2022 Graduation Speeches

“Our mission is more urgent than ever before.” – Address by Ashesi President, Patrick Awuah

Commencement 2022
Ashesi University
Patrick Awuah, Founder & President4th June, 2022

Odeefuo Oteng-Korankye II and Nananom; Members of the Board; long-time Ashesi friend and today’s guest speaker, Sam Jonah; parents, family and friends; my incredible colleagues; and dear Class of 2022; Welcome to the 18th commencement ceremony of Ashesi University!

What a joy it is to join you on this afternoon to celebrate the accomplishments and the promising future of our graduating students. Class of 2022, what a thrill to have spent your final year with you on campus as the world steadily recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic. When you first enrolled at Ashesi four years ago, none of us imagined that our lives would be disrupted by a global pandemic. Your four years at Ashesi –and especially the past two years– have held important lessons for you as you step into the next chapter of your lives.

Let me say a huge THANK YOU for the tremendous work your class did this academic year, restarting campus traditions and helping secure Ashesi’s culture with the classes that enrolled after you, especially those whose introduction to Ashesi University was online. I salute you for your hard work and your perseverance. The Chinese military strategist, Sun Tzu, would call you “heaven-born captains,” because you pursued your purpose like water running over uneven ground. Your alma mater –and you– changed our shape as we moved to online instruction in response to the pandemic. But like water, our nature did not change even as we faced obstacles. Water’s chemical composition remains H2O, even as it flows over and around obstacles.

In the same way, even as we changed our form to online education, we remained true to who we are: committed to the ideal of ethical action, to being student-centered, to caring about everyone in our community, and to holding each other accountable. Above all, like a flowing river, we persisted. Today’s ceremony has been the same. Despite a disruptive thunderstorm that forced us to modify our commencement programme and even switch to a new location on campus within less than 24 hours, we kept flowing and persistent, like water. Remember these lessons as you continue your journey.

In this year of your commencement, we also celebrate the 20th anniversary of Ashesi University. What an incredible journey it has been. This year, you join alumni, including members of our pioneer class, who first stepped into Ashesi classrooms twenty years ago. Alumni council President, Abdul-Latif, who is here on stage with me, was in that class. When he joined Ashesi’s class of 2005, only 5 percent of college-aged individuals in Sub-Saharan Africa had access to higher education. Over the past three decades, more than 1,400 new universities were established across Sub-Saharan Africa, bringing enrolment up to 10 percent. Ashesi was one of them. One with a special mission.

As I reflected on what to share with you today, I decided to revisit all the commencement speeches I have made over the years. It has been a wonderful journey down memory lane for me, but I thought I’d share a few words from just our first five commencement ceremonies with you today. At our very first commencement, I reviewed our mission with the pioneer Class of 2005. Ashesi board member and President of the Alumni Council, who is on stage with me today, was in that class. Here is what I said to them.

“There is a vision that Ashesi represents – a vision of a peaceful and prosperous Africa. A vision of a people imbued with the freedom to seek what is true, and to live more excellent lives. We strive towards an idea of what our world should be, knowing very well that we start from a position of disadvantage. Yet, the very size of the task confronting us is what will make this expedition -our lives- so poignant, and so meaningful.

The Ashesi team is motivated by the vision of an educational system in Africa that requires all future leaders to reflect on the quintessential questions about what a good society is, and how it should be organized. What a difference we will make when other institutions follow our example! We can imagine what would happen if all of Africa’s teachers, doctors, engineers, politicians, police and military officers understood the awesome responsibility that lies on their shoulders as guardians of their society.”

Our second class, the Class of 2006 was extraordinarily ambitious. They called themselves “Ashesi’s Greatest Class” for the entire duration of their time here.

On the commencement day of a class that called itself Ashesi’s greatest class, I expressed confidence in their ability to achieve their ambitions and urged them to be as ambitious about how hard they worked, and the ideals they expressed, as they were about what they would achieve. I told them that greatness in measured by the future –by posterity–, but that the future was determined by their actions in the present.

“The future depends on what we do today. As such, any aspiration for greatness requires deep reflection about the essence of living a meaningful life today, in a manner that builds a lasting legacy for future generations.”

The Class of 2007, which my fellow University Board member Yawa Hansen-Quao was a member of, graduated during the 50th anniversary celebration of Ghana’s Independence. As such my remarks centered on a conversation about the progress that Ghana had made and the magnitude of what remained to be done.

“Listen,” I said to them, “It will take a tremendous amount of courage from each of us to bring true freedom to the people of this continent.” By this, I meant economic freedom.

