UNIVERSITY OF GHANA GRADUATION CEREMONY. 27TH APRIL 2019 –
GUEST SPEAKER’S SPEECH – ELLEN MAAMA HAGAN
Chairman of Council
Provosts and Deans
Chairman and Members of the Advisory Board of the College of Education
Members of Convocation
Staff and Students
Invited Guests, proud parents,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen
I am very grateful to the faculty and leadership of the university for selecting me as Guest Speaker. It means a lot to me.My husband, and my Personal assistant who are here with me and indeed my family and work family share in this honor. I have two confessions to make. My PA and I have written this speech no less than 5 times, literally tying ourselves into all sort of knots and letting all who have ears to hear know that I am going to deliver THE commencement speech! Even though this is not my first time, this is for my own University and so you may understand the reason for theself inflicted stress to get it done in a particular way. The second confession is that whilst I was getting an education here 3 decades ago, I met my husband and we left the LEGON campus not only with our degrees, but with LOOOVVVE…and byGod’s grace we have been married for 34years this July, parents of 4 and grand ma and grand pa of 5 adorable grannies. So this is love brewed in the Legon pot!
Oh yes! I am excited for you and can relate to this feeling of wonder, this sense of achievement and for some maybe disbelief ? that God has actually brought you this far. For some of you, you may be the first person in your family to chalk up this academic milestone; for others, you probably had to pay your fees through hard and soft loans; for some of you, you got through all this whilst on your sick bed and through some tragedy or other. Despite your circumstances, you have made it! Congratulations, in my view, does not express it as well as in our Akan dialectAyeekooo!Class of 2018, AYEEKOOO!.
EMBRACE THE HERE AND NOWI remember when we were on campus, we students numbered only 3,000 as compared to the over 40,000 of you today. The Central cafeteria, was exactly what its name said it was, not a church or lecture hall. I remember the abandon with which I threw my books into several big boxes and closed them with such finality and relief after the final exams.Before this happy event, I had kept asking myself, as I am sure you did, “When will I be done with assignments, lectures and exams?” The next sets of questions you will probably be asking are “When will I get a job” and when you do, you will ask yourself: “when will I get a job that pays more”. I am a perfect example of this. Whenever I organizeevents,for instance, I would be very particular about the planning, select a good caterer, nice menuand ensure everything is well organized.What happens invariably is that on the day of the event, instead of relaxing, I will needlessly be so involved in micro managing that I will not even remember to eat. I have learnt over the years that I should be intentional about enjoying life. Class of 2018, take care of your health, find time to exercise;Enjoy the blessings that come with living – don’t take good health for granted nor the camaraderie that we share with loved ones. Well, with the advantage of hindsight, I will urge you to embrace the gift of Here and Now. Enjoy your life, celebrate little victories, savor the moments. We too often worry about yesterday and tomorrow and forget to enjoy today, which is ours.
I WILL LIKE TO SAY SOMETHING ABOUT LEGACY. For some years, you have been privileged to have studied at one of the best universities in Africa. You are walking out of an institution that for the past 70 years has nurtured great minds such asthe last three serving presidents of our country. What am I insinuating? You belong to a tradition of greatness. I will like to mention three of my class mates whose names may not be as readily recognizablebut are no less a big part of this tradition of greatness- MrsCarlienBouchedad, the first Woman President of the Institution of Engineers, Prof Rose Emma Ensua-Mensah, the first woman to do her PHD in fisheries Science in Legon and in West Africa, who first warned us about the consequences of galamsey on our waters in her inaugural lecture on the topic “distressed fish in dying waters”;Dr Emelia AfuaLaign, who set up Obaatan pa hospital to provide quality care with dignity; where the under privileged would be welcome and receive the same quality care. Sometimes a baby’s delivery cost is as low as 100gh cedis.
I have been priviledged to speak so many times on the subject of success and yet it was my daughter, who thought me about the different levels of greatness and success in a story which ultimately changed my perception about influence. Class of 2018, you cannot come out of Legon and only be concerned about me, myself and I and my cat at home. ItIs very easy to get discouraged about the huge problems of our lives and the apparent sense of futility that one feels when faced with tragedy.Ewurabena came to me one day for permission to go to a remote village in the back of beyond where there is no potent water, nor hygienic places of convenience for 6 weeks to teach English language to the under privileged. I was alright with this adventure as I saw ituntil she returned covered in insect bites called keklegie or something akin to pityriasesrosea. I was quite upset so we had a conversation about the futility of her efforts.My daughter explained to me the importof the starfish story and that even if only one student benefitted from her effort, it would still be worthwhile. I am now convinced we can change the world one star fish at a time. Not too long after, there was a flood disaster in Accra which resulted in a lot of people losing their homes and some!I stopped thinking about the enormity of the problemand the huge numbers of victims involved and rallied my friends to make donations of towels and bedsheets and water…. At that time, I did not even know the price of a whole bag of sachet water was less than fivecedis! I partneredwith My friend Celia and together we linked up with some churches and I saw first handthe difference a few sachets of water made in a home where flood water had left in its wake sand in what used to be habitable rooms. I saw what difference a few towels and bedsheetsmade to people just like us whose circumstances had dramatically changed over night.The effect was tangible and fulfilling. There was another tragedy that resulted in shortage of beds in the hospitals. Instead of thinking “my contribution of five beds will just be a drop in the ocean and won’t solve anything”, I sent the beds anyway and I dare say it made a difference to some ten or so inpatients during those tragic days.
