Dear Budding Graduand,
Some years of higher education later and finally an opportunity to don formal academic regalia with corresponding colours and prance across a stage. This short walk is symbolic of a transition between life as a student and life as wherever is next. Now is a time to reflect on 'what next' should look like, and I offer some commentary to start that step.
Our world is changing, and your role in it has changed too. Yesterday, a student ... today, a member of the best educated humans walking this planet. Less than 10 per cent of the world have degrees, 27 per cent of Australians have degrees. This is a privilege granted from a lucky country, not afforded to many across the globe.
The University of Tasmania is ranked 287 among a pool of some 25,000 universities globally. Most Universities in Australia are in the top 1000. That is an honour afforded by the place we are situated in, a source of pride for our tiny island that many do not have the same access to.
As one of the newly minted graduates, a responsibility has been bestowed on you to our society and our earth. That responsibility may extend to challenging unethical antiquated practices in the workplace, innovating new and sustainable ways to build a better world. Be a leader that others can aspire to emulate. That our future students and descendants will read about with awe.
What does it mean to be a leader though? I've have spent years of research time continually asking this question, and still don't have the perfect answer but there are couple of behaviours our research tells us are important: be aware, be sincere, and be moral. Each of these underscored by a willingness to be a person of action and contemplation.
Be aware of who you are, and aware of those around you. Humans are different, and that's okay. The moment we assume that someone else's situation is equivalent to our own is the same moment that we fail to value what makes us unique.
Start by questioning everything we do. Why do we listen to the music we do? Or watch the movies and television we do? Questioning our motivations for our everyday activities is a great way to begin to understand our complex selves and respond to our own strengths and growth areas. Understanding who we truly are is key to being able to engage authentically with others.
Be sincere in communication and engagement. Pain, anxiety, and stress are equal parts of our human condition with being happy, proud, and excited. When we break our arm, we encourage others to draw pictures on our casts.
When someone else is having a bad day, its our job to encourage them to draw pictures on the invisible healing plaster of their hearts and minds. It might be as simple as buying them a coffee, but it also might not be. The same is true of how we interact with our friends, families, and colleagues.
Be moral. I say this knowing you read with an 'of course I'm moral' moment. Except it's not that simple. That huge cash-in-hand payment to a friend of a friend helps shirk a responsibility to those in society that need a hand, like you might have during your studying. In a class I taught on leadership, in week one I asked third year business students whether they would take a moral average paying job or a job with double the pay knowing they would be regularly crossing ethical lines. After an anonymous poll came in, the result was drastically in favour of the latter. It was decisions like those that led to the global financial crisis, the Essendon drug saga, the cricket ball taping scandal, and so many more.
Every time we cross a line, we justify someone else crossing a greater one. Don't be a case study of researchers like me. Be someone who we can look up to. Someone who can inspire the next generation to greater heights than they ever thought possible.
As the next generation of civic leaders, the earth we inhabit will be handed over to you. The choices you make have real impact. When someone says 'traditionally, we have done [insert some ancient process]' it is OK to acknowledge the learnings of the past and propose innovative pathways to a better future.
If Steve Jobs had of caved to the pressures of deleting a functional keyboard from a mobile phone, where would we be now? If Rosa Parks had caved to the pressures to stand up and move to 'her place', where would we be now? We cannot change our fraught history, but we can seek to understand it, and improve on our current condition for those here today and those in the future.
We make decisions every day that change someone else's. Let a person into your lane even when you are late, hold the door for the person behind you juggling three lattes, write a thank you note to that colleague that stayed up late to finish a report, give change to a busker that sings a song that makes you smile, or offer to spot someone aspiring to heavier weights at the gym.
We have this term in psychology called positive spirals ... when we create positive emotions, they create more positive emotions, and we are all one tiny bit better for it. Be the generation that sows seeds of greater human connection, better mental and physical wellbeing, and a future that is sustainable. We'll all be better off for it.
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