16 October 2019, Royal Albert Hall

Members of Court and Council, colleagues, distinguished honourees, graduates, family and friends. It is my honour, as President of Imperial College London, to welcome you to Commemoration Day 2019.

Graduates, congratulations. We are here to celebrate your accomplishments, we applaud your many talents and we wish you well in all that awaits you. You have worked hard at your studies and you have excelled. You have also exceled outside the lecture halls and laboratories. You are scholars as well as practitioners. You are talented inventors, entrepreneurs, musicians, dancers, actors, singers and athletes. And you are volunteers who gave your precious time to help others.

It is important to recognize those whose support was essential during your time at Imperial.

Your families and friends are always there when you need them. They share in your triumphs and they bring additional joy to today’s celebration.  

The academics sitting behind me, and many others, have shared their knowledge, sparked your curiosity and broadened your horizons. They are dedicated researchers and educators, the best in their fields. They have challenged and inspired you.  They have shown you the importance of having high standards for everything that you do. 

Graduates, you have so much to contribute to the world. The world needs people with your intelligence, your passion and your commitment to learning. You will contribute greatly to society. 

I hope that, among the many things you will remember about Imperial, you will look back on the valuable experiences you had working with, listening to, learning from, and spending time with others.  Whether it was students in your course, or friends from societies or residences, or staff who you got to know, sharing ideas and building lasting relationships will be valuable, lifelong assets.  I hope that you leave Imperial with a distinct sense of the value of community. Imperial College London is an important community and it will always be part of who you are.

I like something I recently heard in France about Café culture and Encyclopaedias.

For both, “you enter with a purpose and then lose yourself to other things”.  

We have all enjoyed the opportunity to “lose ourselves” in unexpected conversations; we lose track of the time and learn and understand a great deal.  We may also have stumbled upon a new book while browsing in a library or a bookshop.  Some of us are old enough to remember hefting encyclopedias to a table to search for something, only to find other entries that enthralled us.

Now, perhaps too often, the café is just a place to get a takeaway coffee, or to sit with our laptop and work alone, and the encyclopaedia is supplanted by the internet search.  You can still lose yourself in a trail of discovery; however, you may not have that same experience of chance findings.  Serendipity has, perhaps, become too algorithmic.

Too often today when we do sit together over a meal, or coffee, we are distracted by our phones.  On the one hand, they provide instantaneous access to so much information. It is incredible that in a moment’s notice you can know the answer to the question, who led the uprising against occupying Romans in 60 AD - Boudica, or how long will it take the JUICE mission to get to Jupiter - 7.5 years. 

Our conversations are enriched by such information. We can know a lot! On the other hand, phones sometimes divert our attention from the people around us.

To move from information to understanding, we need to look up from our phones and get to know each other.  We need to recapture our sense of community. 

There is much that divides the world today. We need people like you to take the time to listen to, and better understand one another if we are to mend these divides.   

I hope that as you leave this wonderful university with friends, mentors, and learning around every corner, you will take your experience and your wisdom into many new relationships and new communities.  

In doing so, you will help make the world a better place. 

Thank you