Speech to University of Nottingham graduation ceremony, 11July 2013

On behalf of all the graduates here this morning, thank you, Vice-Chancellor. It is a huge honour for me to receive this honorary degree, 45 years to the day since I graduated in maths and economics with an undistinguished 2:2, a wealth of experience from university life and a determination to make the world a better place.

 All of us are grateful to the university in so many ways for the opportunities it has given us, whether we are 21 with our whole working life in front of us or, I observe among some of us, rather more than 21 and taking a new direction in life as a Nottingham graduate.

 Here we are today, dressed in our gowns and in front of our friends and family, as recognition that what we have done at Nottingham matters; that education matters; that those of us here who are over 21 are symbolic of the joy of being lifelong learners.

 Learning is a journey, not a destination, and our degree today is a signpost on that journey – recognition of the road travelled and an encouragement to the next stage.

 Whatever our background and country of birth – and there are a great number of countries represented here today – Nottingham University has created opportunities for us all. Whatever degree we have, what matters now is how we use the knowledge and skills learned here. In life it’s not what we are, but what we do that matters; it’s not the degree we have, but what we do with that degree. Lifelong learning means the striving for continuous improvement in whatever our field of employment or voluntary service, responding to challenges and adapting to changes whenever they occur and whatever they are.

 Unlike the crusty old teacher who had spent 40 years in the same school – not so much 40 years’ experience as one year’s experience 40 times. But the secretary of state, no less, came to the school to make a presentation to him. ‘Congratulations on your 40 years’ service here’, the politician said, ‘You must have seen many changes in that time.’ ‘Yes,’ said the old teacher, ‘and I’ve resisted every one of them.’

 We cannot know how we will use our degree. As the great economist, J.K. Galbraith said, ‘There are two types of people who predict the future: those who don’t know, and those who don’t know that they don’t know.’

 And economics graduates would be wise to remember that Galbraith also said: ‘In economics the majority is always wrong.’ And ‘There are times in politics when you must be on the right side and lose.’

 So, we must say and do what we believe is right, make today a stepping stone for the next stage of our learning – and remember that, in an age of change, learners inherit the earth, while the those who think they know everything are equipped only for a world that no longer exists.

 Today is a great milestone, so please join me in thanking our families for their love and support and the University of Nottingham for everything that it has given us during our time here.