Mr. Executive Secretary, Members of the Board, My Fellow Faculty and Staff, Distinguished Guests, Students and Parents.
Akwaaba. Welcome to Ashesi University. As some of you already know, Ashesi began instruction earlier this year, on March 4th. We believe that over the past eight months, Ashesi University has made a significant contribution to higher education in Ghana, and today, I am pleased to formally announce our institution to the Ghanaian public. Perhaps, we could call this an outdooring ceremony for Ashesi University. Now, I know many of you are asking yourselves, "Don't these Ashesi people know that according to tradition, the outdooring ceremony must be done on the eighth day? Has education caused them to forget how to count in days? Why are they counting in months?"
To these questions, I can only say that setting up this institution has been a challenging exercise. We have been forced to count in months, instead of days, because of the sheer enormity of the task at hand. Parents, rest assured, your children will still know how to count in days by the time they graduate in the year 2005.
Outdooring ceremonies are an occasion to introduce a new child to the community, and also to name that child. So I will take this opportunity to introduce Ashesi to you, to share our vision and motivation, and to give you a sense of how we're doing. On the business of choosing a name, I must again disappoint you; we already have a name. I will explain later why we chose the name Ashesi. But first, let me introduce this new institution to you.
Our mission at Ashesi is to train a new generation of ethical, entrepreneurial business leaders in Ghana and Africa. We seek to build a great African university engaged in a relentless pursuit of excellence - excellence in scholarship, leadership and citizenship. We seek to create a community where people discover their similarities and learn to value their differences. We seek to create a community of learning, where teamwork is a way of life, and where original thinking is celebrated.
The Dream and Inspiration
Ashesi University started as a dream, when my son was born in 1995. As the parent of an African child, I realized that the best way to leave this planet a better place for my children is to do all that I can to help change the African condition. I am a Ghanaian. I grew up in Ghana, and completed secondary school here at Achimota School. I care a great deal about what happens here. I believe that Africa can change its economic fortunes, just as South-East Asia did at the end of the 20th century. But this goal cannot be achieved without a highly trained workforce, and ethical, entrepreneurial leadership that will drive the economic engine of Africa. And so with this conviction, and the strong support of my wife, Rebecca, I cut short my career at Microsoft Corporation to embark on this project.
At Microsoft Corporation, I saw first hand, the power of highly educated people working together to achieve a common vision. At this company, one thing was constant: creative thought. I saw a diverse group of individuals, from different national, religious and political persuasions, working together to solve problems, to generate new ideas and create innovative products.
Within the eight years that I worked at Microsoft, this thinking, learning company grew bigger than the entire economy of Ghana. A lot bigger. And the basis of this amazing economic phenomenon was creative and analytical thinking. Not rote memorization (or chew, pour, pass and forget as we so affectionately call it in Ghana), but rather, original thinking.
The Microsoft phenomenon is not an accident. It is occurring in many industries and businesses in the United States, and it is aided by the teaching and learning methods employed at top US universities and colleges. I was privileged to experience a new way of learning at Swarthmore College, and it occurred to me in 1995 that I should help provide the same opportunity to other Ghanaians and Africans. This method of instruction -- the Liberal Arts -- is what we seek to replicate at Ashesi University.
The Core of Ashesi's Academic Program
A liberal arts education develops students' critical thinking skills by teaching them to see the world through different lenses, to ask the right questions, to separate relevant information from the irrelevant, and to explore alternative explanations to our universe and the human condition. Instead of engaging in a learning paradigm that only rewards memorization of other peoples' ideas, at Ashesi we seek to emphasize a life of the mind where creativity and problem solving reign.
Some of you may be asking yourself, "Why is this guy talking so much about the liberal arts? Isn't Ashesi offering degree programs in Computer Science and Business Administration?"
The answer is simply this: Ashesi's educational programme is designed to expand opportunities for our students, not limit them.
Yes, our students are getting a great education in Computer Science and Business Administration. Yes, they have access to technology, at a level unmatched in Ghanaian higher education today. But the core of our mission is to train people who can become leaders: true leaders who can perceive the opportunities that come from solving problems in society; leaders who can think outside the box and navigate in a rapidly changing world; leaders who can compete effectively in the global marketplace. With its grounding in the liberal arts, Ashesi's academic programme will make our students better software developers, investment analysts, professors, or whatever profession they choose.
These are the reasons why we talk so much about the liberal arts.
Persistence and the Steady Accumulation of Success
Ashesi was once just a dream, but today, it is an institution that is achieving success one step at a time, one day at a time. Sometimes we count in days. Ashesi is being built by a community of people that spans five continents: Africa, The Americas, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Our team includes donors, business managers, professors, parents, and students from all over the world.
We have begun small, but we have a big vision. We have begun small, but we have made a great start. So far, external examiners from top ranked US institutions of higher learning have given our students high marks. Our pioneering students, Ashesi Class of 2005, are performing at the same level as their colleagues from some of the most selective US universities and colleges. Ashesi Class of 2005 is already actively engaged in community service here in Accra. The students of Ashesi Class of 2005 are making big strides in their critical thinking and communication skills. We see this steady improvement every day.
When we opened our doors in March, I warned everyone here - faculty, staff and students - that we would face daunting challenges as we build this institution. I urged us all to confront these tests with passion, humility, and determination. I would like to thank all members of the Ashesi community for taking these words to heart and for working so hard over the past eight months to give this institution the great start that it has had.
What's in a Name?
Our name Ashesi, which means "Beginning" in Akan, was inspired by the words of Goethe, a German playwright whose words helped me overcome my hesitation about undertaking such an ambitious project.
If there is anything you can do or dream you can,
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
Begin it now.
The name Ashesi is about gathering the courage to think differently and to take risks. But we also chose this name to remind us, and those who come after us, to constantly renew our institution and ourselves. We must never rest on our oars. We must continue to create new beginnings and new knowledge, for Ashesi, for our students, and for our nation.
Looking to the Future
Looking to the future, I would like to say a few words to the Ghanaian public, and to our students. To Ghanaians everywhere - at home and abroad - we invite you to come stand with us, to lock arms with us, to join us on this mission. We ask for your understanding and your support. There is a vision that Ashesi represents, and together, we can make it a reality. For my final words to Ashesi's pioneering class, I would like to borrow from the lyrics of Coldplay (the British rock band):
Look at the stars,
Look how they shine for you, and everything you do.
Yeah, they're all yellow.
Look how they shine for you...look how they shine.
Ashesi Class of 2005, I sincerely believe that you have a bright future ahead of you. Look around you. The people you see here today are all your friends. We will stand fast with you and guide you, so that one day you can do the same for us, and for the generations that follow after you. Dare to imagine the possibilities, and discover what a difference you can make in the world. Look at the stars. Look how they shine. For you, and all the things that you'll do.