Neil Kinnock is President of Cardiff University.
Many years ago I graduated here and that’s why I’ve got every reason to be grateful. One of the reasons for me accepting the Presidency is the marvellous opportunity and responsibility which it gave me to put something back into an institution to which I owe so much, indeed only my parents gave me greater opportunities.
I came to Cardiff in late September 1961. Of course it was then the University of Wales College with just over, in total 3000 students, undergraduates and postgraduates. So it was a very intimate place and a very cosy place where there was a great deal of familiarity between the different faculties of the university.
My earliest memories were of being daunted. The old buildings, the old College is well distinguished, but at that time it was cold and echoing, these were the days before carpets. I think, as everybody else’s initial experience of University is, it was milling crowds, endless queues, encountering in huge majority people who you’d never seen before in your life. Many of them of course, were from an entirely different social background and indeed from many countries throughout the world so it was a wonderful mingling, mixing, multicultural, multinational, multiracial experience for me which instantly emphasised and reinforced my reasons for wanting to come to university. Whenever I returned or indeed by the end of the first year, the edifice seemed smaller to me than it did in those first days when it felt like a huge cavernous, echoing place.
Cardiff provided me with two wonderful assets. First was the opportunity to rehearse, hone and hopefully sophisticate some of the skills of expression that I knew I had but obviously that I had never greatly exploited in my school life. The student union, student newspaper and the debating society were great training grounds for activity in real contest politics. I couldn’t have had that experience anywhere else. Secondly the students were good enough to vote for me to be a student officer so I got an opportunity by my early twenties to manage a substantial organisation with, for the first time in its history, a turnover in excess of a million pounds, when a million pounds was really worth a million pounds. I couldn’t have got that opportunity anywhere else. When I left Cardiff I had developed not only curriculum capabilities in the area that most interested me, industrial relations, but in many ways much more importantly I’d managed to foster and train skills that determined the course of my life as somebody engaged in, throughout all of the subsequent decades, representative politics.
Congratulations on one and a quarter centuries of achievement are warm, and they are mixed with huge gratitude from myself and I think probably every other graduate of this university, indeed everyone who has had engagement with this university over the last 125 years.