Reflections as the final student crosses the graduation stage

Traditionally at this time of year, I would write a column reflecting on the year that was and offer some thoughts on the year to come.

I might also encourage the reader to reflect on the individual self and set out a plan of areas to build competence and skill on in 2023.

Instead as I pick up the pen, I find myself reflecting on my role as pro-chancellor of the University of Otago.

I have literally clapped hundreds upon hundreds of proud, happy graduates across the stage in the Dunedin Town Hall and now the December graduation round has run its course.

Like you, for any given committee or council meeting I attend across the year, there can be hundreds of pages to read.

Documents to search up and reflect on and opinions to canvass to help inform one’s own perspective.

It takes time, it takes energy and above all, it takes a passion for the university and its purpose.

The tank can typically run on empty towards the end of any given year.

But this year, I observe that broadly, people are tired, really tired.

Covid has resurfaced and general year-end pressures abound. But for me, being involved in a university, you get this wonderful refilling of the passion tank as graduations unfold.

In the room each time there are stories, some spoken, others silently shared.

Stories of first in family, of personal sacrifice to enable the graduate to attend.

Hard work meshed with grit and determination in the face of new challenges, life lessons and maturing away from a parental influence.

Then there is the whanau — a rich tapestry of New Zealanders.

With immense pride they clap, sing and honour their person as they move across the stage.

I find each ceremony a combination of infectious and truly moving.

I have tears welling up from the strength and dignity of families who posthumously accept a degree or diploma and in contrast the overwhelming joy for others in their moment of achievement.

Finally there is the graduation address.

Wise words and learnings are packaged up into a meaningful message for those in the room to take away.

All too soon it is over, everyone is out the door, photos are to be taken and celebrations to be had across the city.

Meanwhile, I take a moment to reflect on all I have seen and heard across the day.

For me these occasions give true meaning to our work as governors around the council table.

It reminds me the importance of the mahi we do and to always hold one of our key stakeholders, the students, in our decision making process.

Obvious? Well, yes of course.

But, how often do you take the time to step back before each meeting and consider your purpose and test yourself for passion against the same? Or do you simply open the pack, dive on in and embed yourself in the detail of the agenda and the tasks to be ticked off on the meeting day?

For me, I consider it an absolute privilege to share in the joy of our graduates and their families and as I head off into the holiday season, I will carry this December graduation round with me (and other experiences across the different entities I am involved with) as I embark on my own personal governance development plan for 2023.

As you do likewise, I encourage you to reflect on the organisations you govern.

Think about what gives meaning and purpose to your work.

Identify what you hope to contribute and areas you want to make progress on in the coming year.

Finally, consider what skills you need to enhance to achieve the same.

Checking you remain aligned and ready to serve again in 2023 is a good way to spend some time this holiday season, whether you find yourself at the beach or lake, on a bike riding the central trails or perhaps exploring new locations.

Wherever it may find you, on behalf of the Otago Southland branch of the Institute of Directors, I wish you and your families all the best for the festive season.

 - Trish Oakley is the chairwoman of the Otago Southland branch of the Institute of Directors and sits on both the national council and board. This article is opinion only and not intended as governance advice. The institute is the professional body for directors and is at the heart of New Zealand’s governance community.