Hello everyone, thank you all so much for joining us in this celebration of Ashesi University -- of our mission and our accomplishments. Occasions like this hold a particular importance for those us who spend most of our waking hours working at Ashesi University, because it gives us an opportunity take a step back to reflect on what we've accomplished, and to recharge ourselves for the days ahead.
I recently read a book in which the author, Bill Shore, describes the magnificence of the cathedral of Milan. It took more than 500 years to build this cathedral, from 1386 to 1887. Bill shore speculates about the depth and strength of the belief that the builders must have had in order to create such lasting beauty, especially knowing they would not live to see the finished temple themselves. And he described the sheer magnitude of the construction effort, which required the combined effort of people from all over Europe - the stone cutters, sculptors and masons who contributed their craftsmanship; the nobles, who made large financial contributions throughout the years; the bakers and physicians who donated their services without salary; and the young women dressed in white, who traveled through the countryside collecting offerings to support this project. Today, that cathedral stands as an inspiration and a sanctuary for the Milanese people, and for the rest of humanity.
As I read this book, Finding the Cathedral Within, I could not help thinking about the parallels between Bill Shore's description of the Milan cathedral and what we're doing here at Ashesi. As I look through this room, I see a lot of cathedral builders. The cathedral that we are building is the vision of a better and more complete world, with a prosperous Africa. Ashesi University is just a small part of this much larger cathedral –our humanity. Yet, like the builders of the cathedral in Milan, we pay careful attention to detail, and we work with the belief that the work we do today will create a lasting gift to the generations that come after us. Like the team that worked from 1386 to 1887, our team too includes the craftsmen (and women), the nobles, the professionals, and the young women dressed in white (or rather, the men and women dressed in blue jeans and brown khakis).
But the construction of the cathedral in Milan also entailed a lot of backbreaking work, blood and tears. So it is with us. Frankly, there are moments when I think that I would not have embarked on this mission if I had truly understood just how difficult it would be. There are days when I feel completely spent, and when I cannot sleep.
There is a special time, when I'm on the late night flight from Accra heading towards Seattle via Amsterdam; a time when it is dark in the airplane cabin as we fly over the Sahara desert, and everyone is asleep; a time when I am momentarily alone. At that moment, I ask myself if I would do this project again, knowing what I know. And I always answer "no," and then, "yes." And at that moment, sometimes, I let go and I weep from sheer exhaustion, in the dark of the night, listening to the muffled roar of the aircraft's engines.
I did not fully appreciate the full extent of the challenge I was taking on when I quit Microsoft in 1997 to do this. But my initial naiveté was an excellent bit of luck. I call it luck, because I can honestly tell you that most days, I feel that Ashesi is the most rewarding and satisfying endeavor that I have ever undertaken. Outside of parenthood, this is probably the most meaningful thing that I will do in my lifetime. I consider my self extremely fortunate.
Like the cathedral builders in Milan, there are many moments when we step back to see and celebrate the beauty of our achievements. These little celebrations are what remind us of our larger vision and keep us going.
We celebrate mundane events such the automatic switchover to an emergency generator that supports our work through the all-too-frequent power outages in Accra.
We celebrate each affirmation of our commitment to integrity, as we resist demands for bribes by public officials in Ghana. And although this often results in delays, we feel that it is worth staying true to our larger mission.
We celebrate the successes of our students, especially as we see glimpses of the profound impact that Ashesi is having on their lives. I will never forget the day when I received an e-mail message from a student telling me that for the first time, he was thinking, or the many occasions when parents and relatives of students at Ashesi have sought me out to thank me for the transformation that they see in their children.
We celebrate the impact that Ashesi University is having on Ghanaian higher education, as the National Accreditation Board encourages others to follow our example. By demonstrating the power of an education that emphasizes critical analytical thinking (instead of rote learning) and by impacting the broader profession of Ghanaian higher education, Ashesi University is affecting the lives of countless Ghanaian students now and in the future.
We celebrate the faith that many men and women - people like you in this room, many of whom have never even seen Ghana - have shown by making contributions to support our ongoing work. In just three years, Ashesi has raised $2.8 million to establish the University. And, even though I shouldn't be, I am still surprised (pleasantly surprised), each time I meet someone who comes to care so much about Ashesi that he or she helps support our cause in a significant way. Even in this challenging economy, we are carried forward by our donors - our cathedral's "nobles" who believe in Ashesi's mission.
But most of the time, we focus on executing Ashesi's mission. In the end, the best laid plans are only as useful as their implementation. This is the reason why we pay close attention to our hiring and student admissions decisions. It is why we continue to seek ways to collaborate with professors and institutions in the United States and Ghana. And it is the reason that we continue to actively research new ways of strengthening Ashesi's academic program in order to more broadly impact Ghanaian society. We have already made changes to our existing programs in Computer Science and Business Administration, and we are actively planning to add programs in the health sciences, engineering, and journalism - each of which we feel is an important means of buttressing Ghana's economy and democracy.
I feel a great sense of fulfillment as I reflect on our achievements and our plans for the future. Yet, what we see today is only a faint representation of a much larger vision that Ashesi stands for.
We aim to make a significant contribution towards creating a brighter future for the African people. We believe that the experience of all Africans in the world is deeply affected by the state of the African continent. We envision the day when economic progress in Africa will change the world for Africans everywhere, much as the Asian success stories (Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan) have changed the world for Asians. We believe that with inspired and ethical leadership, Africa will have a better tomorrow. And we seek to nurture such leaders through the work we do at Ashesi University.
Many of you in this room share this vision with us and support us. Please know that you are profoundly touching the lives of many people and setting the stage for strengthening Ghana's young democracy and free market economy. I firmly believe that Ashesi University is an important piece of the cathedral that we all strive to build. We are helping to lay the foundation for a better world. We are creating a gift for future civilizations.
On behalf of our students' families and future generations, medaase. Thank you.