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Speech at the opening of the new Student Centre

Dublin City University, 27 September 2018

A chairde,

Ar an gcéad dul síos mile buíochas duit a Uachtaráin, a dhaltaí agus gach duine de chomhluadar na hOllscoile as bhúr fior chaoin fáilte dom agus as an cur i láthair luachmhar sin a Uachtaráin.

May I firstly thank you, President MacCraith and the Students Union, for your kind invitation to attend this event today and for your most generous introduction. It is a great pleasure to be back in Dublin City University, particularly on such a celebratory occasion – the opening of the new Student Centre.

In the recent past, I have had the opportunity of warmly welcoming a number of DCU initiatives, for example -  the university declaring itself as a University of Sanctuary and as an autism-friendly University. 

This official opening today of the Student Centre is the latest part of DCU’s commitment to creating an inclusive, diverse and accessible environment in which students can flourish and take full advantage of their educational experience.

What a magnificent space it is, comprising as it does a life-skills centre, a cultural venue, an innovation hub and a global village, which together can provide the setting for the comprehensive development of students, as they set out on their journey to becoming ever active and inclusive citizens. I was so pleased to hear that the Centre will also become the home of the Students Union and the 90 student societies here, including Global Brigades, Enactus, St. Vincent de Paul, the Cancer Society, Suas and many others with active citizenship and inclusion at their core.

Good research and mental Health Studies and surveys have clearly indicated that mental health is the number one issue for young people.  Entering student life occurs at a time in the life cycle when people are particularly vulnerable to mental health difficulties, and when concrete supports for acquiring resilience and coping skills may not be as strong as they should or could be, indeed a legacy of a time when mental health did not receive the recognition or provision that was needed.  Thus, now we must fill the gap and without any further tardiness.   

In a student’s world there are particular stresses and worries associated with self-image, exams, awakening sexuality, shyness, bullying, family dysfunction, prevailing social and cultural attitudes about mental health - all or any mix of these can overwhelm even the strongest in any other sense, can for some, be too much to deal with alone.

Let me emphasise today that no young person needs to deal with them alone nor should they be left to deal with them alone. The quality of our citizenship is tested by the extent and depth for the care of others.

Ireland’s young people’s mental well-being is all of our responsibility. We should not try to insulate young people from the challenges of life, but rather seek to equip them sufficiently well so that they can deal with life’s complexities and its inevitable but often unpredictable ups and downs.

DCU is clearly very conscious of the increasing challenges of mental health issues among the student body. The new Student Leadership and Life-Skills Centre will become a hub of support for students and will deliver programmes in Resilience, Mental Fitness and Mindfulness, and most important of all providing 24/7 access to qualified counsellors for students is also to be warmly welcomed.  As President of Ireland I congratulate you, all of you, on the leadership this indicates.

Any society that neglects mental health loses a rich resource, we have to accept too that any form of mental illness is just that, an illness to be understood and addressed with care and patience.   Healthy, happy, well–balanced lives, faith in yourselves, hope in the future and a determination to achieve the fullness of your being in the life that you seek, that is what students I know would wish not only for themselves but for all our people. 

Everybody will encounter through the life-cycle experience of what may seem to be at that time impenetrable problems.  May I encourage students to speak openly about mental-health issues among yourselves, and to be alert for signs that any of your friends or colleagues who might at a point of needing professional support or at the very least, someone to talk of their feelings to find an informed response of friendship and care, always delivered non-judgmentally.

In all of this participation in the Arts is of the greatest value.

I have often spoken of the real value of arts, culture and creativity to our communities, to our society and to our own personal sense of our rich heritage; a heritage that while it so powerfully reconnects us to our past continue to indelibly link generation to generation ever more importantly provide the space for construction of our imagined futures.

By identifying, giving recognition to, and encouraging the ongoing development of culture and creativity in our society we lay the foundations for a fulfilling and inclusive citizenship; a citizenship built on a sense of shared meaning, heritage and identity.

The Arts are a powerful medium through which experiences can be communicated and they therefore play a fundamental role in the discovery of common meanings and achieving cohesion. As human beings, we have a basic need to convey and to share our experiences with fellow citizens and future generations, and creativity lies at the very heart of that process.

The Arts and Culture venues within this centre will provide the environment to deliver on such challenging but attainable ideals. DCU’s commitment to develop a North Dublin Cultural Quarter in the regions around 3 campuses in the Glasnevin-Drumcondra-Ballymun region is a great example for other educational institutions.

