It's a pleasure as the Mayor elect of Christchurch to congratulate each of you on your graduation from the Study Abroad Programme.
You may wonder why I wanted to come to this graduation even before I have officially taken office. It is because I love Japan – one of my brothers lives in Tokyo and I have a Japanese niece and nephew – but that's personal.
This year's programme marks the 20th anniversary of the visits by your school and over this period 2500 students have come here.
This is worth celebrating in its own right. But the reason I have come is to say thank you for keeping coming even through the earthquakes. Your country know what we have experienced very well.
It was only a couple of weeks after our devastating 22 Feb earthquake that your country was hit by an even bigger earthquake accompanied by a tsunami that devastated so much of the Tohuku region.
You have stood by us and we will always stand by you. That's what friends are for and your high school has proved to be a very good friend indeed.
Programmes such as Study Abroad have many advantages – not only do they offer English language lessons, there is also the opportunity to spend time with
New Zealand host families; visiting local schools, Rangi Ruru and Avonside Girls' High Schools and enjoying local activities, such as jet boating, a farm visit and a visit to the cardboard cathedral designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban.
All of these enrich the experience showing that learning the language is only one part of learning the culture. It is through this that we come to know each other and form relationships, which is the real point of these programmes. We create strong and enduring bonds between people, schools, cities and countries.
I hope you have enjoyed your time here and will take home good memories of Christchurch and that one day you will return and see what we have become.