Guest Speaker Samuel Attah-Mensah encourages Class to rewrite the African story

June 1, 2019


I wish to thank the President, the Board of Trustees, the students, the parents, and the entire leadership of Ashesi University, for inviting me to speak at this important occasion. I do not take this opportunity for granted. My initial thoughts when I received this invitation felt like a contradiction with the theme, having gone through my education in Ghana cultured with what we used to call “our day”; which signified the end of all our struggles, our tribulations, and challenges that we had endured during the school term.

But this occasion, although it marks the successful completion of our university life, is also the beginning of a new journey. Let me also be quick to disappoint you. The completion here only refers to the completion of your days spent on the campus of Ashesi and not the end of being a student. Life is going to throw a lot of complex lessons at you as you progress and it is only those who carry on with the “student learning attitude,” who will locate their opportunities. At this point, I wish to congratulate the Ashesi University class of 2019, for going through your various programs successfully. I also wish to commend the faculty, who have instructed you throughout your years at Ashesi University.

And just maybe, it is a good time to congratulate our parents and guardians who made it possible for you even to gain entry into this university in the first place. These parents indeed deserve our commendation; from the very first day they dropped your wards off in this otherwise unknown location called Berekusu- (a name which I believe some of you parents may have Googled a number of times before convincing yourselves it existed.)

You dropped off your wards amidst uncertainties, anxieties, only believing in the promise of Ashesi University, driving back to your empty homes, surviving the lonely moments that the departure of your children had created. What an extraordinary sacrifice on the part of our parents! My main mission here is to give you a charge that will help you navigate the course of your next journey, which you commence today. Even with physical journeys, one must necessarily have an idea of their destination in order to chart their path effectively. I am here to encourage you and also to give you an idea of the realities that lie ahead of you.

There are some really complex situations ahead of you as real life would have it. Convenience and comfort may be common to you, but you better make peace with inconvenience and discomfort now! Therefore, I see it as my duty to help you create a vision of your desired future. The reality is that we have made acquaintances while on campus, we have made new friends, we have established new relationships that have now become almost family, we should not forget the fact that we walked into this campus as individuals. And today even though we graduate as a class, we walk away from here as individuals.

In your reflective moments, some questions will keep coming to you. Like “where do I go from here?’ “What does the future hold for me?” How am I going to survive this unfriendly, unemployment dominated the labor market? If you find yourself asking some of these questions, just know that you’re not alone. Because many years ago, when I walked out of the KNUST campus, I asked myself all these questions and more. We left school with the feeling that the future was light years away. But we soon realized that our tomorrow was only 24 hours away- the future had already started. (And if you’re a Ghanaian, this is a good time to say “happy commencement,” as we do on all our occasions.)

We looked into the future with a high degree of uncertainty and we lived one day at a time, being victims of what the day had to offer.

But I believed God.

It soon became obvious to me that the new journey had started. We were expected to do our one-year national service, which I was fortunate enough to do at the CSIR. But at this point, having graduated in Computer Science with all the theory and no practice, I did not have enough to give me the required experience in my industry. So while I was doing my national service, I managed to get into an IT company, combining the two tasks until I was done with my National Service, giving me a smooth entry into my first job; ICL computers. With all my experiences that I garnered in the first part of my career journey, one lesson that stood out for me is one’s ability to know who you are and what comes naturally to you. Knowing who you are gives you a wholesome sense of identity.

What makes you uncomfortable? What do you find funny? Too many people find things funny because others find them funny. But NO! You have to know who you are. And when you know who you are, you will learn to love yourself; I am talking about loving your good self, your not so good self and your ugly self. If you get this right, nobody will succeed at throwing empty love proposals at you. Learn to do the things that give you fulfillment, the things that make you love yourself more; the things that help you know yourself more. These things and more will help you walk into your purpose. And speaking of purpose, it sounds so much like a cliché which you hear in most commencement speeches. In my world, I don’t believe that purpose is something that has to be manufactured, knowing that we are created by God for a purpose. Our duty is therefore to find that purpose.

But it is also not enough just to find your purpose because after finding your purpose, you would need people around you and purpose achieves more if you are able to create a “sense of higher purpose” within your immediate community. That is how you can get the necessary support to make an impact. You will need other people to understand where you are heading and remember …“ No matter how talented and gifted you are, you alone cannot change the world” (Death note Film Series, Tsugumi Ohba). I happened to be very active in extracurricular activities while on campus, which exposed me to other capabilities, and talents that I had, which were not manifested in my academic journey. I spent a lot of time working with the Queen’s Hall leadership and Faculty Association. I also spent a whole lot of time with the student association called AIESEC, a part of my life that I speak about with great nostalgia.

