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Sir Ian Wood uses RGU commencement speech to tell graduates to be ‘morally courageous’

Sir Ian Wood
Sir Ian Wood

This year’s graduates have been urged to play their part in changing the world by using their abilities with responsibility, courageousness and kindness.

In his commencement speech, Sir Ian Wood, the university’s chancellor, warned students not to assume there is a “fair world” out there – referencing the likes of global hunger, climate change and the constant threat of terror.

He told them: “To be truthful my generation hasn’t really done much to solve the huge inequities across our planet.

“But my generation’s failure is not because we don’t care.

“Most people do care, but generally we see the problem as too complex and, somehow, not really relevant to us. That somebody else needs to solve the world’s problems.

“Your generation has the great opportunity to apply the whole range of new technologies to better look after our planet and its ecosystems.

“I have great hope for your generation. You have huge imagination, resilience and are more caring, with a better appreciation of the world’s inequities.”

Sir Ian told the graduates not to let the “surreal and exceptionally difficult” circumstances of the pandemic detract from their achievements.

Describing them as “the most powerful generation in history” he encouraged them to relish the major discoveries and innovations being realised on a daily basis.

“You must be constantly proactive to new approaches and ideas,” Sir Ian told the graduates.

“If continuous change and improvement are not at the forefront of your thinking, frankly you’re almost certainly going backwards.”

Quoting Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, Sir Ian told students to be “morally courageous” and tackle the world’s problems head-on – and never underestimate their potential.

He said: “Don’t just sit back and criticise because that’s far too easy and, frankly, should be beneath you.

“As from today you are no longer a spectator, you have graduated into the real world and are now endorsed and engaged as a player.

“I’ve lost count of the number of mistakes I’ve made in my business career.

“The key thing is to recognise them quickly and react.

“Don’t ever hide from your mistakes. You’ll just compound them.

“Some failure in life is inevitable unless you live so cautiously you might as well not have lived at all.

“In which case, you’ve failed by default.”

Sir Ian also drew on his own experiences as an entrepreneur and philanthropist to help inspire the next generation to find success.

The Aberdeen-born businessman joined his family fishing business before setting up Wood Group and now has an estimated net worth of about £1.5 billion.

He established a charity, The Wood Foundation, with his family in 2007 and it now operates in Scotland and several African countries.

Sir Ian added: “Don’t ever underestimate your own potential.

“It’s incredible what the human spirit can do if you believe in yourself.

“Right now you’re focused on getting a good job and taking the next step in your life.

“But each of you should have a dream based on ambitious goals well in excess of your reasonable expectations.

“Really challenge your aspirations. Don’t let ‘cannot’ dominate your vocabulary.

“I was Wood Group’s first employee in the oil and gas industry in 1970.

“I set off with energy and zeal but was not at all sure of where I was going or how I might get there.

“When I retired almost eight years ago it employed 43,000 people in 50 countries round the world.”

Closing his speech, Sir Ian told students not to “underestimate” the importance of graduating from university.

“In the context of the global world we live in, you are very privileged,” he said.

“Your intelligence, your talents, your capacity for hard work and the excellent education you’ve earned and received give you unique status and unique responsibilities.

“To whom much is given, much is expected, and the way you live your life, the values you adopt, the example you set, will have an impact way beyond your borders.

“With privilege comes responsibility, and I urge you to discharge it altruistically and caringly.”