Class of 2018, we CAN brighten our little corner where we are. We can do big things, but it is also alright to do small things – let’s just do something.Start with being punctual. Whenever you have to organize an event, do not punish people wwho arrive on time and reward those who are late. Start on time, afterall, the biblical quorum is “where two or three are gathered in His name” isn’t it? Where there is a will, there is a way. A life giving legacy does not happen automatically. It takes courage and commitment to riskchoosing a lifestyle rather than accepting one. Planting legacies implies looking for opportunities and making your days count. William Jones said “The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it”. That IS Legacy.
LET’S REMIND OURSELVES ABOUT YOUR USP/YOUR UNIQUENESS
After school, we all expect to be gainfully employed.The world of work presents you with two options: either you find a job or you create one. I have learnt that, entrepreneurship is not for everybody and hence, the populist advice that, after school, start your own business may not fit well with some. However, some of you CAN create jobs for others; you just don’t know it yet. We need to have a shift in our mindset that we do not all need to look for jobs. The Pro-vice chancellor said the yearly intake was about 11,000 students. If there are about 60 universities in Ghana, you do the Maths. There is an obvious crises in the world of work. Some of you MUST create jobs for others. Our philanthropic arm, L’AINE Foundation is deeply committed to raising the next generation of entrepreneurs, right from the juvenile level. We have started with the schools within the lezekukukrauer municipality, planting entrepreneurial clubs. I do know finding a job is not so easy these days; but this is my advice: vary your strategy. First, design a compelling CV that attracts potential employers and learn about interviewing skills. Second, practice your elevator pitch and be in readiness for an opportunity to sell yourself; Third, offer yourself for non-paid internship slots that provides you opportunity to demonstrate your high work ethic and ultimately, land you a job. In my book “Soft Skills, what gives one job seeker an edge over another”, I have indicated that the university education is only a springboard. Having ethical behavior on the job, punctuality, as well as team work are very important traits that are hardly taught in schools, but are needed in executing on the job”.
Madam Chancellar, our “Bridge the Gap” program in L’AINE, short for bridging the gap between academia and industry, has played a pivotal role in exposing students to the world of work and in acquiring employable skills that increasetheir chances of landing their dream jobs. In Birmingham university, the manufacturers of the jaguar have partnered with the undergrads to get them to create more interesting shapes for the car and the young ones have demonstrated that when given the opportunity, they can be creative. I will highly recommend this collaboration between academia and industry .
The one thing to keep in mind is your uniqueness. From someone who has spent most of her life matching the right person to the right job, I know Employers are looking for people who are solution oriented and who bring value to the business. Are you one of such? Create a unique selling point for yourself, something you can be distinguished by. Every one of us has been given the ability to stand out. You cannot be the same as the next person. What is your unique selling proposition – why should your next employer choose you over your equally qualified colleague? If you do not know it yet, you should think about it. The best study of man is man himself. Self-confidence, determination, the drive to accomplish, beginfrom the recognition that you carry something special.
NOW MY CHARGE TO YOU, CLASS OF 2018, IS TO THINK OF MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE EVEN WHEN IT SEEMS CRAZY.I have always wondered why the early missionaries kept on coming to a mosquito infested country, knowing they were going to die within weeks like their predecessors. They gave us a first class education in the schools they set up, Wesley Girls included, but oh a lot of them died, some within days and a few months of arrival. Some travelled with their coffins in the same ship! Now, that is downright crazy, wouldn’t you say so? Well, I believe I have done my share of crazy things. Why would Essie and I start a school when we know very well we do not have the resources to do so? Yet we did. We started an all-girls school called Legacy Girls College at Akuse in the Eastern region, offering an enhanced Ghanaian curriculum and the British curriculum to develop a new generation of women leaders when we literally had no money to do it – then on the nights when I was up thinking about costs and debts, I used tosay to myself; “M’aka p3 mi hu as3m…” literally, I haveasked for TROUBLE. Those were tough times.
