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1973 BAgCom 40th Reunion

Speech by Dr Andrew West, Vice-Chancellor Lincoln University.

"Chairman of the 73 BAgCom cohort, I thank you sincerely for the invitation to speak at this illustrious alumni function, with its omnipresent cricketing theme. I know that at this time of night a speaker must maintain momentum, and must not overly occupy the crease. To paraphrase, in the illustrious words of Mrs Gooch who phoned the Oval just after her husband left the Pavilion to go out and open the batting for England, "Oh I’ll hold on, he’ll be back in a jiff anyway”.

Reunions are unusual events.

Reunions always celebrate something of collective significance in peoples’ lives. Significance does not have to equate with happiness. Military reunions can be an example of that. Both my grandfathers served at Gallipoli and one used to attend reunions regularly to recall being shot in the Dardanelles!!!!

But reunions are always about profound, shared experiences and clearly forty years ago many of you here tonight had a profound set of experiences at Lincoln University (College back then) in that first ever BAgCom cohort, profound enough to have you reunionising ever since.

That BAgCom was a defining and happy experience, and evidently it still is. Lincoln’s a bit like Hotel California; "You can check out, but you can never leave”.

What’s more, reunions are the closest thing to a time machine that humans have created, discovery of the Higgs Boson notwithstanding.

Whilst I greatly enjoyed my years at the Polytechnic of Central London completing my Degree and then PhD, for me my profound experience occurred in my years at secondary school, from the age of eleven to eighteen. I went to Battersea Grammar School on Tooting Bec Common, Streatham Hill, South London.

And experiences at that school were sufficiently profound that, thirty years on, of the 90 boys in our cohort 60 were in touch through Friends Reunited.Com and reunionising at South London pubs and even at the old school itself.

I served my time there in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Back then I had two exceptional heroes; co-incidentally both lived out the end of their days in Australia. Barry Sheene the irrepressible cockney motorcycle racer and Tony Grieg, the South African who captained the English cricket team and who then became a naturalised Australian cricket commentator.

Greig! I used to watch test matches on television whenever I could. Greig was always going out to Australian bowling playing daft shots. He should have listened to one of the 20th century’s greatest philosophers, I barely need to mention his name for you are certain to have guessed already who he is -Australian cricketer Merv Hughes - who when bowling to a hapless Graham Gooch of England (again) proffered enlightenment with the immortal words "Would you like me to bowl you a piano and see if you can play that?

Reunions throw us back to ancient pecking orders and when they are really successful they engender ancient behaviours.

Now I don’t know about you, but I attend many extremely boring meetings, especially Board meetings. When this happens my mind wanders and it often wanders back to the ancient behaviours exhibited at Battersea Grammar School. What, I think to myself, would happen in the Board meeting if my fellow directors and I started behaving as my school mates and I did 45 years ago?

First up, the Chairman would abruptly be hit in the eye with a loud thwack by an eraser fired by a ruler. When the CFO turned their back a director would be flicking their fountain pen’s ink onto the CFO’s best suit jacket. Half the directors would be aimlessly looking out of the window and no director would walk anywhere – once up they’d run at full tilt. And to alleviate boredom, three directors would do a bundle, which means to spring up simultaneously, run to the doorway and wedge themselves tightly into it, thereby blocking passage. Utterly, utterly pointless and utterly, utterly magnificent with it!

At Battersea Grammar School this only stopped when "Dobbo” the English Grammar teacher stormed in like an irate shareholder and twisted boys’ ears. I’d love a few Board meetings to operate like that.

So, I ask myself, what would your professional meetings be like if all the attendees starting behaving as you did during the BAgCom? And that, I think, is one of the most important reasons alumni hold their reunions. The halcyon days….

How is it that no matter how much money you have now, the greatest fun was when you had none?

How is it that authority figures were much, much easier to respect, even admire, back then?

They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn.

Over decades, half centuries even, those figures of authority have donned an ever-increasing aura of greatness – Hudson, Hilgendorf, Burns, Stewart. They didn’t see themselves as giants, but we see them in that light now. These men were in their own fashion philosophers and each would have been equal in phrase to the legendary Bard Merv Hughes (again) who when bowling to the hapless Robert Smith of England proffered the gentle advice "If you turn the bat over you’ll get the instructions mate!”.

Why are they giants? Because eventually we get old enough and wise enough to appreciate greatness. We get old enough and wise enough to realise that youth, idealism, aspiration, enthusiasm and motivation are fleeting – and we get old enough and wise enough to determine that each generation deserves the very same chances that we were given by our parents. My parents sacrificed so much to educate me. I am the first West of any generation to have been conferred a degree. I didn’t realise how much they gave to me then then. I do now. In fact to tell the truth, when I was 18 my old man was an IDIOT! It was amazing how much he’d learnt by the time I turned 22!

Which is why these reunions are not just about our time as it was then. They are also about the here and now, specifically about how that old gem, Lincoln University, is faring.

So now, for a brief moment I’ll get serious.

The University is in good heart. Because it is in the right place at the right time. Humanity faces a food security crisis on a scale never before experienced. And Lincoln is a University of food security with 135 years of commitment to the cause and a large international reputation. In fact, the top eight agriculture, natural resource and life sciences universities in all of Europe have invited just three other universities in the whole world to join their exclusive club. Lincoln University is one of those three. Believe me, we still have our mojo!

But life isn’t easy. We lose money every time we train a New Zealand farmer or orchardist because government has set the price too low and has kept it too low for 25 years. That is why Lincoln has the worst paid staff and the oldest building stock in the New Zealand university system. Well ladies and gentlemen, I am going to change that. I’m doing a ‘bundle’ with government on the inside of the room and they are not getting out of it without providing substantial support for Lincoln. Support that will help us rebuild much of our shattered building stock – Hilgendorf and Burns in particular – and support that will price the education of farmers fairly so we can keep doing it.

Lincoln University remains a special place. It always will. It remains hallowed ground. It has fabulous, mercurial academics who provide a wonderful education while genuinely caring for their students and setting the very necessary boundaries that let them grow from children to adults, maturing into the land-based specialists that New Zealand and most every other country on this planet desperately needs. It remains strong in rugby, cricket, netball, basketball and football. It remains strong in the arts. And it has retained its sense of humour – well, at least I have!

And I hope you believe that it is in good hands. The Chancellor, the Pro-Chancellor, members of Council, the Vice-Chancellor and all the Assistant Vice-Chancellors – all of us - are just custodians. It is our generation’s turn to care for a magnificent edifice. Not just the bricks and the mortar (important though they are), but the spirit, the courage, the enterprise, and the sharing, caring and discovery.

We know our place.

We know our responsibility.

Most of all, we know our duty.

Ladies and Gentlemen, tonight is not the night for me to ask anything of you other than this. Keep remembering and keep caring for Lincoln University. It’s worth it.

And so Chairman, as an academic I feel obliged to finish this address by referencing that greatest of 20th Century truth-seekers, Professor of Cricket Merv Hughes, one last time. Bowling to the hapless Robert Smith of England (again) he beats him with his first ball. "Hey Smith” shouts the Regent of Philosophers "You can’t bat!” Next ball Smith hits the Philosopher King over the boundary "Hey Hughes, we make a fine pair. I can’t bat and you can’t bowl!” With that ladies and gentlemen, until the next reunion, let us toast Lincoln University……".