Last summer was undoubtedly the most exciting I can recall. As well as celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the re-election of Boris Johnson as Mayor of London, the country was brought together by one event that truly captured the vibrancy of that occasion: The London Olympic Games.
The motto of the games was ‘Inspire a Generation’ - and today, and I ask the question: what does it take to inspire others? What does it take to achieve what we set out to achieve: to make a difference, to help people and improve their lives? Well I’ll answer that now, with one word: Perseverance. Mo Farah would not have crossed that finish line had he not, at some point, failed time and time again. But his two gold medals are certain evidence of one thing: Perseverance.
I’d like to remind you all of one man that achieved something that others said was simply unachievable. It was the first human rights campaign in history, led by this man who faced prejudice, corruption and countless numbers of those that shouted him down. That man, was William Wilberforce.
Wilberforce first presented his proposals to abolish the slave trade, in 1789. It failed. He continued to bring his plans to abolish the trade to the House of Commons – however he continued to fail and was soon mocked by his colleagues. He could have stopped there and then. He could have saved his career by not allowing himself to be repeatedly embarrassed by defeat. But he didn’t.
After eight years of countless failures, he succeeded. The Slave Trade was abolished in 1807, thanks to one man’s resolve. William Wilberforce took the first steps down the road toward social change – a road that spanned the duration of the next century. And he didn’t just inspire a generation – he changed a generation. He had been tasked not just with changing people’s views, but also their prejudice.
Martin Luther King did not give up. Mahatma Ghandi did not give up. And Nelson Mandela did not give up. When they were faced with a challenge, they prevailed because they stood firm to what they believed in – this is a lesson for all of us.
Everyone in this room believes in a cause. I myself am passionate about animal welfare. Yesterday, people up and down the country went to extraordinary lengths to help those less fortunate than themselves. Red Nose Day involved ordinary people. Ordinary people that perhaps aren’t interested in politics, but still believe in the cause to end poverty, once and for all. Whatever it is that you fervently believe in, the bridge to achieving it will take time and effort to cross. It will take commitment, and perseverance.
Something my father told me, was that we should seek to live each day as though it were our last; which is why I urge each and every one of you to pursue a good cause. We must ask ourselves what we would change to our world if we had the chance to do so. What would you do to make the world a better place? Because we only live once - we will have one shot at leaving our children with a safer, cleaner, more prosperous world. If we choose not to take a stand now, then who will?
We will face challenges in future years, but if we remember to hold fast to the principles that we know to be right, then we shall prevail. If we cling on to what hope may be left in twenty years, then we will be walking down the road to success. And if we persevere, then we will inspire a generation.