It was a bleak situationas depicted in Kofi Awornor of blessed memory’s “Songs of Sorrow” . …Dzogbese Lisa has treated me thus; It has led me among the sharps of the forest; Returning is not possible; And going forward is a great difficulty; The affairs of this world are like the chameleon feces Into which I have stepped; When I clean it cannot go.1My people, I have been somewhere; If I turn here, the rain beats me;If I turn there the sun burns me; Oh yes… Changing the world is crazybusiness. This may be a cliché but class of 2018, you cannot graduate from the country’s premier university – University of Ghana , and yet NOT be in readiness to literally change the world.
In 1985, two young men met and wrote a song “We are the World”. The album sold over 20 million copies and raised over $63Million for humanitarian aid in Africa and the U.S. The two men were Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. This story is very instructive, they said we are the World and indeed the World became their World and they literarily brought everyone in the World to their World.
Such is the potency of power that everyone of us has, to change the World for the better. You can change the World not only in economic context like Bill Gates, but even at such a micro level like 8 yearold Tani, who arrived with his refugee parents in New York about a year ago, homeless and sleeping in a public shelter but he learned how to play chess, and about a month ago, the homeless refugee Tani beat all the children of the eliteto win a chess championship in New York city for his age group. When the news broke out, the World instantly became Tani’sworld and withintwo weeks, the world contributed about $258,000 to support Tani and his family.Class of 2018, Legon has planted the seed of knowledge in you, you are to start now with this seed to nurture ideas, ideas that can make you rule the World. I DARE SAY, YOU CAN! YOU are the world.
We are the World indeed! We have demonstrated that by creating the World of L’AINE, the first of its kind at the time when there was no blue print. We have created the World of Legacy Girls. Please allow me a moment to address the women in the 2018 graduating class.The reality is that when you are born a woman in our world, you have an additional albatross in the effort of living because we allow ourselves to be stereotyped by society. No matter how many affirmative action initiatives are passed, that innate desire to be president of an institution or our country starts with ourselves as women and our awareness of our self worth. It is our responsibility to be hungry and play the central role in national development. I just love these two quotes from my namesake Ellen Sirleaf Johnson – “the size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are probably not big enough”; “and just because something has not been done yet does not mean it cannot be done”.
I must not forget to provoke you to greater works by telling the story of a Ghanaian woman who took on the World and has broken barriers -Dr (Mrs) Justina Akua Baidoo,CEO of Adom Group of companies. She may not have had the opportunity a lot of us hadwith formal education, yet she has changed our world through her World.This remarkable woman is the only private individual in Ghana to own a dry dock shipyard, where ships are repaired and maintained and her company is one of only three of such in West Africa. As you journey on from here know that life variables such as education, experience, skills, attitude, and mindset, can all be leveraged on to change the World..
Madam CHANCELLOR, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, to conclude, I would like to share with you a few nuggets I have discovered on my journey.
First, have a connection with a spiritual authority. I have made a stand as a Christian and have boldy inscribed JESUS IS LORD on our 5 story building at Adabraka and on our head office building at Sakumono, because it is in Him I live and move and have my being, and I make no apology for it.
Second, define your purpose. Your purpose is the backbone of your success. Success responds to purpose. In my book “Why are you here?” I have urged all to have a sense of urgency to discover why we are here and execute that purpose while we have life. Even if you live to be 100, life is short. There are two important days in everyone’s life, the day you are born and the day you discover why you are born and sadly a lot of us do not get to discover that second day. Some of are like the song “meninammuo, meninammuo”…just wondering.
Third, The future is already here.In the past decade, there have been over 25 life-changing technological Advancements. A few examples are : the smartphone, self driving cars, and the bionic eye, offering sight to the sightless since 2013. It’s just amazing. One of such technological wonders is AI – Also known as artificial Intelligence. As an HR practitioner, this technological Innovation has made me sit up. It seems we will have automated stores, automated restaurants, and all together, that is going to displace about 40 percent of jobs in the world.As the graduating class of 2018, you cannot ignore the implications of this in the world of work. The future is already here. A video clip that recently went viral depicts a robot being interviewed in our current world. Nothing showed that she was not human. What she said was that the only thing the human being had as an advantage over the robot is having a SOUL. To be able to overcome the age of robots, one of the ways to remain relevant will be to have characteristics that the computer cannot easily copy, which I dare say is our very “humanness” – our ability to empathize, to forgive, to have values, to be inquisitiveetc
So class of 2018, my wish for you is to be grounded and be humane. I will like to quote Chief Justice John Roberts of USA in this regard. “From time to time, “I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. “I hope you’ll be ignored, so you know the importance of listening to others…”
Above all, enjoy your life – this is not a rehearsal!
Ayeekoo, class of 2018 and thank you very much for your attention..