Graduate Class Speaker
President Perkins, Board of Trustees, Faculty & Staff members, Alumni, my fellow graduating students, Distinguished Guests, Proud parents, Friends and family. May I start by saying “Thank you” to the Dean of School of Graduate & Professional studies for not only granting me the honor to speak here today, but for giving me weeks of fear and panic I endured preparing this speech. It really wasn’t quite as easy as I thought it would be, and I feel I have lost a few pounds while brainstorming about what to say here and how to say it. As I stand here today, on behalf of my fellow graduates to share with all of you what today’s ceremony mean to us, I must confess it was a daunting task attempting to convey the sentiments of each of 130 graduate students Class of 2009 in
one speech. I do not consider myself the most qualified to share the story of our accomplishments,-the blessings we count as we celebrate this day. Instead, I count myself as of one among many here who through very difficult challenges of life, have relentlessly pursued and achieved the dream of a graduate education, made possible by the innovative faculty and staff here at New England College. Today, we are dressed in gowns like angels, wearing caps which represent crowns of victory to many of us. These are crowns of victory because each of us has a victory story to tell. I was born into poverty in Africa, where I excelled through elementary school with no shoes on my feet, and then confronted “giant on the way” when my dreams of pursuing a high school education was nearly shattered by lack of basic enrollment fee (which in fact is less than $1 equivalent).
My Mum tells the better version of my story, a story of determination to pursue and excel in academics. She tells everyone about how I had used pieces of cloth that came off a old torn pair of pants to make my first shorts,-part of a school uniform which is a compulsory requirement to enroll in junior secondary school in most places in Africa. My mum tells the story of how through the little income I earned working menial jobs, and her contribution from the little she earned teaching at a local kindergarten I was able to enroll in and excel through one of the best Universities in Africa: The University of Lagos, Nigeria. I am the fifth-born in a family of 8 children, and today I become the first to earn a Masters degree,- an achievement I consider not only as a great victory over those things that held me back, but a victory for my entire family and community of origin in Africa.
Today we sing a song of victory because on our way to this Promised Land, time and time again we faced giants. Each time I was close to dropping out of the NEC’s graduate program, I heard the voice of truth whisper in my ears “be strong, do not be afraid”. On this note, we ought to remind ourselves of who we are, especially in these difficult times: Americans, a strong nation, God’s children. We work for opportunity at a time of inequality; we walk towards hope at a time of hopelessness. This is not a time to turn our backs and walk away.
As we celebrate, this gathering should also serve as an opportunity for all of us to reflect on the challenges facing our world today, and how we can shape the diplomas we obtain into weapons of peace and tools for economic advancement,- solving the most pressing problems: global economic recession, job loss, high unemployment rates, social insecurity, global warming, Injustice and Inequality, increase in the incidents of poverty and diseases, HIV/AIDS, hunger, terror, wars, conflicts, plus various events and circumstances that make the heart grow weary and faint. At this perilous time, what are we to do? This is not the time to turn our back and walk away on our friends who lose their homes, or on family members who have lost their jobs. I ask you to seek opportunities for change when you leave here because our future depends on it…an ability to adapt to change in our workplaces, in our communities and in our lives. I urge you that we work side-by-side to take on the challenges that confront all of humanity.
Find an organization that’s fighting against poverty, and find a way to help them. Teach your children values of hard work, compassion, and empathy, and help them notice a world beyond themselves.
We found answers to the most troubling questions in the NEC classrooms. The more we persistently inquired about methodologies for solving complex life problems, the more we find answers in simpler approaches:
1. That leadership means leading a life worthy of emulation by others, and through means that empower others to willingly pursue a good course.
2. That the willingness to learn is the starting point to improving the quality of our lives.
3. That making a difference means seeing a world beyond us, and having the willingness to lay down our lives for others.
As we celebrate our accomplishments, and as we add new titles to our email signatures, we must remind ourselves of the essence of this journey: our family members who stood by us all the way….spouses who patiently endured the absence of their significant other as they were away in classrooms; children who stayed home in loneliness looking forward to the return of their parents after their daily work and school, the pet that wished their owners would get done sooner with those endless online classes, and get off the computer to give them the attention they well deserve, the bosses at our jobs who accepted studying late into the night as excuses for lateness to work. We honor you today for honoring us.
Class of 2009, as we celebrate our achievements today, we have an obligation to those who are less fortunate; we owe those who helped us get to where we are today. Thinking about only ourselves portrays a poverty of ambition. And in these difficult times, changing the world requires one act of service….one blow against injustice that sends a ripple of hope. Our training here at NEC has given us not only a unique status, but unique responsibilities, to be a source of inspiration to those whose life and future seems uncertain. We will be the change we want to see in the world. We will raise our voice on behalf of those who have no voice. We will identify not only with the powerful but with the powerless.
God bless the New England College
God bless all of you!
Thank you all for listening.