Brad’s UTS Graduation Ceremony Address


Thanks for that introduction, Andrew. I was getting worried it might be actually longer than my speech.

I start by paying my respects to the Gadigal people of the Eora nation and recognise their care and connection to this land. I also acknowledge everyone in this room – Pro Chancellor, presiding Vice Chancellor, deans, Director, Chair of Academic Board, University Executive, Council staff, family, friends, and most importantly, you, both first-time graduates and more experienced graduates.

Speaking of first times, this is actually my first time on this stage and I’m grateful to be able to return to this hall again without having to pass my exams this time. Congratulations on making it here tonight, not in the sense of beating Sydney peak hour traffic to get to this ceremony on time – although that is a worthy feat – but for the years of hard work that has enabled you to sit here in this hall in those black dressing gowns.

It almost feels like yesterday that I was in those very seats, but it was actually over 24 years ago – a sobering reality that it was a year before most of you were even born. I know what many of you may be thinking; I don’t look that old, thanks to my Asian genes and Korean facemasks.

Since graduating from the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building, I’ve been fortunate to be able to apply many of the skills that I’ve learned as Pro Chancellor mentioned earlier. I’ve constructed some businesses, developed myself further through study, designed a way to travel to over 50 countries, built a philanthropic foundation, and most important, engineered a family of five.

Based on my experiences, I could probably try to give you advice about leadership, about entrepreneurship or social impact. I could even use catchy phrases like, ‘Fake it till you make it’ or even ‘Screw it! Just do it!’ or even ‘UTS makes you best!’ But what I want to talk about tonight is something more basic and relevant – the concept of self-limiting beliefs.

Self-limiting beliefs are the assumptions that hold us back from achieving what we are capable of. They are the judgements about ourselves that stop us from being our best versions and the thoughts that say things like, ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘I’m not good enough.’ If you’ve ever had that little voice inside your head tell you you can’t do something, then that’s usually a self-limiting belief. Either that or you’ve been smoking something too much.

We all have self-limiting beliefs. When I was invited to do this graduation speech, my immediate thoughts were why me, and will I have anything memorable to say? But I quickly realised that I couldn’t remember who spoke at any of the graduations that I’d attended, nor what they spoke about, so even though you will quickly forget me, I’m hopeful there’s a small chance that you might remember part of this message, and if not, I’ll blame the alcohol that some of you may consume later tonight in celebration.

You see, we are often beset by these limiting beliefs, often stemming from our childhoods. And unless we overcome them, we can never truly reach our potential. As an example, when I was younger, I had a self-limiting belief that having a good name set you up as a winner. I thought names were a powerful indicator of status and aspiration and that having a successful name guaranteed a successful life. Brad Chan doesn’t sound too bad, but if only my parents had called me Lightning or Lucky, then my destiny would be forever secure.

And it’s easy to think like this. I mean, when I look around, there are many examples of famous people with successful names. In politics, Donald trumped others to become president. And before him, Obama had millions barrack for him. Look at Martin Luther King – he was always going to be a leader. Even in Australian politics, Bob was a hawk, Julie Bishop rose quickly within the church of the Liberal Party, as did Tony Abbott.

Turn to the business world and Bill Gates opened the gates to considerable wealth. Larry Page, the founder of Google, made his fortune searching web pages, and Steve Jobs – well, didn’t he create a lot of them with Apple.

Often, names are self-fulfilling. In the entertainment world, Ellen DeGeneres is known to be very generous, and with the words ‘win’ and ‘free’ in her name, Oprah was always destined for her own TV show. And the list goes on – the stylish Harry Styles, the rapid rise of Taylor Swift and how can you go past Usain Bolt?

Occasionally, people even end up the opposite of their names. The singer Ariana Grande is definitely more petite than grande, and I’m pretty sure Lance Armstrong had much stronger legs than arms. I definitely know Angelina Jolie became less jolly after experiencing the pits of a divorce.

Jokes aside though, what I eventually realised was that even though my name wasn’t particularly significant, it didn’t mean that I couldn’t do anything of significance. Another self-limiting belief I had was that leaders were extroverts and they were certainly not Asian. So, having the double whammy of being an introvert and of Asian background, I thought I would always be a follower rather than a leader.

You see, I was always told that leaders were loud and assertive, whereas my school reports always advised me to speak up more. In addition, growing up, there were hardly any well-known role models of Asian background, other than Bruce Lee. Fortunately, I’ve been able to recognise and challenge these limiting beliefs, and therefore take on leadership roles throughout my career. Yes, I’ll admit, even today, there is still a lack of diversity in our leaders and significant under-representation of Asian Australians across many industries, including business, politics and even television, except for on MasterChef.

But despite a lack of such role models, I’ve also been fortunate in such recent times to be able to interview other Asian Australians who have overcome their self-limiting beliefs – people like Dr Charlie Teo, the world renowned neurosurgeon; Eddie Wu, the mathematics YouTube star, Marina Goh, former chair of the Wests Tigers; Tim Fung, founder of Airtasker; and many others.

At the end of the day, overcoming my self-limiting beliefs involved a few steps: Being aware of these beliefs holding me back and challenging these beliefs by stepping out of my comfort zone and taking on risks.

A few years ago, I set up Haymarket HQ, Australia’s first Asia-focused start-up hub as a profit-for-purpose venture. There were many reasons why it wouldn’t work and doubts about its viability, but in the few years since it has opened it’s one of the proudest achievements in my career.

The message I leave all of you today is not to let anything stop you from pursuing your dreams. Take time to consider which beliefs might be limiting your potential and don’t accept a self-limiting belief, otherwise it will end up as a self-fulfilling prophecy. You may not have a name that stands out, but that shouldn’t stop you from being outstanding. And you may not have a role model to look up to, but you can be that role model for others to aspire to. Don’t just settle for being King of the North – go for the Iron Throne, just not in the way that Daenerys did yesterday. Sorry for the spoiler if you haven’t watched it. I also noted the chair in the middle – one day that could become your Iron Throne.

So, to conclude this speech with a little more credibility, I’d like to sign off with some quotes from the children’s author Dr Seuss, or correct pronounced as Dr Zoyce – that’s what Google tells me:

‘You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own and you know what you know, and you are the one who’ll decide where to go. Today, you are you; that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is you-er than you. You’re off to great places, today is your day, your mountain is waiting, so get on your way.’

Thank you.