Monday, September 29, 2008

GLENN COLQUHOUN - author, poet, doctor and orator.

Glenn is an University of Auckland Arts alumni, and he made a speech on 23 September to Arts and Law graduates which made a great impression on those present.

By courtesy of Amber Older, Communications Adviser, University of Auckland, Faculties of Arts, Education & NICAI I have obtained a copy and Glenn's permisson so I am delighted to post it here for your enjoyment.

Graduation speech

Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Distinguished guests, Members of the Council, Members of the University, Graduands, families and friends, it is my very great pleasure to address you today and to congratulate you all.

To those of you who are staff of the University, congratulations on guiding your students safely to this point. It defines what you do as teachers. It broadens the coastline of knowledge. It reproduces what we think we know and sends out a generation to inform and refute that. More importantly, it means you will never have to see some of this lot again.

To family and friends, congratulations for tying shoelaces and for cutting lunches and working late and worrying; for buying things you weren’t ever really sure were related to education in the first place; for accepting bad manners, gangsta rap, labile moods and body piercings; for filling up empty tanks of petrol, turning down the television and not saying anything about dress standards. Not all the graduands today have been studying law though.

To the graduands themselves, congratulations for staying the course. It is a significant achievement and one you should feel proud of. As time passes it will become a reference point in your life, a shelf upon which the years and both harder and more joyful lessons will rest like odd shaped books. Be fabulous. Punch the air with your fist. Wallow in a well earned sense of accomplishment. Tomorrow there will be no share-market, no finance companies, no banks and no petrol. The world will be an Arts student’s paradise.

Life is often lived with a slight lean forward. Most people, most of the time live on an incline, waiting for the weekend, a renovation to be completed, the exams to be over, an unspecified number of kilograms to be lost or a goal to be achieved. When we get to these points we seldom appreciate them but begin again to wait for the next bend in the road, our lean undiminished.

In many ways we never arrive. Life occurs as we pass by it. Some live leaning back, the past hanging from their shoulders and obscuring a sense of possibility. I wish you enough of this sort of living for you not to lose sympathy with the human condition but more than anything else I wish you a life full of moments, and the shocking and liberating wonder of your perpetual arrival within them. I wish you the present lived over and over and over again.

The world is deeply folded. Most times we gloss over the top of its convolutions and settle for that. I challenge you to stop sometime and explore them instead. In the few minutes I have spoken to you many worlds will have opened and closed, looks will have taken place between people, smells alighted, commentaries in your head played out, a sense of your body remarkably occupying space buzzed past you - before being quickly swatted away. Don’t. This is the rich soil of life. It is yours now and was yours before you graduated and will be yours again while you are pitched forward heading towards whatever it is you will do next - but I can assure you no matter what that is this is where the pay-dirt is and this is where we find wonder and this is what people wish they’d done more of once they get to wherever it was they were going.

Poetry is the literature of the moment. To that end it seems appropriate that I should leave you with one written about the eternal minute, the responsive heart and the possibility of lives lived in a glance. It is a poem you will recognize as being set in New Zealand’s capital city of love, Hamilton. On this very special day I wish you once again great joy, much aroha and every now and then, a queue to stand in.

To the girl who stood beside me at
the checkout counter of Whitcoulls
bookstore in Hamilton on Tuesday.

For ten seconds I fell
in love with you.

The first second we met.

You were buying recipes.

The second second we turned,
taking pieces of each other out of our eyes.

The third second we held each other gently.
Your skin was a small kitten playing with a curtain.

The fourth second we kissed.

Front gates clicked against our fence.

In the fifth second we married.
Your dress was made of Nikau palm.

The sixth second we built a house beside a lake.

It was never tidy and the grass was up to our knees.

The seventh second we argued:

about toothpaste and poetry
and who would put out the rubbish.

The eighth second we grew fat and happy
and lay on the ground after eating.

Your stomach wriggled with a round child.

In the ninth second we were old in the same garden
of the same house by the same lake in the same love.

The tenth second we said goodbye.

Your hand slipped away from mine but
seemed to me like something I could feel.

We passed again beside each other without turning

as though we had somehow only met at the checkout
counter of Whitcoulls bookstore in Hamilton
on a faintly blue September Tuesday.

Great stuff Glenn, thanks for allowing us to share your thoughts presented to the graduates.

No comments: