Michael Nunan (OX 2000)

Stories of Xaverians

Michael Nunan

Speech from Michael Nunan

"The Bathurst 1000 is a pretty big race, but it used to be even bigger, a real iconic event when I left school. And I want to talk about what happened when I left school and how Xavier shaped that journey, but it starts with the Bathurst 1000. Two guys from my year level went on to win the Bathurst 1000 - Will Davison and Paul Dumbrell - both awesome guys. Teddy Richards played more than 200 games of AFL footy, Alex Rathgeber - our Vice Captain - is one of Australia's leading musical theatre performers. Tom Hartney played guitar in Little Red with a group of other Xavier guys and went to number 1 on the Australian music charts. And we have inspirations in other ways- during the same sex marriage debate last year, a huge billboard was erected over the Bolte Bridge advocating for the yes vote and one of the two wonderful men on that billboard was Matty Phipps, who was in my year level.

But all of that was just so intimidating because you look around and everyone seems so confident of themselves and they seem to be striding ahead of you. You want to be a man for others but the way you see yourself is just a man who used to go to Xavier, who used to play footy or debate or sing. After school, everyone told me to study law.

Against the advice of a lot of people, I went to uni and studied pharmacy, which I had wanted to do since Grade 6.

And I failed.  Literally, I failed first year - and in pharmacy back then, that meant repeating all five year-long subjects, an entire year. There was no debating, no sports teams, no community service. There was only hard science - and I was failing.  By the end of my first year out of school, I lost faith in myself. Rather than face repeating, I applied to transfer out of pharmacy so I could go and study law like everyone told me to.

That summer after first year, I went to teach in China for 6 weeks with a group of former Xavier boys and we went out for a couple of nights with a young Australian trainee Jesuit priest called Jeremy Clarke, who spoke fluent mandarin and was a terrific guy and over dinner, we ended up in a conversation about my future. I had to make the decision - the next day - about whether to accept the transfer out of pharmacy that I'd been offered.

And he said this to me - if you're quitting because you want to go off and do law, then do it. But if you're quitting because it's too hard, then that's a terrible decision and you'll always regret it. And that conversation was the start of my path back.

So I stayed in pharmacy. And the following year, I met two people in my new 'first year' class. A girl called Erin and a guy called Matt Peck. Now Matt Peck was one of our mates and one summer during uni, he was killed in a freak accident in South America and in his honour, we started a scholarship in his name, the Matt Peck Scholarship. I was the first recipient and I went to Vanuatu for 6 weeks and during that time found myself running the hospital pharmacy in a little village called Norsup. It was terrifying, I was working almost entirely on my own - I was still a uni student- and I was living at the hospital in a tiny room on one of the wards. And while I was there, a young boy came in suffering diarrhea. He'd presented quite late and he was severely dehydrated by the time he arrived, and he died, right there that afternoon. As a 21-year-old, it was if a lightning bolt went off in my head. I have been an aid worker for 13 years now and I've seen some pretty terrible things. I've worked in the red zone of an Ebola treatment centre in Sierra Leone, I've stood in a morgue surrounded by dead bodies being pulled out of a river after flooding in Solomon Islands, driven through the aftermath of a riot in Nigeria - but nothing stays with me like that boy. The Xaverian in me stood up that day.

I cannot win Bathurst, I cannot sing professionally - and I am no longer the third speaker in a debating team. But in a hospital bed in Norsup, Vanuatu I said I am a hard worker. I am a good son and a good brother. I am calm, I am rational, I am kind. I am a person that will not accept that a child can die from diarrhea 2 hours flight from Brisbane. It is a dark world out there and dark things happen and I don't have exceptional talents but I hold in my hands a tiny little flame and I can use that to light a tiny bit of the world.

That's my identity and that's what I decided to do.

I married Erin 10 years ago. She won the Young Australian Pharmacist of the Year and also has a law degree. I get to work with her and other people implementing systems that ensure access to medicines for millions of people across three continents and when my flame dims, I just look around me and I can see dozens of flames, lighting the darkest parts of the world.

So this is the challenge for you that can begin today as you seek to understand that man inside you who can live for others. That man is not defined by how many goals you do or do not kick from the half-forward flank in the seconds. That man is defined by how you see yourself and each of you has the capacity to be wonderful. That man is diminished when you put yourself above others, be it in the privacy of your own home or in a crowd of boys on a tram.

What you get here at Xavier is invaluable. I use the skills I acquired here every single day and the education you get here in those things is just world class. But those skills are just the stepping stones to who you are as a person and you would get the same skills at any of a dozen schools in Victoria. You need to decide who that person is and as someone once said, if you leave here a normal person, this school has failed.

I hope you find that person and look down one day and realise you carry in your hands a light, made brighter by the opportunities that have been given to you but lit by YOU. And wherever and whenever you find that light - in a lecture theatre, in a laboratory, in a classroom. Or in a hospital bed in the middle of the Pacific, I hope you have the intelligence to recognise it, I hope you have the courage to hold it so that others can see it.

And I hope your time here at Xavier fills you with the inspiration to carry your light into the world and do something with it.

Thank-you and good luck."

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