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Kildalton College Graduation Ceremony

Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen, Colleagues, Graduands and Guests. It’s my great pleasure on behalf of Teagasc to welcome you to tonight’s graduation ceremony. It’s a proud evening for yourselves and your families. I think it would be appropriate that all of you that are about to graduate first pay a heartfelt appreciation to all of those family members and “significant others” that have helped in whatever way to bring you to this stage on this evening.

Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen, Colleagues, Graduands and Guests. It’s my great pleasure on behalf of Teagasc to welcome you to tonight’s graduation ceremony. It’s a proud evening for yourselves and your families.

I think it would be appropriate that all of you that are about to graduate first pay a heartfelt appreciation to all of those family members and “significant others” that have helped in whatever way to bring you to this stage on this evening.

When I took on this job a few years ago I was advised that I’d have to attend a Teagasc Kildalton Graduation. I was told it was not only one of the largest Teagasc graduation ceremonies – 315 students will graduate this evening in agriculture, Horticulture and Equine at FETAC levels 5 and 6 – but it was also one of the most glamorous. [Looking around the room here I can certainly see the glamour!]

We are privileged that the Minister has joined us this evening. I want to commend the Minister for the tremendous leadership and dynamism that he’s shown since he assumed office. He has given a confidence to all of us involved in the industry by the manner in which he has embraced the positive messages of Food Harvest 2020. In particular, by his presence here this evening, following on his participation at last week’s graduation at Teagasc Clonakilty, he is demonstrating his keen appreciation of the indisputable importance of education to the prosperity of our agriculture, horticulture and equine sectors.

A few short years ago enrolments at this college were 213. Today they exceed 400. That’s a growth of almost 3-fold in just 5 years. Kildalton now accounts for about 30% all new students enrolled by Teagasc each year.

This phenomenal influx of students into our colleges is a reflection of a confidence that our equine, horticulture and agriculture industries can give people a decent income and a good quality of life. [That message has been reinforced by the actions and words of our Minister.]

But the ability of Teagasc Kildalton to take on these ever-growing numbers of students is also a testament to the dedication of its staff. Despite an embargo on recruitment, we have maintained the numbers of our teaching and technician staff at a more or less constant level. We’ve been enabled to do this by the receipt of sanction from the Minister to recruit two additional staff on the basis that education is a vital cog in the development of the overall industry. We’ve also been enabled to take on more students by the dedication of our teaching, technician and support staff on the farm, in the kitchen and dormitories and in administration. [For their hard word they deserve our complete gratitude.]

Agriculture is a knowledge industry. The farmer of the future must be educated to farm his or her land in a way that maximises economic return consitent with environmental sustainability. We have belatedly recognised that our horticulture, agriculture and equine sectors are no longer sunset industries. They hold out the hope of a brighter future.

Nearly 40% of you [graduates] here this evening will, in a short few years, be in full-time farming. About another 60% of you will be engaged in part-time farming. Just less than 90% of you will be involved also in managing your farms at some level. These are impressive figures and underline the benefits of your education.

One of the most impressive features of the Teagasc education system is that students can progress from level to level if he or she wants to. There is something really impressive about a student that comes into college intending to complete level 5 or maybe 6 but who gets the education bug and progresses to degree level in our partner institution at WIT or who transfers to university. [I want to acknowledge here the hugely important role of WIT in our work here at Teagasc Kildalton.]

Another impressive feature of the Teagasc education system is our commitment to providing students with practical experience of farming. We wouldn’t be able to do this without the support of our host farmers who provide this service because they want to see Ireland’s agriculture, horticulture and equine industries prosper. [A big thank you to all of you that act as host farmers.]

We’re proud in Kildalton of our constant commitment to innovation and the development of our facilities. This is a campus that any student would be proud to come to. We’ve innovated in so many ways and in all of our courses. Our involvement in the UCD Dairy Business Degree is a break with the institutional tradition. And I’ll let you on something as long as you won’t publicise it too widely – many students on that course have told me that they didn’t learn anything about the practical side of farming until they did the course at Kildaton and later at Moorepark!

In conclusion, I want to say to you students that you’ve earned the right to be proud of yourselves. Education provides you with one irreducible resource – confidence. Be ambitious for yourselves, your family, and your country. Ignore the naysayers. Mark Twain – the great American writer said – “keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people – he said – always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great”.

I’d like to say to parents here this evening that you need to be prepared to pass on the baton to the next generation. Start by being open-minded to the new ideas your sons and daughters are bringing home from college. To students, I say, listen to your parents. They’ve the wisdom borne of experience.

This is a proud night for you all. Enjoy yourselves. You deserve it.

It’s now my great pleasure to hand you over to our Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Mr Simon Coveney T.D. to address and inspire you!!