Welcome to Junior Fresh Students

Edmund Burke Theatre

03 and 05 September 2018

Good afternoon and welcome – welcome to you here in this room and also in the Samuel Beckett watching by videolink.

It’s a pleasure for me to get this opportunity to speak to you now, at the start of your college career.

I remember very well my own first week at Trinity, so I’ve a fair idea how you’re feeling – a combination of nerves and excitement, enthusiasm and just a bit of trepidation.

I guess it’s because Trinity is such a remarkable, challenging place that we feel this trepidation: we want to live up to it. I do as Provost, and you do as our newest students.

I came here as an undergraduate in 1983 to study engineering. I remember my parents driving me up from Wexford to Dublin for Fresher’s week, and how proud they were for me.

And I’ll never forget how I felt when I first walked through Front Arch into the wide expanse of Front Square – that sense of history all around me and the overall dynamism and energy of the place.

I’ve never lost my initial sense of excitement about Trinity. That’s why I did my Ph.D. here, and later returned as a lecturer. And it’s why I felt so honoured to have been elected seven years ago by the staff and the students to lead this university as Provost until 2021.
I want all of you to have as good an experience as undergraduates as I had. I hope that, like most of our graduates, you’ll develop a lifelong attachment to the college. I’ve been thinking about what I can tell you that will help maximise your student experience.

I’m speaking as a former Trinity student, as a lecturer who spent many years teaching undergraduates, and as the head of this university, who wants you to realise your potential - for your own sake. And for Trinity’s sake.

There are lots of things that make Trinity a special place to study and work: the beautiful campus, the location; the lectures and tutorials; the clubs and societies; the research and scholarship; the plays and concerts and exhibitions and public debates held here.

And, of course, what really makes Trinity special is the quality of the students. You are what make this a great university. It’s in your interest, and the university’s, that you make the most of your experience here.

You will all have worked hard to win your places here. You deserve this opportunity. Only a proportion of the population ever gets to third level. You’re in a privileged position, and this means that much is expected of you.

This is a life-changing opportunity. Don’t take it for granted – don’t waste it. 

I know that College can be overwhelming, especially in the beginning. But it doesn’t have to be. The more you familiarise yourself with how we do things, and the more you avail of our resources, the more rewarding you will find this experience.

* * * The Trinity Experience – 1. Education * * *

You have come through very tough exams to be here today. Congratulations on doing so well! You’re now entering a new, exciting phase of your education, where the emphasis is on cultivating independent thought. It’s no longer about what you can remember, but what you can discover for yourself. It’s not about regurgitating what lecturers say, it’s about your own interpretation.

The College’s statutes say we “will seek to develop the search for truth … … relying not on the imposition of authority or acceptance of received knowledge but rather on the exercise of the critical faculties of the human mind”.

The curriculum is devised to make you think, so as long as you attend lectures and seminars, use the library, complete essays and coursework, speak up in seminars to defend your views – as long as you’re doing all this, you’ll automatically get in the habit of discovery.

We are currently in the middle of an ambitious, university-wide initiative to renew the undergraduate curriculum. The Trinity Education Project – as we’re calling it – is about ensuring that we’re preparing you appropriately for global changes in the workplace and in society, including more flexible job practices and the growth of the digital workplace.

Some of the changes we’re making include:

  • More diverse styles of assessment – moving away from exams to other means of appraisal, such as peer-to-peer assessment;
  • More team and group work;
  • continued emphasis on co-curricular learning through participation in clubs and societies; and
  • more opportunity for students to take modules outside their core discipline – the “Trinity Electives” mean that science students can now take modules in arts and humanities, and vice versa.

These changes are our way of ensuring that we are preparing you properly for a world that is ever more global, entrepreneurial, and technological, and more flexible in terms of jobs and career-building.

The old model of a job for life has gone – it’s likely that many of you will develop a number of different careers, and in different cities and countries. It’s our responsibility to prepare you for this as well as we can.

This preparation isn’t about teaching you the latest technology – although of course it’s important to stay on top. But more important than content and information is developing the right mindset.

