Archive • Speeches

A Message For Graduates – Creatively Disrupt

Provost and Vice Principal, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Members of the University, Graduates, Graduands and guests.
I was born and brought up in this city, in Erdington. As a boy in the early fifties I talked to my granddad. He was a Victorian, born in Aston. A highly skilled man, in the 1890s he became redundant. Disruptive technology is nothing new. For the rest of his life he was a common labourer, in the parlance of the day.
I asked about a picture in his back kitchen.
“That’, he said reverently, ”is Joseph Chamberlain. The greatest man this city ever had”.
I learned that this creator of industrial companies had also transformed this city: he cleared slums, laid sewers; banged heads together, municipalising water, gas and electricity; he built great parks, the lungs of the city; even municipal swimming pools. And libraries – I spent my teens almost living in the great Victorian Reference Library.
Even this University grew out of his radical vision. Modest at first in the city centre, now a vast campus, one of the world’s great centres of research and learning.
I quote him.
“The great problem of our civilisation is still unsolved. We have to account for and grapple with the mass of misery and destitution in our midst, co-existent as it is with the evidence of abundant wealth and teeming prosperity. It is a problem which some men would put aside by reference to the eternal laws of supply and demand, to the necessity of freedom of contract, and to the sanctity of every private right of property.
My aim in life is to make life pleasant for the great majority; I do not care if it becomes in the process less pleasant for the well-to-do minority”
So, as I congratulate you on your achievements here, I remind you that private enterprise and social enterprise, arm in arm, have synergy.
Go out into the world remembering Joseph Chamberlain.
To succeed you will need to be quick footed, flexible and open to new learning. Life will be disruptive – but exciting.
That’s nothing new. The Victorians, faced, indeed created, similar restlessness.
The world is out there for you to creatively disrupt.
Good luck.

Honorary PhD speech given by Tony Garnett