21st June, 2014.
Nananom, Members of the Board, Pro Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Coast, distinguished guest speaker, parents, family and friends, and dear Class of 2014, welcome to the tenth commencement ceremony of Ashesi University College.
While I have your attention, may I ask that we all give a strong round of applause for the incredible students sitting before us today!
Class of 2014, we applaud your accomplishments, and celebrate with you on this important day in your life’s journey. This is the first time we are having graduation in a place we call home; our own university campus.
With the support of the Class of 2014, we finally decided to brave the unpredictable weather on campus and host our commencement ceremony here, come rain or shine. That was a brave decision.
Class of 2014, as you commence the next chapter of your lives, I would like to start a conversation with you about acting boldly, learning broadly and giving back to your society.
Boldness is in the DNA of our institution. We continue our work to stay true to our name, inspired by Goethe’s call to act on our dreams. To begin what we imagine. That is the spirit of Ashesi.
We took a risk, and started a new university.
We dreamed of a beautiful, green African campus, and then acted to build it.
We imagined a campus grounded in ethics and trust, and made it real through a student-affirmed and student-run honour code.
And you, Class of 2014, have done some remarkably bold things. Members of your class designed an adult literacy program for Berekuso. You designed and built the first prototype of a robot that can give campus tours. You created a mobile application that can analyse the quality of a road and share that information with others. You built a mobile phone game that teaches the basics of computer programming to children.
You have dared to do a lot of interesting things, and in so doing, are making the world a better place. As you prepare to become Ashesi alumni, do not forget the satisfaction of daring to act and making your dreams real.
Just a few weeks ago, I received an email message from an Ashesi alum describing life after graduation. He told me about the gratitude he felt towards Ashesi after his graduation day. When he found a job, he thought it was just because of Ashesi’s reputation. He was wrong. He quickly learned that he was more capable than he gave himself credit for. His managers have noticed too, and have put him on a management fast track.
Here’s the interesting thing about that alum: as a student at Ashesi, he had failed a course for violating the Examination Honour Code. The remorse he felt for that failure was so important that he felt compelled to mention that incident to me.
I share this story with you as a reminder that mistakes need not be fatal, if we commit to learn from them. Failure is sometimes a better teacher than success. Second, the story of that alum demonstrates the power of the Ashesi experience (as opposed to mere reputation). The liberal arts education you have experienced here – an education that compelled you to explore different disciplines, to integrate fields of knowledge, and to ask the right questions – has uniquely prepared you to excel wherever you may find yourself.
By learning to see from different perspectives, you have developed an important framework for adapting to change and uncertainty. You have learned to think through solutions for complex problems. You are not restricted by any one discipline.
In explaining the reasons why a Samurai trains broadly, Miyamato Musashi said, “We maintain a broad enough base of training to be able to do just about anything that needs to be done... We want to be ready for whatever happens. One will not always get to choose the circumstances of battle, or the opponents one will face.”
As you begin the next stage of your life, you will not always get to choose which problems you face. Believe me. You will have to solve problems because your boss said so; because your family needs you to do so; because your conscience and the circumstances of your society require you to do so.
That is why we believe in the liberal arts education. We want you to always prepare broadly, so that you can handle different situations. I graduated from college anticipating a lifetime career as an Engineer; today I am helping to manage a university.
Thank God my liberal arts education taught me to confront new problems and to question my conscience deeply about dedicating my work to Ghana.
As you embark on your careers, maintain a sense of empathy, listen to your conscience and always reach out to help others. Whatever you do, always think of giving back to society.
I know we ask you to always consider giving back to Ashesi. But this is not about that. This is a call to remain aware of the needs around you, and to act when you can.
Your success as a class, and as individuals, has depended on your own hard work. However, it has been supported by the contributions of the people you see gathered here and countless others: people who have cheered with you, cried with you, and fought by you.
Your parents and guardians; your brothers and sisters; your teachers; your friends and your classmates; the invisible hand of individuals and organizations who funded your scholarships and helped build Ashesi; the alumni who blazed a trail before you; the citizens of Ghana who work every day to make this a peaceful and stable environment for your growth and learning. You have a lot to be grateful for, Class of 2014. We all do. The gratitude that I feel for the kindness I have experienced in my life has been a great source of strength and encouragement. It has been a motivator to pass forward the goodwill that I received from others.
As Ashesi’s 10th Graduating Class, I feel the same energy and hope for you, that I felt for our first graduating class. 10 years from now, I will be learning about all the amazing things you are doing for Ghana and Africa; they will be as unique and remarkable as the stories I hear about Ashesi’s pioneer class of 2005.
I wish you lots of gratitude in your lives: that the world sees many things to thank you for; that you continue to encounter amazing people and experience remarkable successes; that you always remember to be grateful.
Enjoy this new and exciting phase of your lives, Class of 2014.