President's message: “The art of walking upright here...”

Around the motu over the last month or so, university students have been graduating. This week was Victoria University of Wellington Te Herenga Waka’s turn. With two daughters graduating in separate faculties, I had the privilege of attending two parades and two graduation ceremonies.

The overwhelming emotion of both days was of joy and celebration. The beaming smiles of the parading graduates as thronging crowds cheered them down Lambton Quay. The pride on the faces of friends and whānau. The spontaneous karanga, songs, chants, and haka that broke out as a loved one crossed the stage, the auditorium echoing with aroha, delight, and joy in their achievements.

I also got to listen to four challenging, entertaining and characteristically high-energy speeches by Chancellor John Allen. As is his way, the speeches were punctuated with poetry, statistics, historical references, and self-deprecating humour, all accompanied by vigorous gestures. While congratulating them on their achievements, the Chancellor’s speeches focused on the future the graduates were entering, their ability to shape it and make a difference and the hope they inspired in him. In a world full of existential crises and uncertainty, he argued that what they had been taught at university – to think critically, to examine the evidence, question and advocate, to speak truth to power – was never more crucial than now. In a world of uncertainty, his advice was to take counsel from New Zealand poet Glen Colquhoun: “…the art of walking upright here is the art of using both feet. One is for holding on. One is for letting go.” Stand firm in who you are, in your whakapapa, in what you have been taught and use this to step forward, to explore, to learn, to love. And to act. Quoting another New Zealand poet, Lauris Edmond, Chancellor Allen challenged the graduates to use their learning to make a difference for people, place and planet. “…you have to do and be, not simply watch or even describe.”

As a proud parent, I left the auditorium inspired with hope for the future. As the President of IPANZ, I was left wondering how many of these shiny new graduates would seek to make a difference through joining the public sector. Have we created a space where they can walk upright? And are we ready for the transformational change they will bring when they do?

Liz MacPherson, IPANZ President

This article was published in the Public Sector Journal - Winter 2023, Issue 46.2.