“Studying for an advanced degree during a pandemic is a truly heroic feat”

An edited excerpt of Professor André Spicer’s speech at the Dubai Graduation Ceremony on Monday 9 May 2022.

"As Dean of Bayes Business School, I would like to warmly congratulate all our graduates who are here today.

"I am particularly delighted to see three cohorts of MBA graduate. It is also a great pleasure to congratulate those of you who are graduating from the City Law School and our School of Mathematics, Engineering and Computer Science.

"Each of one you has achieved something special. The graduates have showed a unique sense of perseverance in studying for an advanced degree, which is a great achievement in normal times. During a global pandemic, this is a heroic feat!

"Those of you who are here to support a graduate have also achieved something special. Without you, our graduates would not have made it across the finish line.

"As I’m sure each of you know, the pandemic changed all of our lives. It forced each to spend some time reflecting. We had to ask what is really important to us, and as we come out of it, many of us are continue to ask what makes a meaningful life.

"Humans have been asking this big question for thousands of years. We will probably go on asking the question for thousands more. According to the current psychological research on the topic, people who say they have very meaningful lives share four things.

"The first is a sense of coherence. They say their life makes sense. They don’t see their days as a random flow of events without a deeper meaning. Instead, they feel like each thing they do during the day – whether that is dropping their kids at school, having a meeting at work or working out – is like an event in a bigger and more meaningful story.

"The second is an abundant sense of purpose. People who say they have meaningful lives have a long-term goal which drives them. The goal could be anything – building a business, raising a family, developing an important innovation or achieving some kind of social change. Having a big goal gives their lives direction and also means they are more likely to be resilient when faced with adversity.

"The third thing that the researchers found was a sense of significance. People with meaningful lives saw their themselves connected with deeper values. These deeper values might come from religion, an ethical framework, or their culture of traditional. By being connected with these deeper values, they saw their lives as having a greater sense of worth.

"The fourth thing was a tendency is a sense of appreciation. They noticed the beauty and small pleasures all around them – whether that is a bee gathering pollen from of a flower, the warm greeting of a friend or the smile of a passing stranger.

"All this might seem a little abstract, but I think it gives us some really practical advice for those of who are asking big questions. This research reminds us there are at least four things which we can do to give our lives a deeper sense of meaning.

"The first are stories. We gain a sense of meaning by telling the stories of our life. This doesn’t just mean describing everything from birth until death, it also means telling the everyday story of what happened to you today. You can tell it others, or you can even tell it to yourself. Some psychologists suggest you sit down at the end of the day and write a few lines about what happened. Doing this will help you see the deeper pattern in your days.

"The second thing we need is goals. Being clear about what our over-riding goals are will help to clarify exactly what our purpose is. Many of us will have two or three of these goals. Returning to those big goals from time to time will help remind you what your deeper purpose actually is and see the progress which you have made.

"The third thing we need is values. We need to remind ourselves of the values which matter the most to us. If you haven’t already done it, it is worth spending some time asking yourself what are the three to five values which really matter to you. Once you have done this, it is also worthwhile revisiting these from time to time.

"If you value learning, ask yourself each day ‘what have I learned?’. If you value achievement, ask yourself each day ‘what have I achieved?’. If you value family, ask yourself ‘what have I done for my family?’. Doing this will give your everyday actions greater depth.

"The fourth and final thing we need is a sense of appreciation. At the end of each day, ask yourself ‘what are three things I am grateful for?’. Asking this question will help you to see the small things in life which give you pleasure. It will also train you to be more attentive to the good things which often pass you by each day.

"Graduating from a degree is an important staging point in each of our lives. It is a moment when we can look back as well as look forward. It gives us a chance to ask ourselves about what makes a meaningful life. This is a difficult question, but I think some of the insights from recent psychological research will help answer it.

"Whatever the answers you find, I hope they will help you to chart a course into the future.

"Once again congratulations, and I wish each and every one of you a meaningful life."


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