Response by Heiko Hesse
Dear Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Roy Bailey and members of the Economics Department, graduating students, ladies and gentleman, it is a great honour to stand here today on this very special day to receive the Alumnus award. I am also very happy to return to Essex during its 50th anniversary.
I see your faces in your beautiful robes, your happiness and smiles… you should be all very proud of what you have achieved after years of hard studying including with, I presume, the occasional pint in the SU or top bar. Congratulations to all of you on finishing one important part of your young life with undoubtedly many adventures ahead of you.
I feel deeply humbled after Roy’s oration, a wonderful person, who has dedicated his life to teaching a generation of Essex economics students. It is not surprising that Roy has been recently honoured by the Queen for his excellent teaching at Essex. A great achievement for him and Essex!
When I sometimes visit the National Gallery in Washington DC and come across the exquisite and marvellous painting by John Constable on Wivenhoe Park, my memories rush back to all the wonderful moments that I experienced here in Essex during 2001-2003. In particular, I have been blessed to be surrounded by wonderful friends and great teachers from across the globe. For instance, Arwed, my childhood friend of almost 30 years and best man at my wedding two years ago and soon godfather to our 1-year old son, actually came to Essex a year before me to study for his BA in Government.
I also vividly remember rather mundane things such as late night shopping trips to Tesco, campus dinners with friends, runs along the river to Wivenhoe or rushing to Liverpool Street to make the midnight train back to Colchester. In the summer of 2001, while trying to find a semi-professional football team, I also worked for a few weeks for Tesco next to campus on the nightshift in the fresh vegetable section. So Essex will always remain in my heart!
My economics studies in Essex have been certainly instrumental for my future path as an Economist from my graduate studies to my work at the World Bank and then the IMF. Essex also deepened my passion for solving real world economic problems. For example, given my recent IMF work on economic and financial crises especially in the European context, I clearly remember my Essex days when I was studying the Japanese banking and Swedish currency crises. The quality of the Essex economics program and the teaching have been excellent, and again, it is not surprising, that Essex is consistently ranked as among the best places to pursue Economics in the UK.
Lifelong learning has always been a goal that I pursued in Essex and thereafter. Though my parents have never had the opportunity to attend university or high school in their lives, they have always given me the belief that education is one of the greatest things a person can obtain in life. Whether you will enter graduate school or start a job after your Essex degree, keep in mind that knowledge keeps evolving with some becoming quickly obsolete. So keep on learning and being curious. In a globalized world of competition for talent, you won’t regret it.
Whatever professional path you choose after graduation, pursue your dreams of work that gives you the most passion and where you feel you can make the strongest impact or difference. It will be learning by doing as well as trial-and-error by making and learning from one’s own mistakes. I have certainly greatly learnt from own failures, be it in football with, for example, the occasional own-goal or mistakes in my jobs.
Furthermore, explore the world when you are young and are able to do so. Travelling the world including outside your comfort zone to rather exotic destinations can be very formative experiences. I have been fortunate to travel to some countries I would have never imagined before to visit. For example, I remember backpacking alone through Iran a few years back where you could literally count the number of tourists on your hand. What always strikes me is the wonderful hospitability of the local population in most countries I have been to. Well, this is like being back in Essex including with its large share of international students. I am sure you have all made lifelong friends from across the world during your studies. You never know where you will meet again and fondly remember your Essex days together. For instance, out of all places, I met an old Essex economics classmate in Kabul, where a few IMF colleagues and I were trying to help the government on some project a few years ago.
Finally, spend time with your family. It might be likely for many of you that your first job will be away from your hometown or even in a different country. Nothing is more precious than spending valuable time with your family.
On this note, celebrate this very special and proud day with your parents and family. My congratulations again, and wish you a very happy and successful start to your exciting life ahead after Essex. My deep thanks again to Essex for this award and Roy Bailey for his oration, for which I feel extremely honoured.