University graduation: a young Catholic's Valedictory Address

University graduation: a young Catholic's Valedictory Address

Michael Gleeson

Upon graduating we could do worse than take as our sentiment that which is expressed in our University Anthem: Gaudeamus igitur: Joyous, therefore, let us be. We will look back with fondness, I hope, on these years past: for most of us, our memories will be of lazy afternoons in the Great Court, struggle and debate in tutorials, good times, perhaps, in the Red Room and late nights in mid-June and late October. But here we are now, at a turning point. And so we reflect.

There is an inscription on the Forgan Smith Building above the main entrance as one walks up from University Drive that says 'Great is Truth, and Mighty Above All Things.' Above all things - even our freedom! A wise man once said 'only the boxer who knows the truth about fighting is free to stay on his feet. Only the man who knows the truths of engineering is free to build a bridge that will stand.'

There was a funny story once related to me by a friend - I think he was in Civil Engineering. Apparently the class had not performed very well in the mid-semester test, and the professor was not impressed. Next lecture, he was taking the opportunity to express his displeasure to the class, and someone sitting up the back had the impudence to ask a question. 'What about part marks?' he is reported to have inquired. 'Part marks!' roared the professor. 'You don't get part marks if the building falls down slowly!' Only the man who knows the truths of engineering is free to build a bridge that will stand. And we might add Vivant professores - flourish our professors.

There is one other story to offer on this occasion. G.K. Chesterton wrote in 1908 about the 'man of science'. He said that 'When a man splits a grain of sand and the universe is turned upside down in consequence, it is difficult to realise that to the man who did it, the splitting of the grain is the great affair, and the capsizing of the cosmos quite a small one.'

Speaking of the 'almost eerie innocence' of these sorts of minds, he says, 'If they had brought the heavens down like a house of cards their plea was not even that they had done it on principle; their quite unanswerable plea was that they had done it by accident.'

Now, most of us are involved not in pure science, but in applied science - engineering, architecture, dentistry, physiotherapy - so we cannot make the same invincible excuse. The point is this: we have been trained here to do a good job, to solve problems, and to solve them well. Very good. But to paraphrase from an educator at the University of Colorado, 'Doing the thing right is not the same as doing the right thing'.

This is not a mere piety. He whom we should call the most famous scientist of last century, who laid the theoretical foundation for the development of the atomic bomb, who wrote a letter to the President of the United States recommending its development, but who later bitterly regretted this act, whom we remember better for his theories of special and general relativity and his explanation of the photoelectric effect - I mean, Albert Einstein - would be among the first in line, were he alive today, to impress this fact upon us: doing the thing right is necessary, but doing the right thing is paramount.

Many of us will begin or now resume professional life, and we have to remember that our work will take place in a larger context than that of the university classroom, a context from which ethics cannot be divorced.

Finally, at this momentous juncture we should salute our friends and family. Without their action in our lives, we would not be proudly standing here today. They should have our profound gratitude. Flourish our successors: Semper sint in flore.

Formerly of the ACSA and Newman Society (University of Queensland) executive committees, Michael Gleeson recently graduated from the University of Queensland where he gave the Valedictory Address at the ceremony for Faculty of Engineering, Architecture and Information Technology and the Faculty of Health. He is now a young professional engineer in Brisbane.

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