I am grateful to Dr Patrick Awuah, founding President of Ashesi and his university council, faculty and staff for the privilege of being the guest speaker for this year’s graduation ceremony. I am also honored to be here this morning and to share in the joy of the graduating class. We are all very proud of you. I am sure each of you, here, has a story to tell about how difficult the last four years in Ashesi have been – the sleepless nights, the pressure of meeting deadlines for submitting assignments and coping with seemingly difficult lecturers. If I were to ask you which of your lecturers was very inconsiderate, who will it be?
Believe me, in my days I also had a lecturer who I tagged “inconsiderate” and even “hardhearted” because he always insisted on the right thing – he always demanded that we (students) be seated in the lecture hall before he arrived, that we submitted our assignment neatly written and on time, and that we participated in class discussions. He knew us by name and could call on anyone to answer a question in class. We ensured that we were always abreast with issues and were prepared, but we thought he was doing us a great disservice.
However, on entering the world of work, I realized he was one of the best teachers I ever had.
My dear graduates, in my line of profession as a Communicator, and generally in life, it pays to be on top, to be prepared, to be impactful, to be on time and also to work with a passion for excellence. These are some of the traits I developed in my days at the university. You will soon find out that the experiences you had in school and the lessons you have learned from your seemingly hardhearted lecturers will come in handy as you enter the corporate world.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I have been privileged to have participated in a number of graduations ceremonies over the years. Each time the thought of the potentially great people our graduates could become and the great service they could render to Ghana with the education and training they have acquired always gets me excited. I usually go home satisfied that, as a nation, we have earned another stride in our human resource development efforts and perhaps more essentially that we have completed a phase in the learning process. Oh yes, just a phase.
As it is often said, learning is life long activity. There are more lessons to be learned – from our environment, the people around us, from the wildest creatures and even from the tiny creature called the ant.
Ladies and Gentlemen, let me break away from the usual speeches we hear at graduation ceremonies and simply reflect on these tinny creature called ants. Ants are everywhere, but only occasionally noticed. It is estimated that about 11,000 different species of ants live in highly organized societies. In Ghana, for instance, we have every imaginable kind of ant - from the harmless sugar eating ants that invade our homes to the ferocious “kakap” or red ants.
Ants hold a great fascination. If you watch these tiny creatures for any length of time you will be amazed at their organization, level of intelligence and sheer resilience. No wonder God entreats us to consider the ways of ants and be wise. Ants would pass as symbols of wisdom, hard work, unity, and power. Their unique characteristics include strength, speed, cooperation, ferocity, dependability, courage, tenderness, faithfulness, persistence and pride. These are traits that are also attributed to the king of birds - eagle.
Now, let’s go to the ant, as God entreats us in Proverbs 6:6, not because we are sluggard, but because they teach us how our lives can count. The life of ants presents great lessons. Generally ants go through four stages as they develop: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Each stage of an ant’s life is a struggle – the larva has to force its way through the egg shell, shed it skin (molt) many times as it increases in size from the pupa through to the adult stage.
The Struggle from the Nest to Maturity
My dear graduates, life is a struggle (obra ye oko) and it is only with courage and a “can do spirit” that we would ever reach our goal (s).
I have described the life cycle of ants in words that makes the process seemingly simple. But believe you me, we have no idea what goes into the struggle to break from the egg and adapt to the harsh conditions of a new environment (especially during the molting periods).
We all leave school with great expectations, but some of us get so frustrated and give up on our dreams. Well, it is worth noting that the challenges that life presents us are necessary to prepare us for greater responsibilities – and even ants know this.
My dear graduates, the greatest failure in life is to stop trying. Children struggle to craw and learn how to walk. They drag their knees on the floor, fall and sometimes get injured in the process, but they do not give up – they persist.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we all went through this stage and similarly fought our way through. However, it is tragic to see us loose the spirit with which to learned to craw and walk as we grow older. As human beings, we do not fail. We simply give up. No one can rob us of ultimate success but ourselves.
Learning to Live
First offspring by female ants are usually the smallest in the life cycle of the colony, but they know a lot is expected of them. They do not only learn to live (provide their own food), but assume the responsibility of taking care of their mother and siblings yet to be born.
However, the children of men depend on their parents for a very long time. I usually do not blame adults who never wean from their “mothers breast”. Most parents make things too comfortable for their grown up babies. But this is not so among other living things.
As parents, our responsibility is to equip our children with all the essential things (skills and education) needed for survival in life and let them go out like the eaglet in search of food. Our children are suppose to take care of us in our old age rather than taking care of them in their adult age. All of us, at a stage in life, have to break out from the shell and leave the comfort zones of our parents. I bet there are some of you who never experienced the word “comfort” during childhood. It always has been a struggle for survival. Life is a struggle, so fight it!
The Struggle For Survival
Some kinds of ants are quite aggressive. The red ant, for instance, is recognized for its painful, burning sting. It uses its venom for defense, to kill prey, and as a disinfectant against bacteria and fungi in the nest.
It always beats my mind whenever I consider the number of defenses we have to confront challenges. I don’t know about you, but I am clothed in the breast plate of God and armed with His word. I also have my five senses, my hands, legs and other parts of my body to overcome the struggles of this world. There are those who do not have these but are making it in whatever they have set their minds on to do. As long us we have all our senses working we have no reason to complain.
