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Occasional Address by Mr. Terry White AO: The University of Queensland Faculty of Health & Behavioural Sciences Graduation Ceremony

Tuesday, 18th July 2017 – The University of Queensland Faculty of Health & Behavioural Sciences Graduation Ceremony

Mr. Terry White AO
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“I too would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we gather and meet, and pay our respects to Elders past and present.

Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Members of Senate, Members of Staff, Distinguished Guests, Graduates, Ladies and Gentlemen:-

I am deeply honoured to receive this Honorary Doctorate in Pharmacy and recognise how important a part my alma mater has played in my life as first challenging my thinking as a student and setting me on a pathway to various careers.

Being here today with the graduating class of 2017 to celebrate your academic achievement with your families and friends is exciting, rewarding and inspiring.

During your years of study, you have worked hard to lay the foundations of a career in Health – a career of challenge and opportunity from one of the world’s great Universities.

The University of Queensland holds its head high on the international academic stage and has moved to 55 in the Global Academic Ranking of World Universities, and ranks second in Australia – an amazing record.

Graduates, you leave today with a great deal of knowledge of what is required of you to enter your profession, but most importantly, you leave with the skills and understanding of how to communicate, how to research, how to manage change and walk forward confidently into a future of your own making.

On an occasion like this may I take the liberty of sharing with you some of the lessons I have learned over my career of nearly 60 years.

500 years ago Sir. Francis Bacon wrote: ‘A Wise man (or woman) will make more opportunities than he (or she) will be given’

In my lifetime, there have been many opportunities, challenges, hurdles, roadblocks and the occasional wins along the way – and, of course, the inevitable failures that have taught me the most in life.

A few years after graduation and gaining essential career experience, I chose to travel and work overseas. In those days it was a 6 week boat trip to the UK – not the 21 hours or so it takes today.

It was a life changing experience and taught me a great deal – openness to new ways of doing things, tolerance as a ‘result’ of working with people from all parts of the world and all levels of society and having the opportunity of working in organisations of a far larger scale than I could ever experience in Australia.

However I did not realise what was in front of me – this was 1960 – The Cold War Era when I was confronted in Berlin with the foundations being laid for what was to emerge as the ‘Berlin Wall’ and the only access/exit to East Berlin for curious young Australian’s was via Checkpoint Charlie.

On return from East Germany, I could not believe and will never forget the sight of the East German soldiers shooting at their own people as they swam the River Spree to escape to the West from the Communist regime.

Inevitably my thoughts turned to the importance of politics and ironically when I came home via the US, I found my Uncle & Aunt (who lived in New York) were campaigning for John F. Kennedy for the US Presidency.

Suffice to say, I really started my journey in public life there, at grass roots campaigning such as letter boxing and knocking on doors – JFK won the election by the slim margin of 0.17 percent of the vote – I like to think I made a small contribution!

Those experiences challenged my values and subsequently my direction in life.

Graduates, our country is like a big tennis court in the Asia Pacific with only 24 million people, so travel, embrace the rest of the world, especially Asia, experience other cultures, but do come home and bring your skills and make a difference to this wonderful country – Australia.

Gain experience and know what you stand for as you pursue your ambitions. Many of those ambitions may lead you along a rocky road including failure but the overwhelming thing is have the courage to persist.

On my return to Australia I found that I was prepared to accept more responsibilities and gravitated to leadership within the pharmacy profession and some years later I accepted an invitation to stand for Parliament.

I was elected to the Queensland Parliament and elevated to the Ministry.

In 1983 as Leader of the Liberal Party I strongly advocated the establishment of a Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee as a means of instituting essential checks and balances on what I perceived could be a corrupt Government.

I paid a heavy price at the time. I took my party out of the Government and fought an election on corruption and lost badly.

The subsequent Fitzgerald Inquiry exposed corruption in the Queensland Government as institutionalised and endemic justifying my stance.

It was the right thing to do, but I failed to win the election because I failed to communicate effectively to the people.

Failure has a bitter taste but it is a great teacher with the clear message to me that I had to become an effective communicator if I was ever to be successful in other careers.

One of my fondest memories of public life as an elected representative is that to this very day, I have great friends from all sides of politics – the good guys are not all on the same side!

After 10 years in Government I returned to Pharmacy and joined my wife and eldest Son Anthony in the challenge of taking two pharmacies through very difficult financial times for our family, to a small group of pharmacies in Queensland.

From those early years we persisted in the face of significant adversity and succeeded in establishing the largest pharmacy franchise company in Australia which now services 500 pharmacies across the Nation.

But whatever you do in life, never forget your family. It is their love and support that has maintained my energy and enthusiasm over 56 years of marriage, 5 children and 9 grand-children.

Suffice to say, if I hadn’t met and fallen in love with Rhonda, I certainly would not be here today and I pay tribute to her for working side by side with me for the last 56 years.

Finally, many people sadly never achieve their dreams or even their potential because they are afraid to change, to make decisions, or lack the courage to persist.

I am reminded of what John F. Kennedy said: ‘Change is the Law of Life. Those who look only to the past or the present, are certain to miss the future.’

Today is your day – I wish you every success.

May you live ‘large’ lives; and take on your future with open hearts, and open minds.

I thank you for this great honour.”
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