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2008 graduation ceremony address – James Loh

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On the occasion of the conferment of an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by Curtin University of Technology.

The Chancellor, Dr Gordon Martin, Members of the University Council, Acting Vice Chancellor Professor Jane den Hollander, distinguished Guests, faculty members graduates and your loved ones, ladies and gentlemen.

I am very happy to be here tonight to celebrate this joyous occasion with you, and I would like to thank all of you for letting me to do so.

It is indeed a great privilege to have been awarded the Honorary Doctorate of Letters by the Council of Curtin University of Technology, and I would like to thank all the Council Members for their kindness in giving me this very prestigious degree. I can now proudly call myself a Curtin alumnus.

I also feel very honoured to have been asked to give this ceremony’s Occasional Address. I understand that the role of the Occasional Speaker is to inspire graduates, but as I am now semi-retired, I am afraid I do not have any latest research findings to excite you. Instead, I would just like to share with you some of the lessons I have learnt from my 40 years of work experience, which I hope may be of use to you. I have chosen seven.

1 Be Humble – Being humble means you have a genuine modesty, which signals that you are eager to learn, and are willing to cooperate with others. This is easier said than done, for in the animal kingdom the humble shall not get his meat or his mate. Still, you cannot afford to be arrogant in an organisation, or when dealing with your customers if you are a budding entrepreneur. If you are humble, your colleagues will accept you and may even help you. If you are arrogant, they will find ways to cut you down to size.

With customers, if you eat humble pie today, you will get to eat caviar tomorrow!

2 Be Courageous – If you are courageous, it means you have guts, especially the guts to take risk and to face possible failure, as well as the tenacity to dig in when things go wrong.

It also means you have the moral strength to resist doing things that are dishonest.

Here is an example of being courageous. When Emeritus Professor Ken Hall and I pioneered the export of the B Bus degree to Singapore in the mid 1980s, we faced many risks. Curtin was then relatively unknown. Distance learning was not popular due to its high failure rate. The Singapore and Australia governments were not encouraging to put it mildly.

Despite all the risks, we went ahead, re-invented and modernised distance learning, and gave Curtin a world first, which time does not permit me to elaborate on. However I would like to suggest that when faced with a risk-taking situation, you should do all your homework, and then ask yourself this simple question: “What is the worst that can happen if things go wrong?” Once you are prepared to accept the worst case scenario, which may not fully or even materialise, then you should follow what the nice people at Nike are saying, “Just do it!”

3 Learn to Accept Failure – If you read the history of successful people, you will learn that many of them have had not one, but often many failures. I guarantee you that in your lifetime you will experience failures – some big, some small, hopefully none or a few big ones. You should learn to accept failure. This is particularly applicable to those of you who come from cultures where not to lose face is very important, and to those of you who intend to become entrepreneurs. Accepting failure is one side of the coin. Being able to re-bound is the other side. Learn from good boxers. When they get knocked down, they do not lie on the canvas and moan. Instead, they get up and punch their way back to win the fight.

4 Always Behave as a Gentleman or Gentle Lady – To me, a gentleman is always dependable, fair, honest, honourable, sincere, trustworthy, and grateful. These qualities need no explanation. Just remember that people like to deal with a gentleman. Also, if you behave as a gentleman, people will reciprocate. Sure, you may be exploited once in a while, but your reputation will soon precede you, and this will more than compensate you for any loss suffered.

5 Learn to be Patient – I don’t fully understand why we are always in a hurry. I suppose it is because we live in a world of instant gratifications.

Some of us want instant success in whatever we do, but there is no such thing as instant success. You need to work at success.

Sometimes you may be tempted to take short cuts, and for some people, this may include bending the rules which is just a short step from committing a crime. Don’t be tempted to take short cuts. Instead, be patient. Bide your time, learn your trade, sharpen your skills, build up your contacts, and so on.

6 Force Yourself to Save – Save as much lawfully and as soon as you start to work. This may seem a strange piece of advice to give on such an occasion but it ties up some of the things I have been talking about. I know it is not easy to save, especially, if like me, you have a study loan to repay and a few girlfriends to upkeep. You just need to discipline yourself. Once you have got a tidy sum of money to your name, you will be more confident, more willing to take risk, have the capital to become an entrepreneur if you so desire, etc

7 Learn a Second, or Third Language – In this globalized world, it is imperative that you should learn one or more languages of the region with lots of potential in your field. Being able to converse with your foreign partners in their mother tongue will help you to establish immediate rapport with them. It will also enable you to better understand their culture, values, national psyche and its underlying nuances.

I read somewhere that Australia is planning to make the learning of Chinese compulsory in primary schools. I may have read wrongly, but if I have not, just imagine how strong these kids will be 15, 16 years down the road when they graduate from college. And despite your 15, 16 years head start, they may beat you to a job in China if they are effectively bi-lingual and you are not.

I was told that the best way to learn another language is to get yourself a girlfriend or a boyfriend who speaks that language. I think this theory is fundamentally flawed. I think you should get at least five or more girlfriends or boyfriends, not one. As an ex-academician, I would love to test my theory, but alas, I am getting a bit too old to do this sort of high octane experiment, and so I will leave it to you young and vigorous folks to do it.

On this challenging note, I would now like to congratulate all of you and your loved ones on your success, and to wish you the very best for the future.

Good luck, and thank you.