Thank you for asking me to speak to you here today. But who am I, why am I here and what gives me the right to preach to you on this day, this glorious, celebratory day when we rejoice in your achievements and wish you all well for the future.
I stand here as your MSP, North Highland College Board Member, Writer, Gardener, Cook, Mother, Daughter, Sister, Wife, Success, Failure, Trier.
Because these days we all seem to be labelled, defined by what we represent, believe and achieve.
I am a woman, a nationalist, humanist, animal loving blether. When I was at school my report cards always used to say “Gail talks too much” “Gail needs to apply herself” “Gail shows promise” “Gail needs to pay more attention in class” “Easily distracted”
I liked school, I liked school a lot. I liked the creative subjects, Art, English, Drama, the ones where you could lose yourself in another reality, I was a dreamer, a chatterbox, a storyteller. But I was rubbish at studying. When I was asked to study for a maths exam, Pythagoras would soon be sacrificed for Iain Banks. When I was told to learn about The Wars of the Roses, Open University Videos taped at 2 in the morning often made way for David Attenborough.
Things changed slightly in college because I was allowed to choose something I enjoyed. I did advertising and PR in Glasgow and found that I was good at it, really good. I used my artistic side to make up adverts and my talking skills to persuade. I then went on to work in the advertising industry in Edinburgh where I met a lot of great people but I also experienced the greedy side of the industry. The hitting targets, the hard sell, the manipulation. That wasn’t me.
So I started working for charities, did some freelance writing then I fell into politics, almost by accident. Sales, journalism and politics – you would think I would find a job where people actually liked me…
I have been a member of the SNP since I was 20 years old but I never saw myself working in politics and I certainly never saw myself in any elected role way back then. Being elected is like taking part in the biggest popularity contest in the country. Some of you may have been involved in campaigns, locally or nationally and understand how demanding it can be. Some of you may have even stood for election yourself through the college or the UHI.
I love my job but it’s hard work and I find I often have to juggle that family/work life balance. My husband works as a teacher and we always manage to spend quality time with my wee boy, Max. I sometimes even take him to official engagements with me because I feel it’s important for him to see what I do and it enables me to spend more time with him. And people love seeing him. He’s helped me launch the Caithness Flag, opened the Caithness International Science Festival, the Homecoming Harbourfest, he’s been down in Holyrood, come along to open days and done loads of other things as well. He’s not here today because he has quite a full diary these days but he sends his best wishes!
The main reason I do what I do is to try and help people. There is no feeling in the world that compares to knowing that you’ve made a difference to someone’s life. It can be something as small as getting their grass cut or as big as getting their benefits reinstated so that they can get a meal. There are so many people in life that need help, don’t ignore them, the only time you should ever be looking down on anyone is when you are helping them up.
As you grow older – so too does your experience grow. You learn when to say yes or no. You learn when people are sincere or when they are not. You learn what is best for those around you and you learn what is best for you.
I said earlier that we are here today to celebrate achievement. You have all achieved something fantastic. This day is about you. About where you have come from, where you want to go, how you are going to get there. It’s about reminiscing about great days and great nights as a student. It’s about meeting up with friends and family, photos, memories and plans.
So where do you go from here? Some of you will know, some won’t. Some of you will have started another course, a job or training. Take time, spend it alone and with others. Appreciate the things you take for granted. Go to places that excite you. Look around you. Do something that scares you now and again. Be nice to people.
As things go forward - some of you may use your qualification, others won’t. Some of you may find your career and stick to it, others won’t. Indeed, some of you may spend years and go through lots of jobs before you find the path in life that makes you happy.
And that’s ok. Because this is your life and you need to live it. Yes, you could be rich or successful or famous, drive a fancy car or live in a big house but at every step of the way, ask yourself “Am I truly HAPPY” and if the answer is no, change something, go somewhere, do something. Find it.
Someone once asked me – “Why do we fall?” So that we can learn how to pick ourselves up… NO Wait, that’s a line from BATMAN.
Someone once told me never be afraid to fail. Always take risks and because if you do fail, you become better at picking yourself up. It was NEARLY a scene form BATMAN. Not quite.
Get in over your head. Because if you are not in over your head, you are not in far enough. Every day I think I’m in over my head. Then I just get on with it, learn, succeed move on, learn, fail move on.
SO GOOD LUCK. Go and find out who you are, where you fit in, but most of all – go and find that HAPPY!