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People, the planet and leadership

- Wits University

An educator, an athletics coach, an author, a corporate and social leader, Wits alumnus Tony Frost speaks at graduation.

Graduation address by Tony Frost

I am deeply honoured to be sharing this day with you today and I wish to start my short address by thanking you most sincerely for this honour!

Good morning! Sanibonani! Molweni! Dumelang!

Yesterday was Human Rights Day:

  • A day of great significance and a day for reflection
  • Also a day for you to reflect on what your future holds
  • More importantly a day for you to reflect on how you are going to shape your own future

I would like to talk to you about some of things that would be worth bearing in mind as you undertake this journey of reflection.

Consider this:

  • Of all hundreds of thousands of kids that started school with you almost 2 decades ago only about 30% of them reached matric
  • And a much smaller percentage made it to a tertiary institution and an even tinier number finally graduated
  • That tiny number is you!
  • You are the elite; you are the privileged, and now you have the huge responsibility that goes with privilege, and privilege is not free!

The time, therefore, has come to consider how you are going to give back to the community which has already given you so much. I am sure for many of you to even get this far has been a struggle, but you have made it. You have demonstrated your resilience and determination. But spare a thought for the millions that didn’t get this far, probably through no fault of their own.

If we are to build a nation that is truly founded on the best of Human Rights then those of us who have enjoyed the privilege of a top class education can also enjoy the privilege of being able to contribute to the building of a nation which looks after all of its citizens in a just and equitable manner. What a privilege!

You need to start this process by accepting, indeed embracing: your role as a leader.

You have demonstrated your leadership potential it is now time to put this potential to work. What does this mean?

  1. Dare to dream! Envision your future; imagine it in great detail; feel it; taste it; smell it and sense it. The more you do this the sooner you will start moving in that direction. All the really great people that I have met focus almost entirely on the future, a brighter and better future and what they can do about it. Do this, it will inspire you.
  2. Share your dream. Don’t be put off by those who ridicule it, mock it, and you. They won’t do this when you start to leave them behind.

  3. Gather people around you; take them with you. Success, real success is shared; it is a team game. Leadership is mostly about the team. The very best leaders I know and have studied have inclusion at the core of their leadership philosophy. They include the weak, and the strong; those like them and those who could be called strangers; the talented and the novices.
  4. Concentrate on what you can give, not on what you can take. You have so much to give.

    The more you take the less there is to take. Consider a basket of apples. The more you take from the basket the fewer apples there will be left to take. If everyone is taking, then the apples will disappear at warp speed! And then there will be nothing left for anybody. Giving finds its essence in a mind-set of abundance. The more you give the more you will be able to give. Don’t worry you will receive back tenfold! 

  5. Your job is to inspire hope! Hope is the engine of change. It keeps people moving forward. It gives them a reason to work for a better future, of a better nation. You need to be in the Sunrise business. Whenever you are present people should feel your warmth, energy and purpose – a real sense of future.
  6. Your life lies ahead of you. As Mother Teresa said, “Life is an adventure, live it”! Your past does not define you. You and only you can define your future. Embrace it with all the energy and abundance that you can.

The adventure is about learning. Do not consider this graduation as the end of learning. See it is a wonderful start. You have been given amazing learning skills. Use these to continue to develop and grow.

This does not mean that you have to focus on collecting degrees, diplomas and doctorates although these do ensure a great degree of rigour and focus. But commit to a journey of continual learning. I have been privileged to meet some truly amazing people in my travels, many were and are at an advanced age and all of them remained extremely inquisitive about the world they live in. Do the same. This graduation of yours is a significant way-point in that journey but do not let it stop here!

Let me remind of the 6 important things you need to do to start to make a real contribution to our nations and to fully capitalise on what you have learned at Wits:

  • Dare to dream – Dream big and deep into the future
  • Share your dream widely and energetically
  • Gather people to you; help them to help you
  • Focus on giving, not on taking
  • Inspire Hope
  • Live Life to the full

Congratulations on a signal achievement. Very few people even get as far as you have. I am sure it has not all been plain sailing.  But you have done it! Well done! 

Please remember you would not have even achieved what you have without the help of many people; some you will know (family, friends, benefactors, lecturers and professors) and some you will never have even met (tax payers, university donors, administrative staff and many others). 

Be grateful. Be grateful consciously and openly. Tell the people you know how grateful you are even for the small things; especially for the small things. 

Congratulations again. Be proud of what you have achieved, it is no small thing.

Bon voyage. Good luck. Hambani Khahle! Siabulela!

About Tony Frost

He has served as the Chief Executive of the World Wildlife Fund in South Africa and on several WWF global committees. He has also served on the Percy Fitzpatrick Advisory Board, as the Chair of the Southern African Wildlife College and as a board member of the South African National Biodiversity Institute. 

Frost is a member of the Advisory Board of the Global Change Institute based at Wits and has served as a member of the Wits Business School Advisory Board. He was appointed to the Minister of Environmental Affairs’ Advisory Forum, the JSE Sustainability Index Advisory Committee, and the NBI Sustainable Futures Advisory Board. 

Frost’s professional career spans decades at the board level as a Marketing Executive and Human Resources Director. The owner of a strategic management company, Frost has a strong focus on integrated sustainability. 

He is a renowned speaker on leadership, governance and business strategies and, in particular, the importance of people in making these strategies work. He draws inspiration from the natural environment in order to emphasise the critical state of our planet and the role that people and organisations can play in fixing it. 

Frost has published books on the subject of organisations and leadership, including After the Rain and Flight at Dawn. 

Born in Queenstown, Frost is currently spearheading a project which aims to elevate the quality of education of about 100,000 disadvantaged learners through an 850 kilometre annual fundraising cycle tour from Johannesburg to Queenstown. 

Educated at the Universities of Natal, Cape Town, South Africa and Wits, Frost has served as the Athletics Coach at Wits in the 1980s and represented South Africa in athletics. For many years, he was a senior commentator for SATV. He is also a keen photographer and was once a private pilot.