The Trinity Education Project is about encouraging you to develop a mindset premised on four attributes:

  • To think independently
  • To communicate effectively
  • To grow continuously
  • To act responsibly

If you leave college having developed an independence of mind; able to express yourselves clearly and vividly – in writing, speech and online; and if you are capable of adapting to change and imbued with a love of learning; and if you understand your responsibilities to your fellow human beings and to the natural world, and are ready to take up leadership roles – then you will have the right mindset for a successful career. And just as important, you will be ready for active and responsible citizenship working towards the creation and maintenance of a pluralistic, just, and sustainable society.

This is what we seek for you; this is what our education is aimed to deliver.

We will deliver this through the curriculum and through extra-curricular activities - through the Library and Lab, and through clubs and societies and volunteering.

Let me tell you a bit about what I mean by this.

* * * Research* * *

Trinity is now in its fifth century of intellectual endeavor, and our research record is stronger than it has ever been. Frequently our research makes headlines so you may have heard about some of the things we’re doing.

For instance, if you were following the news the last few weeks, you may have read about Trinity bioengineers’ pioneering project to develop 3D-printed biological implants to treat people affected by degenerative diseases such as osteoarthritis (1). Or you might have read about the Trinity spin-out, DataChemist, which uses AI to transform big, messy data sets into valuable intelligence (2). Or you may have heard about the landmark Cambridge History of Ireland, published earlier this year in 4 volumes, covering 15 centuries. The initiative started in the Trinity Long Room Hub and Trinity historians contributed majorly as editors and writers.

Our professors act as advisors to government and policy-makers and they collaborate with industry and establish start-up companies, also called spin-outs, to commercialise their research. A fifth of all spin-out companies in Ireland stem from Trinity.

This is relevant to you, because research, and commercialising research, isn’t just something your professors do. In your final years as undergraduates, you will be engaged on original research, using primary sources. You will be discovering and analyzing something no-one else has ever looked into. The discovery may be small, but it will be the result of your unique research, whether in the lab, in archives, or through field work. 

The division between you and your professors will dissolve - you will be scholars together, engaged on a common enterprise of learning.

Let me give you a great example of how students and staff have worked together to make impact.

In spring this year, Trinity joined the International Sustainable Campus Network, which is a global forum to support leading universities and corporate campuses in the exchange of ideas and best practices for achieving sustainable campus operations in, for instance, recycling, pollination, energy efficiency, water efficiency, and clean energy.

To join the International Sustainable Campus Network, a university has to demonstrate that it is committed to sustainability. Trinity was able to do this because, since the college’s first recycling initiatives 25 years ago, staff and students have worked together to implement best environmental practice on campus.

Among our stand-out initiatives are:

  • Ending investments in fossil fuels;
  • The Campus Pollinator Plan, put in place last year, which involves reducing mowing on grassy areas, planting pollinators, and welcoming honeybee hives and solitary bee hotels to campus; and


  • the vote this year, by students, to eliminate single-use plastic on campus. Because of this decision, we are getting rid of disposable plastic straws, cups, cutlery, bags and bottles on campus.

And we are presenting as a gift to all first-year students a reusable water bottle. You can refill this water bottle from fountains which we’re upgrading on campus. So, this will save you money, as well as protecting the environment.

These are small steps, of course, when one looks at the huge part that human activity plays in climate change and environmental degradation, but I am a great believer in small steps. To quote Edmund Burke, the great political thinker and Trinity graduate whose statue stands at Front Arch and who gives his name to this lecture theatre: “Nobody ever made a greater mistake who did nothing because they could only do a little.”

In truth, as individuals, we can only ever do a little. But when we join forces then the little done be each individual, eventually amasses to collective change.

In Trinity we are emerging as leaders, nationally and internationally, in promoting sustainable campuses. Student activism has aligned with staff research. We understand the steps that need to be taken and we are implementing initiatives. I hope you will enjoy being part of this.

* * * Innovation & Entrepreneurship * * *

Sustainability is all about innovation – it’s about finding new, exciting and less environmentally destructive ways do things. As Trinity students, you are central to the search for innovative solutions.

In the past five years, there has been huge emphasis put on developing student innovation and entrepreneurship skills. Our student accelerator programmes, Blackstone Launchpad and LaunchBox are designed to help you incubate and market your ideas and to apply your knowledge in practical ways that improve people’s lives.

These accelerator programmes are hugely successful, so much so that for the past three years, Trinity has emerged as the number 1 university in Europe for educating entrepreneurs, according to private equity and venture capital-focused research firm, PitchBook.

