Accepting the award of Honorary Degree: Doctor of Laws
May 18, 2013

Patrick Awuah Jr., Founder and President, Ashesi University College, receives Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Babson College(Patrick Awuah Jr. (left), founder and president of Ashesi, with Babson College President Leonard Schlesinger.)

President Schlesinger, Trustees, and members of the Babson Community, I am truly grateful for this honor. Thank you so much.

Thank you too, for your active interest and engagement in Africa. I have loved welcoming Babson students and faculty to Ghana these past few years, as they've engaged communities and high school students, teaching business and entrepreneurial skills that are making a real difference in the lives of many. And I have taken great satisfaction reading about Babson's engagement in other African countries as well. I am really honored to receive this award from an institution that I hold in very high esteem.

Babson Class of 2013, congratulations on reaching this very important milestone! Congratulations too, to your families, friends, and the faculty and administrators of Babson who have all played important roles in bringing you to this day.

I am honored to share this day with you. This eighteenth day of May holds special significance for me. It was the day, many years ago, when I looked into the eyes of a new born baby –my son– and began to rethink my purpose in life. That eighteenth day of May led me on a new journey – a quest to help contribute to a transformation in Africa, for the sake of future generations. Have you ever looked into the eyes of a new born baby? It is an amazing experience. It's like looking into the eyes of all humanity! What a thrill it is to be here on this day.

Today marks an important milestone for you too, Class of 2013: the end of your undergraduate education, and the beginning –the commencement– of another stage in your life's journey. There will be many more commencements for you along the way, and each of those moments will represent an opportunity for continued personal growth.

I would like to share with you a few thoughts this morning about what I have learned since my own graduation from college.

The importance of connection
First, our most significant achievements depend on the assistance of others. The awards that you and I receive today are not only an indication of how well we have performed our individual tasks. They are also an indication of how fortunate we have been in our relationships, our friendships and our collaborations.

Your families, your friends, and the faculty and administrators of Babson College all played a part in your success today.

Similarly, my wife, my children, my colleagues at Ashesi, and Ashesi's alumni and financial backers all play a role in my success. Before that, the care and financial support of my parents; the invisible hand of benefactors whose scholarship funding made my college education possible; the faculty who educated me; and the mentors who have guided me professionally, all prepared me for the mission that I'm currently on.

Truly great achievement requires the action of a community –a team.

One example at Ashesi stands out for me. In 2008, after two years of debate, the students of Ashesi University voted to implement an honor system on our campus. The core premise of the code was for students to individually and corporately commit themselves to the highest levels of academic conduct and to eliminate "corruption" from our community of students. They promised not only to be honest in their conduct of exams, but also to hold accountable any students who violated our exam code of conduct. In return, faculty and administrators agreed to stop proctoring exams. This was a momentous occasion for us! We had embarked on an awesome experiment in an African university. It was historic: a first in Ghana, and in Africa.

Two years later, we were asked by the National Accreditation Board of Ghana to discontinue the honor system. Their directive explicitly threatened the withdrawal of Ashesi's accreditation if we did not comply. They did not believe that our students could be trusted to live up to the code, and in the interest of protecting the credibility of exams at Ashesi, they asked us to resume proctoring exams. They meant well.

The response of the Ashesi Community was the stuff of legend: Our students unanimously voted to risk the loss of accreditation and to fight to maintain their honor system. They were not alone. The entire Ashesi community –faculty, administrators, parents, alumni, and the board of trustees– agreed to take this risk. We worked together, as one, to fight for the privilege to continue an experiment that we felt was central to the mission of our institution. I was copied on over 100 letters that students wrote to the accreditation board. One student told me he had stayed up all night writing his letter. He needed it to be absolutely perfect. In the end, we managed to keep our honor system.

Campus honor systems are not new in the world, but what made this incident legendary, was the fact that perhaps for the first time in the world, a student body fought to keep their honor system in the face of a challenge from a much greater power, and at the risk of losing the accreditation standing of their alma mater. It was a moment that we will always be proud of. It required the concerted and committed action of our entire community, and it required negotiating with others. This is the way to great achievement.

The importance of courage
Second, to really make change, we must have courage: the courage to imagine something new, the courage to act, and the courage to persist through setbacks. We all recognize those leaders whose dramatic acts of courage changed the world.

We are well familiar with the actions of political leaders such Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Mohandas Gandhi and Nelson Mandela; of innovators such as Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison and Alexander Bell; and of pioneering scientists such as Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin.

But courage is not always about big dramatic events. It is often about quiet, determined action every day, at work, and at home. The courage to say sorry when you've wronged someone. The courage to be introspective and honest with yourself. The courage to join a cause you believe in, and to do all you can to help it succeed. The courage to even imagine a different future.

The world is full of quiet and unsung heroes who are making real change. My work at Ashesi University has benefited from many such heroes. My wife has been an extraordinary source of encouragement and support. I have benefitted too, from a team of mostly young faculty and administrators who dared to join my project and make it their cause.

One of my quiet heroes, a young woman who returned to Ghana after completing her PhD in the United States, sent me a poem she wrote ten years ago on a bus in Chicago. The last verse of her poem read:

The world may not see you, but I do
Your spirit uncrushed, you still press on
No glory, no pomp, no celebration
But your efforts, my Brother, will yield good fruit*

I am so fortunate to have people like this all around me. I should be the one telling them,

The world may not see you, but I do
Your spirit uncrushed, you still press on
No glory, no pomp, no celebration
But your efforts, my Brothers, my Sisters, will yield good fruit.

The importance of imagination
Finally, Class of 2013, I urge you to never stop imagining a better world, and to never stop acting on your imagined new world. We try to live by this rule every day at Ashesi. In fact, our name, Ashesi, which means beginning, is supposed to remind us to treat each day as a new beginning. Our work is not yet done.

Today, we are actively working to answer some pretty exciting questions. Can Ashesi University be a catalyst for replicating innovation models such as Silicon Valley in Africa? Can we create a "Samsung" of Africa? Can we incubate truly legendary innovations to boost the economies of African countries?

We are actively working to implement an engineering program centered on design and project-based learning, as well as an economics program. In this way, we aim to educate the inventors and policy makers whose answers to the question of an African Renaissance will be, "Yes! We can!" Our ability to achieve our vision will continue to require a great deal of courage and a community of partners in Africa and around the world, including you, Class of 2013.

Congratulations on achieving this important milestone. As you begin the next chapter of your journey, remember to have the courage to aim as high as you can. Be ambitious about what you will contribute to the future of humanity. Remember, too, to nurture good relationships, and always seek the path of collaborating with and learning from others.

Babson Class of 2013, we look forward to your achievements in the years to come. May your efforts, my Brothers, my Sisters, yield good fruit.


* Esi Ansah 2003