So it is the sum total of all my encounters in my school life and Faculty Association, my community of friends in my hall, and in AIESEC, that gave me an idea of who I really was. And this idea of my identity came in handy in my early days after university. I was a computer science student but very bad at programming (I just could not sit at one place). But although my first job required knowledge of programming, it offered opportunities that went beyond the knowledge of mere programming, which I quickly grasped, like marketing, customer service and sales (although it wasn’t such a well paying job, I was determined to solidify my standing, in the small foothold I was given).

My dear graduands, one thing I learned early is that we all have different timelines in life and various opportunities come to us at different times. I also believe that everyone here has a unique story and therefore, a unique future. But in this journey, you’re going to have some smooth runs, some real successes, some tough moments, some really difficult times and some failures. You had your own expectations, different experiences, different turns, and fears, which you mostly have had to overcome.

Indeed, there is now a part of your life that is behind you. And for the rest of your life, you’re going to talk about some of the experiences you had at Ashesi. Some with excitement, some with trepidation and some with nostalgia. It’s important for me to mention to you that this stage of your life is indeed the easiest of your encounters yet. Some of you have excelled in courses that have been at the center of your heart. You really wanted to do those courses! There are also some of you who chose your courses because you were good at them. And others had no choice but to do what the school offered and others still who had to do courses that their parents had instructed.

Guess what? The real world requires more than all these categories that I have mentioned. And to those parents who forced their children into courses which they ordinarily wouldn’t have done, I want to suggest to you that its time to come and collect the certificates on their behalf. For this is what you have done. Ayeeko! Don’t get me wrong; you will need all the knowledge that you have acquired from Ashesi University. But for you to be outstanding in your career, you would need to combine your knowledge with all the skills that you acquired here, the values that have been passed on to you, the positive attributes that are associated with Ashesi, and the leadership lessons that you have learned.

There is one other thing I do not want you to take for granted, and that is the friends that you have made. You will realize very quickly that the world is about networking and therefore building value-laden relationships in an environment like Ashesi, gives you a head start in the world of networks. Standing before you, I will be first to say that I have been a 200% beneficiary of networking and relationships building. It is through my commitment to relationships building that gave me my entry into the Media.

Guess what? I was only recommended by my late friend and Queen’s Hall mate, Daniel Twum Jr.( founder of Advertising Agency Origin8) (May his soul rest in peace) to be a part of a start-up radio station in 1995 where I ended up working for five (5) years. Through the power of relationships building, my friend, Dr. Seth Asamoah Mensah, offered to pay my admissions fees free of charge to help me enter the University of Leicester where I had my Masters.

Again through the power of relationship building, my brother and friend Mr. Steve Mawunyegah created an opportunity for me to be employed by Coca- Cola West Africa in the year 2002. Is that All? No! Now hear this; through the power of relationship building my friend by name, Paul Adom-Otchere invited me to be part of another start-up radio station, Citi FM in 2004, and the rest they say is history! Ashesi University, you have just produced another set of game changers. A new generation of thinkers and ladies and gentlemen we are happy to have done the job of rebuilding our country Ghana, and rebuilding our continent, Africa. Your future begins now!

But don’t be entrapped in the failures of the generations that have gone ahead of you. It’s time for you to rewrite the Ghana story, regardless of the challenges. It is time for you to rewrite the African story despite the daunting challenges. Ashesi University has given you what it takes because we all know where this university stands in the league of the world’s universities. I had all my relevant education in Ghana, yes, all in Ghana. For the first six years of my basic education, I changed school six times. “Making it one year one school.” And as you heard, I ended up at KNUST, which was relevant for my time, but I believe Ashesi provides solutions to a lot of the problems that have plagued us over the years.

I pray you don’t come out of this Bastion of Excellence only to join the polarized, binary thinking African societies. We have created thinking and opinion camps that are literally opposed to each other in the name of political parties, which have not focused on the real agenda of developing our nations but preserving our forms and the status quo. Development has become a zero-sum game for these actors who believe that party A’s success will result in party B’s failures. I say a big NO!. We should not become our own enemies. And in this context development should not be a zero-sum game.

Why should we be more concerned about losing our elections than losing our communities? Why should we lose sleep over losing the elections than losing the very elements that put our countries together? What we see around us today in our communities, in our societies, in our countries and our continent are what they are as a result of the actions, the decisions and the choices that were made by those ahead of us.

But its time for us to write our own stories, to create our own pathways and to devise our own legacies. Your families are looking up to you, your community is looking up to you, and your country is looking up to you. The world awaits you, my dear Ashesi graduates.

Go forth and shine! I thank you once again, and congratulations!

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