I was asked to give a short speech at my daughter’s valedictory Leaver’s Dinner at the end of her Junior School year. Here is an edited version of what I said (I sprinkled this with some personal stories, humour and local references):
To the graduating class of St Mary’s Junior School of 2014
You young ladies are the first group of St Mary’s girls to all be born in the new millennium, in the 21st century. When you were born, your life expectancy at birth was 82. But modern medicine and technology are going to allow you to live much longer than that. Many of you will live another hundred years or more from now. Almost all of you will live through this whole century.
It’s a remarkable thought isn’t it? But it isn’t crazy.
My own grandmother is hundred. She has lived more than double what science thought she would when she was born in 1914. She’s not alone. Over 367,000 people are older than 100 (over 15,000 of those in South Africa alone according to the census of 2010). That means over 1,000 people turn 100 every day somewhere in this world.
So will you, most likely. You will have lived through a whole century.
What will it be like to live through a whole century?
A century ago, women couldn’t vote or be doctors or engineers. It was remarkable for women to be scientists (Marie Curie was changing that, but not much). A century ago, flying was only for the rich and famous. And so were cars. Electricity was a luxury. So was having a toilet inside your house. Or a telephone. No radio. No TV. No computers.
How much will the world change in your lifetimes?
And what will we be able to achieve with technology? It is literally unimaginable.
So, how do you prepare for a world that is going to have so much change?
What careers should you choose? What subjects should you study?
It can be overwhelming.
I’m not THAT old. And don’t feel I have a lifetime of wisdom to bestow on you. In fact, at 44 years old, I hope I am only just about one third through my life.
But here are five things I have learnt so far that I think will be of use to you:
1. Let me start by being very specific: Keep up to date with technology. Don’t just use your mobile devices, learn how they work. Learn how to code – learn to think how machines think. “If this then that” is your best ally in a technology driven world.
2. Be curious. Never stop asking questions about everything.
3. Work hard to understand the world. Don’t just let the world pass you by. It’s going to get smaller and smaller and more and more complex. Understand it and be engaged in it. And seek first to understand it, before seeking to be understood.
4. Work EXTRA hard to know yourself and be the best YOU that you can be.
5. Value relationships and nurture your friendships. This is the most important thing I can tell you. Look around you girls. Some of your friends in this room are going to be your friends for the rest of your life. You will know them until the end of this century. Your lives have been linked together forever because you were here at St Mary’s. This is a gift your parents gave you. It’s a gift God gave you.
You will forget some of these girls. And some will become unexpected friends through High School. Because the next five years are going to be years of tremendous change for all of you. But amongst the girls in this room are some who you will laugh, live and love with through an entire century.
There are a thousand steps ahead of you. But not as many as you might think. In fact, there are just 1,009 months left before the end of this century. What are you going to do with them?
Embrace technology, be curious, understand the world, know yourself and nurture your friendships.
But your very next step is High School. In just 60 months time it will be YOU finishing your Matric exams. This is your next goal and target. Do it well. Get the most out of High School and make the next 5 years the best ever.
So, parents, please will you join me to stand and toast the Matric class of 2019, and wish our daughters all the very best for the years ahead.