Privilege and Responsibilities

Greetings staff, students, parents, guests, and graduates.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to be with you all on this very important occasion. While I hope that what I have to say here touches a chord with you all, I would like to direct my words in particular to the eight lucky students whose graduation we are celebrating, acknowledging that this is a very important transition moment in your lives.

I understand that the School of Total Education does not consider itself as an elite school from the point of view that its founder wished to provide broad opportunities for participation by the community. However, I believe that the School is elite by virtue of the fact that it embraces an education and community philosophy that is strongly values-based and that concentrates on the development of the whole individual. From this perspective I believe that you eight students are extremely privileged to be graduating from SOTE. Hence, I would like to speak to you today about the idea of privilege and the responsibilities that it entails.

Australia is a lucky country in so many ways. We enjoy a stable democratic system of government and a strong but compassionate rule of law; we are a prosperous and wealthy nation in world terms; and we have managed to forge a successful multicultural society where diverse cultures, beliefs and ideas can happily co-exist and nourish each other. Simply being able to live in relative peace and safety is itself a privilege in our somewhat troubled world.

Australia is blessed with a universal system of primary and secondary education and high participation in university and vocational education post-school. There is therefore a tendency for us to take education for granted and to forget about just how magical an education truly is.

Education is identified by the United Nations as a fundamental human right; and indeed it is a right that is essential for all other human rights. An education empowers us to take control of our own destiny, creates wide-ranging and exciting opportunities, and positions us for success. It enlightens both individuals and the communities they live in; and it provides the basis for a peaceful, prosperous and civil society. The association between Australia as a successful society and Australia as a highly educated society is no accident.

Yet this, regrettably, is not the situation everywhere. Even in 2015 millions of adults and children are deprived of educational opportunities across the globe because of poverty or prejudice or conflict.

Conservative estimates indicate that at any one time in the world over 60 million primary school age children do not attend school. A quarter of these have started primary school but left, a further quarter may attend school at some time in the future, but a full half - that is, over 30 million children in the world at this very moment - will never attend school.

These children for no fault of their own and for no other reason than the lottery of birth are deprived the basis for individual empowerment and enlightenment that an education represents. For all intents and purposes these children are condemned to a life of poverty and hardship simply through bad luck and the lack of opportunity. Remember that these are children who have an equal amount of potential to any of us here and who are just as precious. And these are people whose life can be transformed if the opportunity to receive an education eventuates. It is estimated that every year a child is able to spend in school in a developing country increases their lifetime income by 10 per cent. By contrast, the lack of educational opportunity is associated with ruined lives.

So we should never forget the great privilege we have experienced in having the opportunity to not only complete secondary education but to have endless opportunities provided to us to go further and secure a successful career or careers of our own choosing as a basis for a successful and happy life. This is a truly special thing.

And I put it to you that you graduates here today are further privileged by having come to this great milestone through study at a truly remarkable and unique school. Being immersed in a committed community that prizes education and incorporates it into a broader philosophical context based on strong values and a shared vision is particularly special.

I know that in this environment you have not only been encouraged and supported to develop to your full academic potential but also to come to understand and find yourselves as complete human beings. You may not yet fully appreciate the degree to which this empowers each of you as you move forward in life.


Graduates of 2015, LTR: Professor Jan Thomas, Jimmy Freeman, Joseph Faa, India Peel, Doug Barrs, Caroline Fern, Maka Malolo, Ashur Perkins, and SOTE Principal Shane Power

Graduates of 2015, LTR: Professor Jan Thomas, Jimmy Freeman, Joseph Faa, India Peel, Doug Barrs, Caroline Fern, Maka Malolo, Ashur Perkins, and SOTE Principal Shane Power.  Not pictured: 2015 graduate Caleb Johnson

I note that SOTE's founder Vijayadev Yogendra selected Warwick as the site for this school because he believed that his "educational ideals could be more effectively realised in the natural environment" that Warwick's rural environment provided. I can't help making the connection between the wonderfully rich agricultural land of the Darling Downs and the fertile ground for learning that this school has provided for you. Two agricultural metaphors immediately come to mind when I think of you graduands here today. These are:

  • Strong roots run deep; and
  • A soil well tilled yields a bountiful crop.

This solid foundation will serve you well.

The world you are moving in to will require you to face many challenges. In particular, it is a world where "change" is the norm; and where consistency and certainty cannot be relied upon. For example, you may have heard news reports about numerous studies that have come out over the last few years that describe the impact of smart computing, automation and digitalisation on the future world of work. One recent study predicts that 70 per cent of entry level jobs - that is, the jobs that young people will use to enter the employment market - will be altered significantly by technology over the next two decades; and that 60 per cent of the jobs that students are studying for now will not be present in 20 years time.

I should tell you that while studies like this alarm many people I am much more optimistic about the future. History shows that technology creates far more jobs and opportunities than it destroys. The secret to your own success lies in how well equipped you are to face uncertainty and change, and to have the capacity and confidence to grasp opportunities as they arise.

I believe that this is where your learning experiences within the positive learning environment of SOTE will put you in good stead. Your experiences at this school will provide you with immense strength and grit upon which you can continually draw as you face the challenges and tribulations that life can throw up.

You are fortunate to have been given a strong base against which you can test new ideas to see if they stack up. Your values and morals compass will be sound; and your skills and abilities will be finely honed to prepare you for your next level of development.

Your strong sense of self-awareness provides you with the basis for maintaining balance and trueness to yourselves as you make key decisions influencing yourselves and others.

In short, you are well positioned to go forward with the confidence that you have what it takes to be successful in whatever endeavour you set your mind to regardless of what the future brings. In this way, you are truly privileged.

However, as I mentioned earlier, with privilege comes responsibilities. And I hope that each of you will stay true to the SOTE philosophy and continue to contribute and give back to your society. Your community, your nation and the world needs people like you more than ever. People who are committed to building and working within families and communities; people who know what it means to be a whole person and can project a positive vision; people who are able to think beyond the purely materialistic and contribute to a healthy, robust and compassionate society.

So, to conclude, congratulations on your great achievement and every best wish for a happy, successful and giving future.

I thank you all again for the opportunity to share this day with you.