Trinity Business Alumni/Bank of Ireland Business Student of the Year Award 2012

House of Lords, Bank of Ireland
College Green

22 March 2012

Good evening.

I've just arrived back, this morning, from the US where we were part of the delegation in the White House celebrating St Patrick's Day. There we heard President Obama and the Taoiseach Enda Kenny give upbeat assessments of where Ireland is at, in terms of its recovery. ‘Taoiseach Kenny’ as they call him, Enda to us of course, was clear that his aim for Ireland is - if I quote him correctly - 'to be the best small country in the world in which to do Business by 2016'. All of us here, students, faculty members, alumni, parents, and friends, share in this ambition - it's a good mission for Ireland.

But we can only do it if many things come together: government, finance, regulation, and most important for us here: in education.

Today we are honouring six undergraduates who have, variously:

  • Published articles in recognised business journals
  • Organised job fairs and Awareness Weeks
  • Founded new College societies
  • Been finalists in the Trinity Entrepreneurial Society's Dragon's Den
  • Managed student investment funds
  • Initiated a real-time student trading platform, and
  • Volunteered and fund-raised in Ireland and abroad

All this on top of demanding academic work! And we know that these six students have been short-listed from a much larger pool, whose talent is such that it has been difficult to select.

It's quite a week for young business talent. Because this day next week the TCD-UCD Innovation Academy will host the first ever Irish University Entrepreneurship Forum. At this event - which is the brainchild of business students and entirely run by students - eight student entrepreneurs will pitch ideas to investors and business leaders.

Generally, when I'm talking about innovation, I stress that flashes of brilliance can take time and that it's the job of universities to provide time and space for innovation. I stand by that.

But there's no doubt that when ideas and entrepreneurship are allied to youth and energy, the result can be inspirational. In this current climate of austerity and recession, it's the potential and energy of our young people that makes the future look bright and brimming with possibility.

Among the whole EU27, Ireland has the youngest demographic, and therefore, potentially, the brightest future. We need to invest in our young people, which means investing in universities, not selling students short with an underfunded higher education system. By offering the best educational opportunities to our young people we create opportunity for the country as a whole.

As an example of what Trinity Business students can achieve we have only to look at Alan Foy, who stood here just eight years ago to accept the 2004 Business Student of the Year Award.

Before even graduating, he had established his own company and is currently CEO at Blueface Telecoms, which last year was named one of the Top 20 fastest growing businesses at the Deloitte Fast 50 awards. I congratulate him on his appointment as president of the Trinity Business Alumni. I know he provides an inspirational example.   

Let me also take this moment to thank the Trinity Business Alumni for their commitment to this award and to Trinity on so many levels. You demonstrate how alumni can develop a mutually-beneficial, lifelong relationship with their alma mater.

In Trinity we recognise the transformative power of higher education in its broadest sense – not just what happens in the classroom, but what students learn through interacting peer-to-peer within College clubs and societies. As Jim Quinn, Head of the Business School, has said, in Trinity we look to transcend the vocational; to educate for a career and not just a job. We want our graduates to be critical thinkers and creative citizens, at home in a complex world; we want to form their global minds.

In that objective I thank the staff involved in managing and organising this award - Jim Quinn, Gerard McHugh, and Elaine Moore.

I would like to pay a particular tribute to Gerard McHugh, the outgoing Head of School, for his past and continuing success in leading the School's fundraising campaign, which aims to raise €35 million between 2010 and 2015. This will help build a state-of-the-art building in a prominent position in College, allowing the School to significantly expand faculty, programmes, and student numbers - thereby fulfilling Trinity's mission to offer opportunity to as many as possible, at as high an educational level as possible.

Trinity is conscious of its duty, as Ireland's leading university, to produce the people with the knowledge, skills, and creativity to create the kind of smart society the country aspires to.

Last month I gave a speech on Innovation in Silicon Valley, asking the question: what might it look like in a Dublin/Irish context. I left the answer open-ended, but my hunch is that it will be less exclusively focussed on technology than Silicon Valley. I feel it will be a broad-based mix of high-tech, cultural, and other types of innovation; a place where science, the arts, business, and the humanities collide to make new businesses that don't exist anywhere else in the world.

I feel this because Ireland's, and Trinity's, strengths are multi- and inter-disciplinary. For instance, Trinity hosts a foremost academy for the performing arts, but also a leading institute for nanoscience research.

In Trinity we encourage cross-disciplinarity, and seek to integrate our innovation strategy across schools and departments.

I know that these students being honoured today have a broad range of interests, including music, sport, art, travel, languages, volunteering, and politics. They embody, in their range of extracurricular achievements, Trinity’s values of interdisciplinarity, deep learning, and independent, critical thinking. At least one of these students is looking to use her interest in sewing to set up an online fashion e-tailor. I expect that others will also draw on their interests to launch exciting new projects, which will drive that versatile innovation ecosystem which we all look forward to.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the Bank of Ireland wholeheartedly for their continued sponsorship of this important award and for hosting this very special ceremony here in the old House of Lords.

One of my predecessors as Provost, John Kearney - who was also, incidentally, President Obama's great-great-great grand uncle on the Moneygall side - actually tried to buy this building after the Act of Union to use as lecture theatres. The government refused because students then had a reputation for rowdiness and allegedly risked getting into fights with traders while crossing the street! So Provost Kearney suggested building tunnels to connect Trinity with the old parliament, but that was also refused. He obviously didn't have the same powers of persuasion as his great-great-great grand nephew.

Instead the Bank of Ireland was allowed to buy the building on condition that the Lords and Commons were gutted so they could never again be used as a parliament. Thankfully the Bank didn't gut the Lords but preserved it as a museum, and today Trinity students are able to use it for class debates, thanks to the generosity of the Bank.

My predecessor, Obama's uncle, would, I'm sure, be delighted to know that tunnels aren't after all required to connect these two great buildings, Trinity College and the Bank of Ireland. Instead we connect through heritage, good will, and the proud sponsorship of this wonderful event.

Let me congratulate again these students on their considerable achievements, and I wish everyone an enjoyable evening.





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