Anna Bligh tells graduates to never fear failure

Anna Bligh with Griffith University Chancellor Henry Smerdon
Former Queensland Premier Anna Bligh with Griffith University Chancellor Henry Smerdon after receiving her honorary doctorate

Former Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has urged Griffith University graduates to never fear failure as it provides some of the most important lessons in life, and instead cited inertia as their biggest threat.

Ms Bligh made the comments during her Occasional Address at the Griffith University Graduation ceremony in Brisbane on Monday, where she also received an honorary doctorate.

Ms Bligh’s doctorate was conferred by University Chancellor Henry Smerdon AM at the graduation ceremony for business and science schools, held at the Brisbane Exhibition and Convention Centre.

She is one of five recipients of the title of Doctor of the University, with the others being Artistic Director of the Queensland Ballet Li Cunxin, Queensland Judge Fleur Kingham,theatre producer John Frost and Mary Roosevelt, an international educator and US Patron of the Griffith’s Institute for Glycomics Childhood Leukaemia project.

Vice Chancellor Professor Ian O’Connor said the Doctor of the University was in recognition of Ms Bligh’s diverse and distinguished service to the community, particularly in areas of social reform, education, and equity.

Challenge the status quo

Daring graduates to challenge the status quo, Ms Bligh revealed her own pain and humiliation from one of her early losses.

“As part of the rough and tumble of student politics I learnt one of my most valuable life lessons, I learnt the value of failure,” Ms Bligh said.

Anna Bligh delivering a speech after receiving her honorary doctorate from Griffith University
Former Queensland Premier Anna Bligh gives the Occasional Address at the Griffith University Graduation ceremony in Brisbane after receiving her honorary doctorate

“The ability to experience failure and recover from it is critical to every leader’s journey.”

Ms Bligh said she had stood for presidency of the student council and lost, describing it as a ‘humiliating and painful experience’ but one which taught her about strength and resilience.

“I learnt that I knew how to get back on the horse — a critical skill in the world of politics.

“This was a lesson about myself that underpinned every subsequent decision I made and I only learned because I dared to take a chance and have a go. I dared to fail.”

Her opponent for the student presidency was Judge Fleur Kingham, who last night also was bestowed with an honorary doctorate from Griffith.

“She was a very worth opponent then and she is a very worthy recipient of her Griffith University honorary doctorate today,” Ms Bligh said.

“It is a great gift to be awarded Griffith University’s highest honour, and I am deeply grateful for it.”

Ms Bligh urged graduates to be part of the passion and action of their times.

“You don’t have to be a political activist or a politician to find something that captures you in the public life of our country. Our nation and the world needs our best and our brightest . . . someone who cares about what happens next.”

Yesterday marked the beginning of three days of graduation ceremonies with more than 2300 students receiving their degrees from Griffith University.

Ms Bligh urged graduates to never fear failure, but to fear inertia.

“It takes great daring and courage and sheer bloody-mindedness to challenge incumbency and undo the status quo. Friends, it’s so exciting out there, but boy is it ugly.”

Books provide solace and inspiration

Ms Bligh revealed that books and poetry had been a constant friend, especially in the ups and downs of politics.

“I have found in them comfort, inspiration, solace and excitement so necessary for nourishment and replenishment. You need lifelong friends like this, something that makes your blood run and somewhere that you can retreat to.”

She said those quiet retreats were often the best times for her best thinking and deepest reflection.

Ms Bligh also noted that one of the other lessons from university was how to endure the truly boring.

“In every journey of success there are endless hours of having to concentrate on things in which you have absolutely no interest.

“It is these hours that you find important truths about focus and discipline and your own capability.”

She recalled having to do two semesters on statistics, a prerequisite of one of her majors, and how she ‘almost lost the will to live as I read and reread papers on standard deviations, cumulative percentages and probability densities’.

However in politics, a true numbers game, she found as she progressed she would meet with party pollsters and could talk their language ‘fluently enough to not be snowed by them’.

Top learninginstitution

She described Griffith as one of Australia’s ‘finest institutions of learning’.

“In Australia we like to believe that education is a right. But for far too many higher education remains a privilege, and you now have that privilege in your pocket.”

She challenged graduates to strive for the best in themselves. “I’m a girl from the Gold Coast and I became Premier of Queensland. What can’t you do?”

Ms Bligh said that she had no aspirations to return to politics but was an interested observer from the side-lines.

And while she may reside in NSW her love of Queensland has not diminished. She said it was truly remarkable how the state had rebounded from the natural disasters of the deadly 2011-12 floods in which more than 30 people lost lives, and from Cyclone Yasi.

“And I’m particularly pleased we won the (State of) Origin again this year.”