“Wait and see what we do,” says Class Speaker Omar Khadi ’15

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Class Speaker Omar Khadi ’15: Nananom, Mr President, Honourable Guest Speaker, the Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, family, friends and fellow students – pardon me if I am a little emotional this morning: today is very surreal. Yet, it is also a great day to be out (and I am not only talking about the weather). It is great, because – starting from today – we live in a world about to be forever changed by the powerhouse of potential, innovation and creativity that is my class; the class of 2015. What has begun cannot be undone. You can thank us later.

This world into which we are graduating is more troubled and complex than any of us could have started to imagine when we first walked onto this hill four years ago. Back then, we barely knew who we were and what we believed in, and few of us knew what we wanted to do, much less what we could do if we set our minds to it. We were thrown headfirst into an alien world with new rules and ways of thinking; new words like ‘honour code’, ‘critical thinking’, and ‘text & meaning’ filled us both fear and wonder. It was hard letting go of a lifetime of unproductive habits and conventional ideas, but we each tried as best as we could; not only to adapt to this brave new world, but to leave our mark on it.

The fun and games of our first few weeks were soon replaced by high stakes. We had a choice – ‘Sleep, Study or Socialize’ – and we soon learned that you could only choose two. It was common to hear us lusting after sleep, having stayed up to complete one assignment or another. At times, it felt like we would buckle under all the pressure, but there is something else that is also formed under high pressure. Four years ago, we joined Ashesi as lumps of coal, hopeful of being moulded into something better. Today we walk out of it like diamonds: valuable, and shining bright with potential.

The Class of 2015 may have worked hard, but we played hard too. Under our watch, something fun happened on campus almost every week… and it was usually accompanied by food. Just look at the businesses we created: Richard Odame’s Papaye delivery service, Sa’ams – our very own pizzeria – and Cups&Cones Desserts. Of course, Ashesi is not in the business of preparing leaders who entertain themselves and eat while others starve. And so our servant leadership seminars and our growing appreciation for society spilled beyond the bounds of our campus. We were inspired to create and take socially-minded initiatives like Santa’s Shoebox, the Berekuso Spelling Bee and Adesua Ye to the good people of Berekuso, with whom we form community. What good is your light if you do not share it with others?

Yet the world into which we now step is a dark one. We had our first glimpse of its complexity when we lost our dear friend and fellow student, Kenneth Kobby Narh, to illness in our first year of study. I shared many moments with Kenneth and so I speak from the heart when I say this and I doubt that anyone from our class will disagree: Kenneth represented the very best of this class. While the rest of us were learning how to combine learning, service and leadership, he naturally demonstrated all. I dedicate this speech to him, I am thankful to have met him and I continue to be inspired by him, as well as by all the other bright lights who – for one reason or another – will not be graduating with us today. Our lives are different for having met every last one of our fellow students and in us, they will always find friendship.

We remember our 147 brothers and sisters who were killed in the deadly terrorist attack on Garissa University College in Kenya in April. The media may have since moved on, but we must not. The students who died that day were no different than us, and it is our responsibility to meet the potential that they will never have the chance to live up to.

We also remember the needless passing of over 200 Ghanaians in the explosion at the Goil filling station in Accra earlier this month, as well as the unnamed many who drowned in the flooding that preceded the explosion. We must never forget, we must not let our media forget, and we must not let our leaders move on from this tragedy without making sure it never happens again. Our leaders emerge from amongst us, and if we want things to change then our society too must change. We must move from apathy, towards empathy; we must learn to care.

All over the world, winds of change are blowing and young people are standing up to demand something more than what the world currently offers. In North Africa, the tragic passing of one man – Mohammed Bouazizi – started the Arab Spring that set the region alight and lead to the toppling of many leaders. In America, the Occupy Wall Street movement demanded change in ways never seen before, and inspired similar movements across the world, including here on this continent. Some of you may ask, ‘what have they really changed’? But revolutions do not happen overnight. Change is a process. We are young now and we are learning about what it will take to change society. Wait and see what we do, when the mantle is passed to us.

Before we came to Ashesi, we felt – like many young people around the country – that politics was a word that described pointless bickering between adults. The word meant nothing to us and we wanted no part of it. We have since learned that politics is about things that affect us all. The nature of the road upon which you drove to get here is political. Terrorist attacks are political. Religious intolerance is political. The floods (and our seeming inability to do anything about them) are political. Our national power crisis is political. Yes, dumsor is political. Political parties are only a small part of the political process. Voting once every few years is only a small part of the political process. Politics is everything we do in our daily lives to improve or destroy this continent, and when we choose not to participate as active citizens in the process, then we cannot be surprised when our politics and our politicians work against us.

Ashesi has taught us to be active citizens and changemakers. To lead the change and be the light in this dark world. Here, we have learned that not only can we change the world, but we have an active responsibility to do so. We thank our parents for having the love and foresight to bring us here. We thank our teachers for opening our eyes, showing us our potential and training us to meet it. We thank Ashesi’s staff for everything they do to make our community what it is. Community is important and so we thank everyone – seen and unseen – who has been a part of the process that has led to this great day, including friends and supporters of Ashesi worldwide.

The Class of 2015 was the very first freshman class to climb this beautiful hill and today we become the first class whose entire Ashesi experience has taken place here. In doing so, we are the ambassadors of a new Ashesi: one more in control of its destiny than at any other time in our history. As it is with Ashesi, so shall it be with us.

I would like to end with the words of someone far more eloquent than me – the novelist, Toni Morrison – who once told her class, “When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.”

Class of 2015, this is what we have been trained for. Let’s show the world how it’s done.

Thank you.