“We must have the courage to face our reality, to be humble, and to tackle our condition with the urgency it deserves. We will need to see our world with new eyes. We will need a new generation of ethical leaders who possess the gift of empathy and the courage it will take to transform a continent. We will need courage to always take the honorable road, instead of taking short cuts. I feel a great sense of urgency because I believe that this moment is a pivotal one for Africa. First, with the march of democracy and free markets across this continent, we have finally come to a consensus about the right approach for development. This is an unprecedented opportunity in our history. Second, the most economically advanced countries of this world have moved from a posture of exploiting the weakest nations and are now actively interested in the condition of the African continent. This again, is unprecedented in the history of this continent since the collision of our civilization with Europe. But I fear that this window will not remain open for too much longer.”

Our fourth class, the Class of 2008 was remarkable. They recorded no AJC cases during their time here, and they ushered in Ashesi’s honor code in their final year here.

To them, I said, “Just as every organism on earth has a built-in ability to confront its most dire problems, every organization and every society has a native capacity to confront its gravest challenges as well. For organisms, one thinks of genetics and immune systems, instinct, and adaptability. For corporations and societies, our minds are drawn to technology and innovation, character, and intelligence.

For Africa, the intrinsic power to cope with our gravest challenges and to chart a new course, rests in the African people — especially in those people we call our leaders. Our understanding of the power of enlightened leadership is what drives us at Ashesi to strive for excellence, and to infuse into the fabric of this institution a collective commitment to ethical, entrepreneurial and courageous citizenship. Your decision to adopt an exam honour code for all members of your class was unprecedented in the history of this country. It was a singular act of courage for which you should be enormously proud, and for which the Ashesi community will be eternally grateful.

Imagine what a difference you will make to your alma mater when others build on your example. Imagine what a profound change you would have caused in Africa if the students of every institution of higher learning decided to follow your example, to work and live by their honour, and in so doing develop the habits that will unleash a wave of inspired leadership across the African landscape.”

The Class of 2009 graduated in the year that America inaugurated its first President of African descent, Barack Obama.

“The greatest human achievements,” I said to them, “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. There is a vision that Ghana represents – the vision of an African star. Achieving this dream will require sacrifice, and great daring, and honour.” And in an echo of a speech made by Obama, I encouraged the class to rise and be counted among those who dared to say, “Yes we can.“

Class of 2022, I love how you describe yourselves as one of Ashesi’s finest classes. You graduate an eventful time, even as we celebrate our 20th anniversary. The messages I have had for Ashesi’s graduating seniors over the years are as relevant today as they were even in our very first years. As part of only 10 percent of your peers who have received a post-secondary education, you will almost certainly be present in the rooms and at the tables where important decisions are made on our continent. Your thoughts, decisions, and actions will matter a great deal.

Recent events in Africa and around the world remind us how critically important our mission is. Back in 2002 when we open Ashesi’s doors, Africa was in the midst of a steady march towards democratic governance. Today, we have seen three countries in West Africa experience a return to military rule. Across the continent, citizens of African countries complain about corruption in public governance. We also see today, increasing danger of terrorist activity in the Sahel and beyond, following the destabilization of Libya. We see the eruption of war in Europe that appears to be returning our world to the years of cold-war geopolitics that caused great harm to developing economies and is already causing tremors in the global economy. And as I have already mentioned, we have had to contend with a global pandemic over the past two years.

Now, more than ever, we see the importance of strengthening African economies. As vaccines were hoarded in the face of a global medical emergency, as exports of food are restricted by some countries around the world; and as economic embargos are implemented in response to the Ukraine-Russia war, African and other developing economies are exposed to spiraling inflation, shortages of essential commodities, and real risk of social upheaval. Our task is more urgent than ever before.

As I have said to Ashesi graduates over the years, you are ready to confront these challenges, Class of 2022. You have learned to think critically, analytically, and coherently. You have learned to design creative solutions to difficult problems. You have held firmly to the highest standards of personal conduct, and the trust that comes with it. You have learned to be unafraid to ask questions and to deal with ambiguity. Above all, you have learned to be of service to those around you –to do some good in the world. I know this because these skills and attributes are built into the education that you have experienced and been assessed on here. I know this because of the certificate that you have earned today.

Unlike members of the Class of 2005 who stood at the very tip of our drive to realize Ashesi’s mission, you will be joining an alumni body that is 1,800 strong. You are graduating from an institution that is now known and respected in this country and in others across Africa. Build on these advantages, and everywhere you go, gather others to your cause. As I have said in many commencement speeches before, Africa’s transformation cannot be achieved by Ashesi alone. Let us commit ourselves to sharing what we have, our mission with others.

It has been a joy to spend these past months with you, especially after the disruptions of the pandemic. We will miss you. But this is not goodbye. You will always have a home here and will always be welcome here.

I wish you all the best of success, and I look forward to your contributions in the years to come.

Read other speeches: Reading by Provost   Class Speaker’s Address   Guest Speaker’s Address

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