Sam Birrell occasional address

Postgraduate Valedictorian Speech

Sam Birrell, MBA Graduate, April 18, 2018.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.

There is an element of apprehension that afflicts we ‘older’ people when making the decision to go back to study. You are generally out of practice from the academic world, and the perception is that a postgraduate workload is more complex and extensive than the undergraduate experience you remembered.

All these fears are realised, but there is also an appreciation that you are equipped with this wonderful gift called life experience. Life experience combined with an analytical approach to academic material is what postgraduate study is all about. In the best courses, and the Latrobe MBA is without doubt one of the best courses, you are assessed on your ability to reflect on a management experience you have had, and then conduct a review of the academic literature in that area. Then you provide an insight into how the theory can relate to the experience. This provides learnings that are so useful to the challenging art of management, and has helped me, as well as many of my fellow students, through difficult situations.

The opportunity to undertake postgraduate study in a regional city while working full-time has been a great privilege.

The reality is that many us in Shepparton, Bendigo, Mildura and Wodonga would not be doing an MBA if Latrobe did not offer it in the regional campuses. The post graduate education of leaders in these regions builds huge capacity for our businesses and organisations. Victoria needs this, as we don’t want a state with one crowded megacity and few small and struggling towns! We want a balanced state of vibrant and successful cities!

Regional tertiary education is therefore nation building, and the Federal Government needs to support institutions that are committed to it, to ensure that all Australian families have opportunities afforded by education, and that we have the professionals to drive our institutions forward.

The Latrobe MBA has been a great experience – starting with an intense role-playing exercise with Mick Malthouse, and culminating with a rock climbing expedition to the Arapiles while research a marketing plan for an outdoor adventure company, and a lot of hard work in between. There have been 6-day intensive subjects, which are like leadership camps, with lesson discussions going well on into the evening in some bar or other. The collaboration of students from across the state – regional and city - makes for a great sharing of knowledge and insight, and one of Latrobe’s competitive advantages.

There have also been weekly classes from 6 until 9pm at the Shepparton campus, in some cases with my kids on bean bags nearly asleep outside the room where the video link was delivering the lecture. I thank Sophie and David for their patience and know that they will grow up with a keen sense of the importance, and the pure enjoyment of education. It is something I grew up with, as my parents have had rewarding professional lives made possible by tertiary education. I thank them for the example and support. I also pay a tribute to my grandparents, who all left school at young ages during the great depression, but none the less made the significant sacrifices to give their kids (my parents) tertiary educational opportunities. To all those undergraduates in the room, some of you who are the first in your family to go to university – it can change the course of families for generations.

The two organisations I have worked for during my MBA, Netafim and the Committee for Greater Shepparton, both supported me to undertake this course. I thank them and suggest that other businesses consider the MBA as a great professional development opportunity for their managers.

Most of all, a tough undertaking such as an MBA is generally a partnership. There was no chance of me being able to complete this course, work fulltime and be a proper father without the amazing support of my wife Lisa. Lisa has an incredibly busy career as a professional in the dairy industry, and her no fuss approach to looking after the young kids, working and supporting me was made to look easy, but I know it was not.

Thanks everyone, and La Trobe University. We have been afforded something very special with these qualifications and educational experiences. Let’s use them to create a more vibrant region, a state of thriving cities, and a nation that is an example to world as to what can be achieved by an educated population.