Many of the student startups, incubated under LaunchBox, are social enterprises with sustainable development goals.

For instance, the start-ups that received funding last year include a  venture, ‘Greener Globe’ that produces an LED-timed shower-head which is designed to save consumers water and money; and another initiative ‘Sea Shore Veg’ which is about harvesting seaweed to make natural products. 

These are ways in which undergraduates demonstrate both their entrepreneurship and their commitment to sustainability.

The Trinity Experience – 2. Extracurricular

Currently, students work on founding companies and developing apps during extracurricular time. In the future, thanks to the Trinity Education Project, you might be able to count a new piece of technology as your original research project – or indeed a performance or a film.

We understand that the world is changing and that a written dissertation isn’t the only way to present your original work - although good written skills remain essential.

Increasingly, we are blurring the distinction and hierarchy between curricular and extra-curricular. We regard both as central to the Trinity Education.

Surveys have shown that employers of our graduates value:
- critical and independent thinking;
- excellent communication skills;
- and students who have developed a capacity for responsibility and initiative through extra-curricular activities.

‘Extracurricular activities’ means things like:

  • getting involved in clubs and societies;
  • writing for college journals;
  • volunteering and fund-raising for charity;
  • debating;
  • organising events;
  • designing new technologies;
  • starting your own business.

And ‘Extracurricular’ means engaging with each other. This is a cosmopolitan campus, with students from every county in Ireland and from countries across the world. Such diversity is enriching. Try to meet as many different people as possible.

In your later undergraduate years, take the opportunity to study abroad if you can. The Trinity education is global and involves engaging with people, research and ideas from round the world.

There’s probably no other time in your life when you’ll be surrounded by so many talented, dynamic people who have the time, energy and vision to explore opportunities. Do plunge into college life.

As students you have all kinds or requirements. But there are people to help you make the most of college life. Some of them are here today:

  • Dr Kevin O’Kelly is Dean of Students. His job is to develop and coordinate policies to promote the student experience beyond the classroom. We’ve just heard from him – do heed his advice to get involved in as much extracurricular activity as possible.


  • Dr Aidan Seery is the Senior Tutor and he oversees the tutorial service which offers student support in all aspects of college life, including accommodation, welfare, health and disability services.
  • Breda Walls is the Director of Student Services which manages the provision of a wide range of student supports.


The Trinity Community

You are now a member of the Trinity community. It’s a community of 17,000 undergraduates and postgraduates, some 3000 staff, and 110,000 past students, or alumni, living in 130 countries worldwide.

Membership of the Trinity community is lifelong. This is how we feel about our alumni, and we hope it’s how you will feel about the university after you graduate. What has made Trinity great over more than four centuries is the people that have studied and worked here, and the radical, creative ways in which they have contributed to world thought.

We take huge pride in the achievements of our graduates, from our earliest graduates like Swift, Wolfe Tone and the mathematician William Rowan Hamilton, through to our more recent graduates, like Mary Robinson our Chancellor, Leo Varadkar, the youngest Taoiseach this country has ever had, and Sally Rooney, whose second novel is on the Man Booker longlist and she is still only 27.

Many of our alumni feel such a lifelong connection to Trinity that they seek to support its continuing greatness. If you go to the Dining Hall, you will see a frieze in the grand entrance – this is the ‘Benefactors Roll’, which commemorates the Trinity’s benefactors who have supported the College since its foundation in 1592.

I hope that you too will feel a continuous connection with this university, and that Trinity will be, for you, a source of strength as you forge your careers in the outside world.

With your intelligence, drive and ability, you have the opportunity to make your mark on the world in wonderful and unexpected ways. That opportunity begins in Trinity. My promise is that we will do everything in our power to help you fulfil your potential.

If I had just one piece of advice to impart for this stage of your lives it would be to keep your horizons open. Now is not a time to close down or narrow your options.

Use the precious few College years to develop and expand who you are. Inevitably, like everyone, you will face challenges in your life. The aim is not to avoid challenges – only through challenges can we grow – the aim is to meet challenges with resilience, and to learn from them. 

Your time in Trinity will transform how you view the world, and how you view yourselves.

I wish you four life-transforming College years. I look forward to keeping in touch with you throughout your time here – and in the years ahead. 

Thank you.

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