Denis Wood Achievers Assembly Address

As I retire from the position of Chair of the Board of St Paul’s, the Headmaster has asked me to outline how a Marist education has aided and impacted my career.

Certainly, my career in the corporate world could not have been foreseen in my youth.

I grew up in a small town called Greymouth on the West Coast of the South Island. A town built on hard labour. Many people worked in the coal mines, forestry or road construction and hospitality.

My father and his father were coal miners, working 200 metres underground. I came from a family of ten children. Unheard of these days.

But families, whether they be large or small, have one important dynamic. To quote the famous Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy (in his novel Anna Karenina): “Happy families are all alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”.

I started with a huge advantage of being a younger member of a happy family. I had role models of older brothers and sisters. My parents encouraged us to get the best education we could.

So cherish and respect your parents and family. Become the role model within it regardless of whether you are one or many.

The other big advantage I had in my youth is that I went to a Marist Brother School in Greymouth.

Although smaller than St Paul's, there are many parallels with the education I received 55-60 years ago and that which you are receiving today. Sure many things have changed, but much remains the same.

In my day, no such thing as computers, email and mobile phones or Google search. When I studied maths we did not even have calculators but used an old fashioned device called a “slide rule”.

But I believe that if I could transport you back 60 years to my school you will see many things have not changed.

My school in the 1960s was taught solely by Marist Brothers. These were a group of religious men who were devoted to education and the Catholic way of life.

We were taught the basics extremely well. Reading, writing and maths. The Marist Brothers had a love for education and they had a life time dedication and commitment to bringing out the best in every boy. They were strong in sciences, English and English literature, Latin and the arts. Discipline was strong. They were tough task masters but they never gave up on you.

They gave more than an academic education. The Marist Brothers lived their values. Humility, Respect, Strong moral values and a Catholic ethos. We received an holistic education that developed the whole person. They also gave you space to develop your own personality.

The other important aspect of the Marist Brothers was participation in sport. They were great believers in team sports and the character that this builds in a person. I played rugby and league and cricket. I also boxed and represented the West Coast province at three national junior boxing tournaments.

Personally I loved education. I lapped it up. At school always reading library books, always being inquisitive. Always well prepared and confident in exams. I never stopped learning.

At the end of my school life I was actually a double dux at our school. Dux in the 6th form (year 12) and dux in the 7th form (year 13).

If I was to look back at what I valued most in my education the words of the English poet TS Elliot spring to mind.

He wrote (in “Little Gidding”):

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time”

So in life you should never stop trying to better yourself. The more you study, the more you practise, the better you become. When you search for truth and success you actually find it within yourself. Its always there, it is just a matter of recognising it for the first time. What drives progress is knowing and understanding where you started from.

That is the education I received from the Marist Brothers.

This sits within all of us. It is your choice as to whether you want to grasp it. But grab the basics and the moral compass whilst you are here. These will guide you forever throughout your adult life.

Do not cease from exploration whilst you are at school and beyond.

From school I went to Canterbury University. Obtained a Master’s Degree with Honours in Economics. I followed a career in Investing Banking. That involved advising and restructuring businesses, raising finance, strategic planning. I would describe as high-powered career.

Fifteen years ago I wound that down and became a professional director of a number of large companies.

But I also started to give things back to the community on a voluntary basis. The greatest thing you can give is time. I was Chair of Mercy Hospice for 15 years. Under my watch the Hospice more than doubled in size and became financially very secure.

Nine years ago, the Marist Brothers asked me to take on the role of Chair of St Paul’s. A request I could not refuse. I was very happy to give something back to the Marist Brothers. The result of this, and the efforts of many other people including your teachers, is what you are experiencing today. A vibrant school that is giving you all a wonderful education.

In all of these roles and directorships I always applied the basic rules I learnt from school. Understand the issues, be inquisitive, thinking strategically and be committed to the task. Following things through to their natural end point.

Respect your peers and develop relationships. And most importantly hold onto those high ethical standards.

In conclusion I want to offer you another quote that goes to the heart of the values that have driven me.

It comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and it is a father giving advice to his son who is about to leave home. The quote goes:

“Above all else, to thine own self be true
Then thou cannot be false to any man”

Be true to what you what to strive for and work hard to get it. If you set your goals and values you will succeed. Always aspire to be the best and don’t settle for mediocrity.

There will be times when things are tough, and life does not seem fair. Don’t live in a vacuum, develop friendships, seek advice. Listen and Learn.

Always retain a sense of humour and your strength of character will get you through.

You are getting the best start from this school.

But it has to come from within you.

If I can do it, so can you.

Thank You.

Confortare Esto Vir