there will be too many elderly and too few carers. You will need to make provision for other people to look after you.

This is a challenge that everyone will face. No society in the world has a first class way of dealing with it. This is a challenge for us all! Some of you will help our Australian society provide a supporting climate in which we can all find a solution to these family dilemmas.


We are all members of the national community. Since we are at Monash, I will refer to Australia however, the international student should assume this is as relevant to their country. We all participate in its collective decision making, broadly called politics.

Our aim in politics was well summarized by Cicero the Roman Statesman who said, "The Good of the People is the Greatest Law."

We can participate in various ways in bringing about ‘the Good of the People,' significantly by being a political party member or sometimes by being a vocal contributor on some issue like the Health Service or Education.
Australia is a good society, but no society can avoid having problems. Many problems are temporary, some of these can be seen on the front pages of our newspapers, or are discussed by political commentators on TV. Generally when these problems are commented on, only the surface issues are discussed. However some of Australia’s long-term problems are complex and difficult. These difficult problems are often ignored. When we ignore large community issues we fail our community. There are a number of long term issues Australia will face in your life.

Today I have time to mention just one long term issue as an example. This issue is complicated, and I can’t do justice to this one example in this brief summary:

Australians do not save enough to fund all of the money we want to invest in: houses, infrastructure and businesses. Since 1983 foreign borrowing was deregulated. Since then, Australia goes into more debt to foreigners each year. While China buys our minerals this seems to cause no difficulties, but Australia is living beyond its means.

Charles Dickens summarised the long term results of this very clearly. I quote Mr. Micawber, "If annual income is £20 and annual expenditure £19 pounds and nineteen shillings sixpence – result happiness, if annual income is £20 and annual expenditure £20 and sixpence – result misery."

We in Australia have put off the misery for many years. However our lack of commitment to pay our way in the world is a long term problem. Charles Dickens is right – we must pay our way.

So my advice to you as you seek your career – look for something in which your career can be internationally competitive, and help Australia to pay its way. Only then can you be certain when the inevitable crisis comes and Australia has to balance our national accounts, your career can be certain to move ahead smoothly. Others may be facing choppy waters if they are not doing internationally competitive work.

Personal development

I summarise this as keeping your mind interested in what is going on. Some people describe this as participating in continuing education. However I want to suggest a wider canvas. You need to grow. To do this you must develop a wide group of interests. Such interests might include listening to music, going to the theatre, deliberating on political and social issues and playing sport. Many activities can all play their part in keeping you interested and interesting.

In all of these areas the world is changing; Keeping up is hard to do. Daily you should ask yourself in the words of the Professor Julius Sumner Miller, "Why is it so?" It is easy as one grows old to become a 'stick in the mud’; Easy to say any change is for the worse. Easy not to support the young in changes they suggest. While every change is not necessarily positive, looking backward and always trying to continue past practice is not a satisfactory way to face the future.

My advice is to read widely, listen patiently, and keep your mind open.

I commend the motto of Monash University to you:

"Ancora imparo"

I am still learning”

In summary:

You have had a great start in your life. You graduated today with a good future ahead.

However, if you are to look back in 2070 and say to yourself, "I have lived a worthwhile life," you must do well in all four components of life:

  • the use of your talent to the full in your working life
  • the support of your partners in your family life
  • your contribution to the issues facing the Australian community
  • your personal development.

Good luck!"