The centre will stimulate engagement with the arts and I strongly urge all of you to take advantage of the boundless opportunities afforded to you by these new creative spaces.

In a world of constant change, often of great challenges, constantly fragile, as it is in today’s economic climate, leadership with creativity and through innovation are no longer optional, but essential. 

It is by now a well-worn phrase that now, more than ever, innovation matters; but at the heart of innovation is creativity – creative people who have had access to pluralist scholarship being fully alive to the opportunities and possibilities which surround them and having the vision and the drive to convert them into tangible outcomes. The concept of a creative society, creative in every aspect, is at the heart of the real Republic to which we should all aspire. An innovative economy and a cohesive society are two sides of the same coin.

We should encourage excellence in creativity in all aspects of life in Ireland, and not only in the cultural area where its legacy is obvious, but in the economic conditions in which we now live, it falls upon all sectors of our society to become more inventive in aligning this creativity to the real needs of our citizens, to our obligations for sustainability.

Student enterprise initiatives here at the centre, including the Upstart commercial and social entrepreneurship programmes and the DCU Enterprise Society, will form the bedrock of the Innovation Hub to encourage and support all forms of student-based social and commercial entrepreneurship.

I was so pleased to hear that special facilities are being provided to facilitate collaboration on global issues with institutions and campuses around the world. The two greatest challenges of our time – Climate Change and the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals – will require the continuous commitment and ingenuity of the finest young minds on the planet, including the brilliant young minds that Ireland is producing.  It is my fervent wish that some of you here today will make your contribution to solving these challenges as we strive to recreate a world fit to pass to our children and to future generations.

Of course, it is also of critical importance that as we create an innovation culture that it be one that is ethical in outlook and that operates on the premise of being part of – and not apart from – wider society.  It was here in DCU I launched my Ethics Initiative in 2013, and I am pleased it has borne such good fruit.  The lesson of recent years is that a business culture whose sole purpose is the short-term gratification of profit maximisation in the shortest time is not sustainable.

Patient capital can achieve sustainability, speculative capital has the capacity to endanger sustainability even social cohesion itself. 

This is a great responsibility on all of us and I very much look forward your embracing the imagination and intellectual courage all of these challenges which are the essence and heart of a truly ethical citizenship.

The Global Village will be a community of diversity. I know that close to 120 different nationalities are represented in the DCU Student Community, which is reflected strongly in the diversity of your student societies, e.g. Africa Society, India Society, Islamic Society. Creating a hub to celebrate and showcase this diversity at the heart of the Student Centre will play an important role in the culture of inclusion in the University and will add greatly to the rich student experience.

It has become ever clearer to us, in this new Ireland that we all share, how it is through respect for each and for the merging of the best of such heritages that we weave new patterns to create the multi-cultural tapestry that is modern Ireland.

As a society, we can be deeply grateful to all those who come to us from near and distant lands – we celebrate the richness that comes from the co-existence of diverse cultures, as manifested through a rich variety of languages, spiritual beliefs and rituals, as well as distinct patterns of thinking, acting, and relating to others.

There is an ancient proverb in our own Irish language – “Bíonn siúlach scéalach” – “Travellers have tales to tell”.  There is a rich historical tradition in our island of the deep respect for travellers who visited towns and villages with multi-layered stories of history, culture and folklore. These "seanchaidhthe", or storytellers, were offered hospitality and welcomed with open arms by communities eager to learn news and stories from the provinces. We must encourage our migrants in the telling of their stories.

Those who value this university I know look forward to seeing your genius expressed in classrooms, societies and social spaces in this university, on our sports fields, in our literature, theatre and television, in our music and dance and, most importantly, in our friendships.  We must see it too in our community life, in our politics and in all the places where your talent will take you.

For this part of your life, we are of one nation and we have great opportunities together so let your genius shine.

Mar fhocal scoir is mian liom comhghairdeas a dhéanamh le gach éinne a raibh baint acu leis an coincheap, leis an dearadh agus leis an fhoirgneamh álainn seo a chur i gcríoch, foirgneamh a mbeidh ina láthair do ghnéithe éagsúla saol na mac léinn ar nós cultúir, cruthaitheacht agus gníomhú sóisialta.

In 1958 Gaston Bachelard in his The Poetics of Space reasoned that a house transforms into a home by becoming a site of intimacy and creativity, of memories and dreams.

I hope for many of you here today and the fifty thousand students who will use this facility in the coming decade, that this building will become home to your most cherished memories and to your wildest dreams.

Beir bua agus beannacht.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh.