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  Speech to City College Norwich

Address to students of City College, Norwich at the degree-awarding ceremony, Norwich Cathedral, Saturday 25 October 2008.

May I start by saying thank you very much for inviting me to speak to you on this special occasion in this beautiful Cathedral to celebrate the achievements of the students of City College.  It is a great pleasure to be here. I feel honoured to have been invited.

I was very struck while looking through the list of graduates for today’s ceremony at just how wide is the range of subjects which people receiving their awards this morning and this afternoon have studied. 

Everything from Early Childhood Studies to Construction and Computing; from Sport-Health-and-Exercise to Insurance; from English with Psychology to Marketing and Finance; from Accounting to Adult Numeracy and Literacy; from Licensed Retail Management and Music Practice to Electronic Engineering. And many, many more.

It is a risky thing for a politician to touch on religion publicly at all. But it seems to me if one is going to take this risk – which I am – then a cathedral is the right place to do it.

I think the rich variety of effort and study we are celebrating today tells us something, or should tell us something, about how we should live our lives and, in particular, how we should treat one another.

In Colossians 12 it says:

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone….”

And it goes on to say:

“Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body”.

“If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?...”

“As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect”.

In Romans chapter 12, one of my favourite parts of the bible, it puts it even more directly where it simply says: “Having gifts that differ…let us use them”.

Well, that is what all the people gathered here today are doing. Searching out for, working at and using the gifts which they have been given. And to me that is worth celebrating.

Another thing which strikes me about the graduates today, apart from the range of subjects, is that we have many mature students who have engaged in studying for qualifications later in their lives, perhaps for a change of career, to embark on a new direction in life, or perhaps after having had a family.

And to me that is supremely worth celebrating. It speaks of an attitude to life that I find tremendously admirable – that it is never too late to try something new, that it is never too late to get qualifications in a new area, how ever much one may have missed out earlier on.

I would add one other thing about education. It is worth remembering that while education is exceptionally important, education takes many different forms, that academic education is not the same as all education and, indeed, that education by itself is not enough.

As Calvin Coolidge said:

“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Determination and Persistence alone are omnipotent”.

To all of you graduating today, may I offer my sincere congratulations on your achievements, my very good wishes for the future, and my hope that in the months and years to come you will find the determination and persistence to turn your dreams, what ever they are, into reality.

Thank you very much.


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