Distinguished guest speaker, parents, family and friends, welcome to the second graduation ceremony at Ashesi University.
I would like to acknowledge, with deep regret, the passing of Dr. Princess Awonoor-Williams, Assistant Professor of Economics. She was a very highly regarded member of our faculty. She was a friend to all of us. She was a mother to many of her students. Her presence will be sorely missed.
Class of 2006, congratulations on reaching this very important milestone. Thank you for giving us the occasion to celebrate your accomplishments and the promise of your future.
I recently watched a fascinating and entertaining video about your class, set to the sound of music and laughter. I loved everything about the show: the humorous images of your lives at Ashesi, the music, the sheer sense of joy, and the enormous ambition of your class. I learned that you call yourself “The Greatest Class at Ashesi”. Brave words indeed!
Watching your portrayal of life at Ashesi reminded me of some of your admissions essays, and in particular, your aspirations for greatness. I have a small confession to make today. As I read some of your applications four years ago, I would say to myself, “My goodness, you are ambitious about what you want to be; but are you ambitious about working hard?”
What do we really mean when we speak of greatness; and what does it mean to be the greatest class at Ashesi? Your slide show had some interesting answers. Thanks to the marvel of camera phones, the documentary included several candid shots of students fast asleep in class. Is this greatness? Surely, ambition should be made of sterner stuff! Shakespeare’s words, not mine.
Because of your ambition, I would like to share some of my thoughts on the subject of greatness. First, let me say that whatever else it means to achieve greatness, it seems to me that it is best judged by the sands of time -- by how history judges a person’s life. Yet, the future depends on what we do today. As such, any aspiration for greatness requires deep reflection about the essence of living a meaningful life today, in a manner that builds a lasting legacy for future generations.
I sincerely believe that you are capable of achieving your ambitions and of making a lasting contribution to Ghana, Africa and the world. I say this because of your passion for excellence, and because of the evidence of your achievements to date.
Each of you graduating today is the product of a distinctive educational experience that compels you to be analytic in your thought, to be unafraid of ambiguity, and to hold firmly to the highest standards of personal and academic conduct. It shows.
Members of this class who have participated in international student exchanges have consistently ranked among the best of the peers from all over the world. You have made significant contributions to our society through your community service projects. You have successfully completed projects for local and international corporations. Today, more than eighty percent of you have already received job offers; and the majority of you have multiple job offers. Clearly, you have a bright future ahead of you.
The future greatness that lies before you, however, comes with a very heavy burden of responsibility. If you do not believe me, consider this: Today, as I stand before you, several members of the class that just preceded yours, the pioneer Class of 2005, find themselves in positions of extraordinary responsibility.
Their rise up the ranks of Corporate Africa has been dizzying. We have alums who, within a year of graduating from college are heading departments and divisions in financial institutions across West Africa. For me, this is a sobering phenomenon. The huge responsibilities that our alumni are now tackling demand that we remember the essence of Ashesi’s mission.
I feel compelled to remind you about the importance of Ashesi’s core values of Scholarship, Leadership and Citizenship, even as you strive for greatness.
Scholarship – the process of learning about our universe and the human condition – is the very foundation upon which truly inspired leadership is built. By “learning”, I mean that process of questioning and exploration that is so fundamental to the acquisition of knowledge and understanding. Scholarship requires great humility, and it requires an active process of listening to the views of others, of acknowledging the complexity of our world and probing to reach deeper insights about our circumstance.
The most effective leaders in the history of humanity are those who took the time, first, to educate themselves about their world.
Imagine how different Gandhi’s leadership would have been if he had not traveled the length and breadth of India in order to learn about the needs of the Indian people.
Imagine how different Nelson Mandela’s vision would have been if he had not pondered and debated the best approach to ending apartheid for the benefit of all South Africans.
Imagine how much less effective Martin Luther King Jr. would have been if he had not been deeply versed in the founding philosophy of the United States or had not taken the time to remain informed about the living conditions of all minority groups within the United States.
Imagine how much less successful Bill Gates would have been if he had not taken the time learn about the technical intricacies of the micro computer revolution before starting his company.
Imagine how different our world would be if any of these leaders just mentioned had disengaged from learning at any point in their careers.
The search for new insights about our world is the basis for wisdom, and as such is a necessary condition for great leadership and meaningful citizenship. This, ladies and gentlemen, is why we speak first of scholarship, even before we speak of leadership and citizenship. Remember to do your homework. Remember to seek new knowledge and new meaning for the rest of lives.
Leadership in the affairs of human-kind has always been fraught with difficulty. I suggest to you, that those of us in positions of leadership, including you who will soon join our ranks, are confronted with an especially difficult task here on the African continent. Yet, we also face that rarest of opportunities to transform the way of life of an entire people. The opportunity confronting us – the opportunity to lead our continent to peace and prosperity – is as great as what faced the architects of modern democracy in Europe and North America; and it is as far reaching as the opportunity that confronted the architects of Asia’s recent economic leap.
Considered at the level of affecting organizations, communities and civilizations, the idea of leadership seems daunting indeed. It need not be. Great leadership begins at a personal level. Your ability to be an effective leader will depend on personal attributes such as integrity, compassion and commitment. Your ability to guide or inspire others will depend on how eager you are to learn, in order to determine the path that would be in the best interest of the people your serve. A great leader, then, must also be a good citizen.
Citizenship, in the context of this conversation, is not about where we come from, but rather, about how we conduct ourselves in the community we live in. A good citizen is a good woman or a good man. A good citizen is one whose life has meaning for others. Great citizens are those whose societies are made better by their very existence. In fact good citizens are the true leaders of our world.
As you go out into the world of work, I urge to hold fast to the values you have learned here. I suspect that leadership will be thrust upon you sooner than you expect, and I am confident that you can rise to the occasion when it happens. By all means take a nap when you get tired.
The promise of your lives makes me hopeful about our world. I wish you all the best of successes, I wish you Godspeed in your quest to become the greatest class of Ashesi, and I look forward to your contributions in the years to come.