Patrick Awuah tells Class of 2019 to remain steadfast to their values

June 1, 2019


Your Excellencies, members of the diplomatic corps; Honorable Ministers and Members of Parliament; Odeefuo Oteng-Korankye II; Nananom; Members of the Board; Distinguished Guests; Parents, family and friends; and dear Class of 2019; Welcome to the 15th commencement ceremony of Ashesi University.

Dear members of Class of 2009 present, we are thrilled to have you return to campus today as you celebrate 10 years since your own graduation ceremony. Sitting here today, I am sure you share in the pride of how far your alma mater has come. I am excited to see that you continue to remain engaged and committed to Ashesi’s vision and growth.

Class of 2019, when you first joined this community, we had just celebrated 13 years of Ashesi. But in so many ways, your arrival heralded a lot of new beginnings here.

During your time here, we successfully completed fifteen new campus construction projects spanning classrooms, labs and workshops; recreation spaces; faculty research spaces, faculty and administrative offices, and on-campus student housing. During your time here, we received our Presidential Charter, granting us full rights to award our own degrees. Ashesi University’s recognition has continued to grow around the world; and this year, for the first time, Ashesi made it into a global Times Higher Education ranking of universities that are making an impact in the world.

With your class, Ashesi implemented a major curriculum redesign – a restructuring that deepened our efforts to teach critical thinking, design thinking, problem-solving, and entrepreneurship. Your incredible student government executives, led by Edwin and Benjamin, will go down in our history as having set a new bar for how the Ashesi Student Council should operate. I’m not just saying this because they majored in engineering like I did when I as in college. Under their leadership, we experienced a lot of positivity and joy on our campus; and I want to thank them for that.

And of course, your class has the honor of hosting Ashesi’s very first Engineering students who brought a lot of new intellectual energy and excitement to campus. For what you have contributed towards making Ashesi a more excellent institution for future generations of students, I think you deserve an “A+”.

As you graduate today, I wish you courage, Class of 2019. The challenges and responsibilities that you will likely face, will test you and require even more of you than your time here has done.

Three days ago, I had a conversation with the founder of an NGO, who asked me a very pointed question, “Patrick, do you think Ghana is worth dying for?” When I asked him why he was talking about dying for Ghana, he stated simply that sometimes he wasn’t so sure that Ghana would advance, despite all the work he was doing. He wondered if he should persist.

My response? We need people amongst us, who despite all the challenges and obstacles that confront us, maintain their courage and optimism that things will get better, and who will work hard to make it so. All across this continent, we need courageous citizens and leaders, who see opportunities within our adversity.

Instead of asking, “Is Ghana [or Kenya, or Uganda, or Nigeria] worth dying for?” I encourage you to ask, “Am I living a worthy life that will make things better for future generations of my country and humanity?” I also confessed to him that through the years, I have come to see that there are two significant attitudes in Ghana that seem to work against each other in our drive for prosperity.

On the one hand most Ghanaians value and understand that peace, unity, and neighborliness are essential for growth and prosperity.

Across this society, we hear consistent reminders about the importance of working together to change Ghana for the better. We see broad condemnations of violence, especially when it occurs around our politics. We hear it when we turn on the radio and listen to Bernard Avle and Daniel Dadzie and others discuss issues confronting Ghana. We hear it from our religious leaders, from our chiefs, and the elders. This overwhelming desire of Ghanaian citizens for peace in our country, speaks of profound, collective wisdom that gives me hope for this country.

On the other hand, however, there doesn’t appear to be the same strength of conviction when it comes to the issue of corruption. There doesn’t seem to be the same visceral collective antipathy towards corruption as there is to violence. There does not seem to be a collective understanding that corruption, especially the looting of public money, is fundamentally a violent act against citizens, and especially against the most vulnerable.

Think about all the roads that could have been built, the hospitals, the schools, the water and sanitation systems, and the security systems that could have been developed if more of the public’s money were used for the public good, instead of being squirreled into the personal accounts of corrupt officials. Corruption seems to have become such an acceptable way of life in Ghana, that there are now many who believe it cannot be addressed, who have lost hope, and who themselves, feel justified going along with it. This is profoundly unwise.

This is why despite 11 years of having run an Examination Honor Code system here at Ashesi, the idea of it is still often met with disbelief. In reaction to a post on Ashesi’s social media about the Honor Code, for example, there were many who insisted that it was ridiculous to trust students to take exams without invigilators. “This will never be possible; Ashesi must have cameras in their classrooms.” “I like Ashesi, but I think this Honor Code system is a bad idea.”

Think about that for a second. That in Ghana today, there are so many people who do not believe that students at the highest levels of our educational system can hold each other to account; that these future leaders of our society, without a supervisor in the room, cannot conduct their exams ethically. Think about that for a minute. That in Ghana, it is widely accepted that students at the oldest and largest institution of “higher learning” will cheat whenever they can, do not have a deep grounding in ethical philosophy, and do not have the courage to hold their peers accountable.

Some people tell me, “Patrick, your students at Ashesi are very smart, creative, and capable; but they are too idealistic. They don’t seem to understand how things are done here.” They are talking about you, Class of 2019, as well as the alumni of this institution who have gone before you.

But perhaps rather than be discouraged by this, we should feel a hope that comes from hearing others tell us that Ashesi students and alumni are in fact behaving ethically and are refusing to go along with “how things are done here.” Isn’t it interesting that Ashesi alumni are so sought after in the world of work – these smart, creative, capable, and yes, idealistic citizens?

Through your time here, Class of 2019, we have asked you to strive to demonstrate the courage that it takes to build a model community of trust. We have asked you to rise up to the occasion many times, and often you have. We, the faculty and staff of this institution, have also strived to be models of accountable leadership. When you or we have failed, we have worked together to learn from the failure and to correct it. Just as we have held you to account, you have also held us to account.

The next stage of your life, however, will test your Ashesi values more severely than we have done in this “bubble” we call Ashesi University. I hope that you will have the fortitude to remain steadfast to your values. Wherever you find yourself –in government, private enterprise, or the social sector– remain true to the words of our national anthem and cherish fearless honesty. All around you today, you are surrounded by fellow Ashesi alumni. Many of them are walking the same path you are now stepping onto. Look to them as allies in the next phase of your lives. Look to them as comrades in the work to continue reshaping the narrative of this continent. They have faced many of the challenges you will be facing. Some may have stumbled at some point, corrected their mistakes, and will have valuable insights to share on what they learned.

To families and friends gathered here today, I encourage you too, to find the courage to be allies to these students as they forge ahead. Don’t call them naïve to believe they can operate in their various communities without paying a bribe or being corrupted. Don’t call them idealistic, for believing that they have the capacity to influence the world and solve problems big and small. Work with them; encourage them; lend them your experiences; share their hope. And sometimes, no matter how tempted we may be to point out to them how unrealistic their plans are, let us share in their naivety.

Because as I told the chief executive who asked me, “is Ghana worth dying for?” If enough of us focus on living worthy lives, then we will change the world. Let us also remember that Ghana is, in fact, making progress. Africa is making progress. Our job is to push this progress along and accelerate it.

Class of 2019, congratulations on signing out of college in grand style. Today, you get to sign-in to the rest of your lives. Carry the spirit of Ashesi with you wherever you go from here. I have absolute confidence that you will make us proud.

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