Earlier, I listed some characteristics of ants. Now I would like us go back to them and consider which of the listed traits we have.
Like all insects, ants have six legs. Each leg has three joints. The legs of the ant are very strong so they can run very quickly. We need speed (a sense of urgency) in all that are crucial for achieving our goals in life.
Life can be likened to the second arm of a clock. It keeps ticking whether we are getting somewhere or not. The events of today and even the future will overcome us we can not beat time. To keep up with the pace of time, we need to be focused. If you watch closely, once you miss striking an ant, nothing stops it from running until you strike it dead. It focuses on running towards safety at a greater speed.
We sometimes do not achieve our goal(s) because we lack focus. It is one thing setting our goal(s) and another staying focused to achieve them. Some of us move by every wind and allow distractions to enter your lives not so the ant. Here are examples of distractions that get us off the path to fulfilling our goals: obstacles, criticisms and circumstances.
Obstacles are the things we see when we take our eyes off the goals.
If we want to remain in the front line, we should note that we will be the first to get shot at. We will also meet people who will criticize us and tell us how bad we are doing. But we should not let such people get to us.
Remember, turkeys gobble, gobble and gobble all day than fly, but they don’t know what they are missing. The higher we soar, the more we can observe and be observed. In other words, the more focused we become, the greater our chances in achieving our goals.
We are very good at giving excuses for our lack of accomplishment. Perhaps you have used this statement before: “I could not do it due to circumstances beyond my control” or “There was no way I could have done that”.
There are some genuine cases, but I can bet on the fact that most people use such statement for the sake of pinning the blame for their actions or inactions on others or on circumstance.
“Oh, how I wish circumstances would appear one day and tell it to our face that He/She is not to blame for your lack of accomplishment.”
Let us learn from the ant. They do not allow obstacles, criticisms or circumstances top them from scavenging for food to store or build their sky-scrapers which we call ant hills.
Ants are “super weightlifters”. They can lift 20 times their own body weight - Isn’t that amazing! An ant’s strength does not only lie in its “macho”, but also in its intelligence. God confirms in Proverbs 30:24-28 “there are four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise. The first He mentions is the ant.”
I believe ants understand the proverbial saying “Make hay while the sun shines” than any other living creature.
An ant knows perfectly well that it will not survive any exposure to the storms of the rainy season. So what does it do? It gathers lots of food during the dry season and stores them in its nest for rainy season.
It is estimated that the Army Ant of South America, can have as many as 700,000 members in its colony. If all of them have to survive the rainy season, can you imagine the quantity of food that ant workers have store in order to survive the rainy season.
Ants are very cooperative. They understand the value of team work and inter-dependence. A worker ant knows that it cannot gather enough food to feed 700,000 mouths during the rainy season so it works with other workers. A worker ant that chances upon a new food source runs back to the nest, repeatedly touching the ground with the tip of its abdomen. This produces a chemical trail leading from the food to the nest and within. As it meets up with nest mates, it will harass them by knocking against them and touching their antennae, which causes other ants to follow the trail back to the food source. After a while a line of ants can be observed making their way between the nest and food.
Like ants, should prepare for the inevitable rainy day. We can equip ourselves with all the education and training, experience and any other thing that will help us succeed in the future. If you have already done this, it is important to help others to do same. For none of us is an Island. Our services depend on the success of others and so wee need to pull-together.
Ladies and gentlemen, ants are not selfish creatures. They share and cooperate with each other and work for the benefit of the colony. The abdomen of the ant contains two stomachs. One stomach holds the food for itself and second stomach is for food to be shared with other ants. Do you only think about yourself? If so let wisdom teach you that selfishness always backfires.
Ants work in orderly forms like soldiers. The driver ants of Africa and the army ants from South America cling tightly to one another as they travel across the land looking for food and attacking any animals who get in their path. These vicious creatures have been known to kill tarantulas, lizards, birds, snakes, pigs and sometimes animals as large as horses.
Sometimes it’s good to be fearless and bold, especially if you are a woman. Men often think they can do bad things and get away under the supervision of their female bosses. “Ladies, we need to be bold and resolute, don’t you think so?
4. Courage, daring and persistent
Nothing good can be achieved without courage. Ants know this and so should we. They are very courageous. When they spot a food source they go for it, notwithstanding the dangers that lie ahead.
When I was preparing this speech, I intentionally left some grain of sugar on my dinner table. The black sugar eating ants invaded the table and practically carried my house away.
Ants are courageous, daring and persistent in the execution of their duties. They know they are easy pray to humans and other insects but they still dare where angels fear to tread because of the goal they have set before them. Perhaps you would call it fool hardiness, but I call it persistent and perseverance. It would be very good if we can behave like these tiny creatures in executing our duties.
So my dear graduating class as you venture out into life remember that you were made to succeed and with excellence too. But it comes at a price to pay the price of success. The price entails hard work, unity, power, strength, speed, cooperation, courage, persistence and pride.
I have been speaking for quite a long time and I think its high time I sat down for somebody else to take the podium. I thank you very much for listening to my long speech.
God Bless us all.