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But the greatest of these is love
This is the full text of the address made by The Hon Justice Michael Kirby at the graduation ceremony of
But the greatest of these is love1
Salute to the Graduates
It is a great honour for me to receive the degree of Doctor of this University, named as it is after the first Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, Sir Samuel Griffith. To receive it from the Chancellor, whose long service to the community and the University is an example to us all. To be presented by Professor Ian O'Connor, the distinguished Vice-Chancellor and President. To be here, and given a voice to speak on this occasion for my fellow graduates. They won their degrees by burning the midnight oil; attending uncounted lectures; and by suffering the horrible fears of deadlines, word counts and examinations. I salute all those whom I join tonight, as a member of
I am particularly proud to be a Doctor of the whole University. Whilst I am grateful for my life in the law, law's service tends to sharpen the mind by narrowing its focus. A university is, or should be, a place where people search for universal knowledge – for the essential links between things. Although I never undertook business studies as such, after my law degree I won a degree of Bachelor of Economics. At the end of busy days as a young solicitor, I rushed to evening lectures to learn economic theory from fine teachers.
So I honour the graduates from the
This day is a watershed in our lives – yours and mine. Years hence, we will look at the photographs and smile. They will remind us of this special time, of this splendid university, of our teachers and colleagues and families here with us. Savour this time.
For me, the occasion comes as I am furiously packing papers, books and bric-a-brac, preparing to leave behind thirty-four years of public life. You are coming into your careers as I am moving out.
The Most Important Discovery
So what is there to say that will be more than banal platitudes or just another tedious lecture? My considered thoughts on the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936, although certainly relevant to both business and law, would hardly be exhilarating. Predications about the future of business law, although important, would be far too obvious. And scarcely riveting.
There is nothing like the prospect of a radical life change to concentrate the mind on things that really mater. So I want to identify, if I can, the most important thing that we discover in life. At least, it is the most important thing that I have discovered. I will share it with you, like a precious jewel, fit for this occasion. I refer to love. Love for one another. Love for our community. Love for others everywhere in the world. Love transcends even scholarship, cleverness and university degrees. It is greater than pride and wealth. It endures when worldly vanities fade.
Love exists at different levels. Last week, in
I have always thought that the essential foundation of fundamental human rights is love. Love for one another. Empathy for fellow human beings. Feeling pain for the refugee; for the victim of war; for the prisoner deprived of the vote; for the child dying of cholera in
Graduates! We must be voices for the voiceless and protectors of the weak and vulnerable. With our privileges and gifts go duties and obligations. Australian democracy is not merely a rule of majorities. Don't believe it when public figures say otherwise or when sections of the media, revelling in their power, say that everything can be safely left to parliament which will quickly fix things up. Majorities can certainly err. They have done so in the past. They will do so again. Basic human rights afford the means to remind majorities of the love they owe to all human beings, both at home and abroad. Electoral majoritarianism can sometimes be selfish and indifferent to wrongs and discrimination.
We need to love our communities. In
We reserve a special love for our families, our partners and closest friends. If they are here, tell them today that you love them. Anglo-Celts (and especially the males of the species) find that little word "love" terribly hard to say. Well, today is a day to say it. And to respect the loved-ones of others. No exceptions. We owe this because we know how precious our loved-ones are to each and every one of us.
Until last week, my partner, Johan, was a second-class citizen of
Human rights charters exist to call unequal treatment of fellow citizens to the notice of Parliament so that it can correct the wrong. Had we enjoyed such a national reminder of the need to treat all our citizens equally – and to avoid unjustifiable discrimination – the wrongs that our laws did in
Busy lawyers and stressed business executives even need to keep a portion of love for themselves. I do not mean the self-love that underpins the A-type personality. In ambitious occupations, alas, that love is all too often in over-supply. I refer, instead, to love for one's spirit as a unique sentient being, given a single chance at life and conscious existence.
Everywhere in the law now (and doubtless also in business) people are talking about stress and depression in professional lives – the opposite of calm love. A recent study of a large cohort of lawyers in
Perhaps I am the last person who should be telling you all this. After all, my published recreation in Who's Who is "work". But the work-life balance is definitely critical for happiness and long-term success in the use we all make of our university degrees. So it is legitimate for each one of us to keep a little true love for ourselves. To demand a space, often pro bono, to do work as a volunteer. Work that is uplifting and noble. Work that gives satisfaction and does good in society, as we know our vocations can sometimes do5.
I am sure that no one coming to this ceremony expected a High Court judge to use the occasion to talk about that four letter word, love. But that's a good thing. In life, never be predictable. It's so uncool.
When in the evening we are alone with our most existential thoughts, it is then that we come face to face with the most precious truths that we discover in our brief existence in this world. Just before fatigue envelops us, taking us into sleep. We think of what our lives actually mean. And then we know how lucky we are if we still enjoy consciousness, rationality and love. But the greatest of these is love.
To all my fellow graduates, good speed and true success in life. To
1. 1 Corinthians, 13, 13.
2. P Carne, "Addressing Depression and Work-Life Balance", Proctor (Journal of the
4. A Susskind, "Solicitors and the Autonomy Paradox", Law Society Journal (NSW firms for work-life balance" (2008) 18 No 2 National Jurist 28.), December 2008, 22.
5. K Dybis, "Best firms for work-life balance" (2008) 18 No 2 National Jurist (