I was delighted to attend the Caritas Awards on Thursday 8th June. Here are my words of congratulations and encouragement to a truly inspirational group of school leavers.
Your Grace, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, and of course, award winners. Good afternoon, thank you and can I say how delighted I am to be invited to join you on this very special day of celebration. This is a special day for you and for your families all of whom I know will be so very proud of your achievements. And can I also say how pleased I am to have such an unusually enjoyable role on election day.
Actually, before I go any further, can I get one thing out of the way. Can I ask those of you who are 18 or over, whether you have voted yet? In fact, can you say yes if you have voted yet or intend to vote before polls close at 10pm tonight?
I do apologise. You probably thought, at least for a couple of hours this afternoon you’d be safe in the Clyde Auditorium, guaranteed not to be pestered by a politician asking about voting intentions
I hope you don’t mind me asking but it’s really because I wanted to talk to you about duty and about the contribution you can and already are making to the community in which we live.
You see, from my perspective, I see voting itself as a duty – an obligation to say what kind of future we want to shape, what kind of society we want to live in. And in many ways, the reason we have gathered this afternoon is to thank you for the service you have already demonstrated – to congratulate you for the sense of duty and obligation you have already shown. Through the time, the hard work and the good will you have volunteered in your own community, you have already begun to shape the world around you.
The Caritas Award was inspired by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, to recognise and promote the active faith commitment of young people in their final year of secondary school. You are following in the footsteps of thousands of young people across Scotland who’ve gone before you, willing to give of your time, with the courage to practise your faith, and with that same unselfish sense of duty.
But never have those values been more important. The world today is full of people urging you to build walls – when you should be breaking them down. Telling you to shut the door to others – when you should be welcoming them in. And asking you to define yourself by our differences rather than that which we have in common.
The murderous attacks of the last few weeks and months have been shocking and emotionally draining – but let me say the response of your generation in particular has been uplifting and inspiring. The message of the One Love concert organised by Ariana Grande on Sunday was one of hope not fear, of love not hate, and of inclusion instead of isolation or division.
You are already making a difference.
Generosity, kindness and gentleness are the qualities we recognise and admire in you today and they are the foundation stones for a life of real accomplishment whether in the spheres of education, medicine, science or even dare I say in parliament. It is too easy to be seduced by lazy cynicism and to dismiss the world of politics for example as about dispute and bickering egos. My experience as Presiding Officer suggests that those who shout the loudest are often seen as blowhards, whereas persuasion is more often effected through courtesy and tolerance. Yes, be passionate, but be compassionate too.
So please enjoy this moment and accept our praise for what you have already achieved. Be thankful to your families, your teachers and your church for the support and guidance they have given you. You can do so simply by holding on to the integrity you have shown and continuing to be the people we already know you to be.
You can find out more about the Caritas Award here.