Speech to the Wainuiomata High School Prizegiving

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Tēnā koutou kātoa 

Te whare e tū nei, tēnā koe

E ngā iwi i huihui nei

Ngā mihi mahana ki a koutou


Thank you for the invitation to be here tonight. I’m very conscious that there’s a lot on the agenda for tonight so I’m under strict instructions to not speak for too long. Although that’s a pretty tough thing to say to a politician!

Tonight is all about recognising achievement. It’s about congratulating those who have worked hard and achieved success.

So to everyone who’s won a prize tonight – I say congratulations. You’ve worked hard and deserve the plaudits given to you.

Tonight’s also about celebrating the wider school and everything that makes Wainuiomata High School great. I go to as many school prizegivings as I can. The best thing about them is that they always reflect the special character of every school, and that’s certainly true of tonight.

I’m young enough to remember my school prizegivings, particularly my final one. It was only 14 years ago. Late 2001.

I remember the nerves as I sat in the audience. Would I win a prize? How long is this going to last for? Would I trip up when walking up on stage? The important things.

I remember the pride I felt in my school. It was a celebration, like tonight is, of what made our school great – the sports teams, the arts, the leadership and most importantly the culture of the school.

I remember the special feeling in the room amongst my year group. Our last prizegiving. One of the last times we would all be together. We were simultaneously sad and excited at the same time.

Mainly in 2001 remember the optimism and excitement I had about my future. When I left school I did a gap year – I didn’t go straight to university. I was really excited but I was really nervous at the same time about living overseas for a year away from my parents and away from my friends.

This is a special night and for those leaving at the end of the year, a special time in your lives.


So while tonight is about achievement, it’s also about farewell.

No doubt many of you leaving school have had a cacophony of advice in the last few weeks about your future.

Let me add to that some things I wish someone had said to me at the time.

First, study hard for your exams. It is definitely true that exams are not everything. In ten years time, nobody will really care how many excellences you got; how many merits you achieved; and whether you were 2nd or 3rd in English or classical studies. I know that because I experienced it myself.

But exams and exam marks ARE important. Exam marks open doors – not only to university if that’s what you want to do, but to scholarships, to jobs, to opportunities. More than anything your marks at school show you can work hard – and that’s probably the biggest thing you can offer the world.

Secondly, say thank you. To a teacher that’s inspired you – say thank you. It will mean a lot to them. To your rugby coach – say thank you. Say thanks to your mum or dad for the free taxi service they’ve probably offered over the years, for the support they’ve offered you at school. Saying thank you seems like a small thing; but small things matter.

Third, back yourself. New Zealand’s a small country at the bottom of the world – but every day there are thousands of New Zealanders around the world and in New Zealand doing amazing things in commerce, in the arts, in sport. They’ve backed themselves to succeed.

Fourth, and related to that - be proud of where you’re from – to horribly mangle someone out there on the world stage, Lorde, “be proud of your address.” Wainuiomata is a great place. Lower Hutt is a great city. New Zealand’s a wonderful country. You should be proud to be from here; and never ashamed to say that.

Fifth, excuses will get you nowhere. The world doesn’t owe you a living. This is a point that President Obama made recently when speaking at Morehouse College in the United States – an historically all male, all black liberal arts college.

Morehouse’s creed is “Excuses are tools of the incompetent used to build bridges to nowhere and monuments of nothingness.”

Obama riffed on this theme. I want to quote him, because he’s right.

In today's hyperconnected, hypercompetitive world, with millions of young people from China and India and Brazil -- many of whom started with a whole lot less than all of you did -- all of them entering the global workforce alongside you, nobody is going to give you anything that you have not earned.

That’s bang on.


It’s a totally new world out there.

You will all leave school and enter a society that is changing and evolving with dizzying speed. When I was at school, I didn’t have a cellphone. Now almost all of you carry the equivalent of a supercomputer around in your pocket.

The world’s biggest accommodation provider owns no accommodation. Airbnb.

The world’s biggest taxi company owns no taxis. Uber.

The world’s most valuable retailer, has no inventory. Alibaba.

Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content of its own

We are living in a fabulous age – and it’s an age in which change will be ever present. Embrace it; don’t make excuses; back yourself; be proud of yourself; study hard, and say thanks to your folks.

Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou kātoa