Distinguished guest speaker, parents, family and friends, and dear Class of 2009, welcome to the fifth graduation ceremony at Ashesi University College.
Class of 2009, congratulations on reaching this milestone; and thank you for giving us the occasion to celebrate your accomplishments and the promise of your future.
As you cross this important threshold, I would like to join you in a conversation about great achievement in your future professional and private lives, and a key ingredient for such success, namely, courage.
As Theodore Roosevelt so eloquently put it,
“It is not the critic who counts; nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at best knows in the end, the triumph of high achievement; and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
President Roosevelt was right. The greatest human achievements are made by those who endeavor in the face of enormous risks, who have the curiosity to explore the unknown, and who are unafraid to challenge the status quo.
The Ashesi education has provided you an experience, in and out of the classroom, that has nurtured many of these qualities. The intensity of the academic program here has pushed you to keep striving even in the face of difficulty. The selection of courses and our teaching approach have helped sharpen your sense of curiosity, your ability to synthesize complex information, and your ability to craft novel solutions to new problems. By doing community service, you discovered first hand, some of the most pressing problems confronting your society, as well as your ability to make a meaningful contribution in addressing those problems. You learned the privilege of service.
There is also a lot that you learned through public debates surrounding issues from campus life to world affairs. I would like to spend some time this morning, discussing one particular debate that embodies great learning for all us: the debate about the honour code.
Over the past two and a half years, we participated in an intense discussion that resulted in the rolling adoption of an honour code starting about a year and a half ago, and a decision by the faculty, administration and the board to stop proctoring exams. I found this event incredibly inspiring, but I was also struck by a particular question that kept surfacing, and that went to the heart of what the honour code represents for current and future members of the Ashesi Community. “Why are we taking such a big risk?” Why are we risking the possibility that students may dishonor their word, and in so doing, damage the reputation of their alma mater?
There are many good reasons for adopting an honour code and making students responsible for enforcing a no-cheating environment. By participating in the honour system, students practice resisting temptation; they take ownership for Ashesi’s unique mission; they refuse to give friends permission to be mediocre; and they protect the value of the Ashesi education.
But there is another very important reason why I find the implementation of an honour code so inspiring. It is an excellent example of the sort of great daring and that offers the promise of great achievement. In the words of Robert Kennedy, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
No doubt, there is risk involved with our current path, but there is far greater potential to create an institution whose very fabric nurtures the sort of enlightened leaders that Africa needs. I am convinced that the audacity we practice here will result in a great African university.
In this year that you graduate, Ghana experienced the peaceful election of a new president, and for the second time, a president of this country had the courage to honour the constitution and to step aside after his second term in office. By daring greatly and acting honourably, Presidents Jerry John Rawlings and John Agyekum Kufuor have helped Ghana take another step towards greatness. They have left a legacy of peace, freedom and justice for generations to come.
Consider how much their actions stand in contrast to other African presidents such as Niger’s President Mamadou Tandja, who recently dissolved his country’s parliament in a bid to overturn Niger’s constitution and extend his stay in office. Consider how much more dignity and respect Presidents Kufuor and Rawlings have in the eyes of their fellow citizens. See how much taller they stand in the world. Because of their honour.
Also in this year that you graduate, the world observed a phenomenal event: the inauguration of Barack Obama as America’s first black president, a man who has come to symbolize the ideal of courage for an entire generation; a man whose election reminds us of the nobility of the human spirit; and whose success demonstrates to us of the power of saying, “Yes we can.”
“It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation.
Yes we can.
It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail towards freedom through the darkest of nights.
Yes we can.
It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness.
Yes we can.
It was the call of workers who organized; women who reached for the ballot; a President who chose the moon as our new frontier; and a King who took us to the mountaintop and pointed the way to the Promised Land.
Yes we can.”
Class of 2009, in the coming years, I encourage you to rise up and be counted among those who dared to say, “Yes we can.” There is a vision that Ghana represents – the vision of an African star. Achieving this dream will require sacrifice and great daring, and honour. I believe that you are prepared to face the challenges of our time. I look forward to your great daring, and your great achievements in the years to come.
Thank you and God bless.