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John Key has implored students to ''not die wondering''.
The Prime Minister's comments came yesterday during an address to thousands of first-year students at the University of Otago's first convocation ceremony at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
Mr Key shared the lessons his mother had taught him as child growing up in ''that infamous state house'' in Christchurch.
''You get out of life what you put into it,'' he said.
The other lesson was ''education is the only thing they can't take off you'', he said.
''The degree you get from Otago is something that no-one can take off you. It's the passbook to the rest of your life.''
In summing up the ''exciting'' time students had ahead of them, Mr Key called on them to ''give it 100%''.
''Don't die wondering - I'm certainly not going to,'' he said.
He told the first-year students to ''have big dreams''.
''I'm the 38th Prime Minister of New Zealand and at about 11 or 12 years of age I made the decision to be prime minister.''
When he entered Parliament in 2002, one of the reasons behind the decision was ''I didn't want to die wondering''.
But during the ceremony, Mr Key learned even the prime minister, sometimes, has to move aside for others.
During the Nga Tumu ki Otakou kapa haka group's waiata, Mr Key had to shuffle - seat and all - further back the stage to accommodate the group's stirring performance. He obliged, with a smile.
University of Otago vice-chancellor Prof Harlene Hayne welcomed the students to New Zealand's ''oldest and finest university''.
She reminded the students to remember when they entered restaurants and supermarkets those working there were picking up the vast majority of the cost of the students' education.
She told them to respect everyone in the city and to be grateful for the opportunities ahead.
''Be the best person you can be ... Be the best citizen you can be,'' she advised them.
Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull told them Dunedin was now home.
''You come into Dunedin to mark a new beginning and you come in as a new citizen of the community,'' he said.
''I invite you to treat our city - now your city - as home.''