Your Excellencies, Niimei, Naamei, Nananom, proud parents and guardians, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, most importantly, Class of………. 2018
I didn’t attend but I’ve strong ties to this great institution…I was born a Legonite and I’ve always been a Legonite. My mother, Professor Akua Kuenyehia, joined this university in October 1972 as the first female law lecturer and spent 31 years here. Never one to let childcare get in the way of her ambition, she would often bring my sister Akofa and I to class…when we didn’t have a nanny.
And as quietly as we could, we’d occupy ourselves, colouring, reading or solving jigsaw puzzles while my mother got on with teaching. When I’d fall ill, my mum would send me to the University Hospital, and then to Volta Hall Senior Common Room, where she’d allow me a bottle of cold refreshing Coca-Cola or Fanta which I’d have with mouth-watering delicacies, of which the chinchinga jolloff was my favourite.
Now you need to understand that my mother was strict about the sorts of treats she’d allow us to have. But at University bookshop, then down the road, t’was an entirely different matter. There was almost no limit on what we could have. So my sister and I spent many Saturday mornings, wandering down the narrow musty corridors of the children’s section; emerging hours later with a huge pile of books in our arms.
And several years later, it was right here on this very campus, that I had my first serious teenage crush. Now fast forward to the present time: I hire many graduates from this university. In fact, some of my best lawyers are alumni of this university…And in 2016, I had the privilege of serving as Executive-in-Residence at the Business School.
So…..It’s for these and many other reasons that am so delighted to be this morning’s guest speaker. Thank you Vice-Chancellor Professor Oduro Owusu for the honour of this invitation. Before I make my remarks though, please join me in giving a loud and rapturous round of applause for the…Class of …..2018 and their proud parents and guardians.
So, Class of 2018, I’ve good news and bad news. First, the bad news; a university diploma, even from the University of Ghana, no longer guarantees you a job of your choice. With 213 accredited tertiary institutions in Ghana, churning out about eighty thousand graduates each year, unemployment and underemployment is, am afraid, the grim reality of many graduates.
Long gone are the days graduates could expect to spend entire working lives at the likes of Unilever, VALCO or Bank of Ghana, patiently rising through the ranks…And retiring with chest freezer in tow.
Now the good news: You’re graduating at a time of mind-boggling and unprecedented opportunities. Never before, in the history of humanity, has there been so much opportunity and wealth. Never before have borders and geographic location been as immaterial, thanks to technology, greater interconnectedness and a changing global mindset.
And even more important especially for you Class of 2018, never before has personal and professional success been so dependent on big ideas, bold brash dreams and audacity to act on those dreams. I’ll now share stories of three alumni of this University who’ve dreamt a bold brash dream and then had the audacity to turn those dreams to reality:
Legon Hall alumnus Moses Baiden, at the age 23 and in his second year at the Faculty of Law as it then was, had a bold brash dream to build a million dollar company. Then had the audacity to act on that dream by building Margins.
Just short of his 25th birthday, Margins achieved one million US dollars in revenue. Today, with 400 employees and a presence in seven countries, Margins is the go-to company for the production of security and identity documents, with clients such as West Africa Examinations Council, Ghana Police and Ghana Army.
If you’ve ever had a Ghanaian passport, it’s possible that Margins made that possible. And it’s Margins that’s been tasked with providing Ghanaians with national ID cards.
Volta Hall alumnus Mrs. Theresa Beeko had a bold brash dream to make home ownership more accessible. Then had the audacity to start Manet Properties, which today is a force to reckon with in the real estate space, having built over 2000 homes, a three-star hotel and two state-of-the-art office blocks in prime Accra, employing over 200 people.
And Legon Hall alumnus Kwasi Twum had a bold brash dream to give Ghanaians choice in the media they consumed. Then had the audacity to start in1995 with a single radio station.
Today, his Multi-media group is Ghana’s largest radio, television and online network and I understand, sub-Saharan Africa’s largest media group employing over 700 people, with six radio stations (including Adom and Joy) three online assets and Ghana’s first free multi-channel TV station.
Thanks to their big ideas, they, as well as many others, have found significant success and are making immeasurable contributions to mother Ghana, empowering millions, while of course…..doing their alma mater, this University proud.
They’ve had the same education you’ve had. They’ve sat in the same lecture halls. And they’ve sat in this very auditorium, in caps and gowns, just like you to receive University of Ghana diplomas. If they’ve done it, there’s absolutely no reason why you too cannot do same.
I’m also a dreamer. And for some of my dreams, I’ve had the audacity to make them happen. In 2006, I dreamt a bold brash, perhaps ridiculous, dream to build a globally recognised leading Ghanaian law firm. Ridiculous, given that all I had to start with was five thousand Ghana Cedis. With audacity, starting with one employee in a room so small, you couldn’t even swing a cat in, I built a firm with offices in Accra and London.
Today, after a pan-African merger, we’re part of Africa’s largest law firm, with over 1,000 people in thirteen offices across Africa. So to you, Class of 2018….I ask: what are your bold brash dreams and what audacity do you have to put those into action? I’m now going to suggest some specific ways you can dream bold brash dreams and then develop audacity to act on those dreams.
To create bold brash dreams, you’ve got to feed your imagination and respect your uniqueness. Think back to when as kids you played games of make-believe pretending to be lawyers, doctors, nurses and teachers and the age-old favourite…mummy and daddy….
You’ll require the same child-like imagination…to be able to close your eyes and transport yourselves into the future you aspire to. Visualise this in as much detail. For some of you, it might help to develop a vision board – literally a board or even a scrapbook, where you paste images you come across, in magazines for example, that represent the future you envisage for yourself. You could also do this on Evernote, Pinterest and the like.
Some of you may prefer to journal, to document word by word, the future you’d like for yourselves. You feed your imagination by actively observing and being insanely curious about the world around you. Immerse yourselves in the stories of others, particularly those who’re already charting a course not dissimilar from ones you’d like to chart.
Some of these people you’ll know in real life. Others, you’ll only ever know from a distance or virtually, through biographies or profile articles, for example. But whether or not you know them, what’s important are the lessons you take away from their stories, from both failures and successes. You also feed your imagination through the arts, television, movies, music, conversations and if you can, through local and international travel.
If, in addition to feeding your imagination, you build in copious amounts of time – ideally daily – for sober reflection and introspection, where you put everything you’re hearing about, reading about or learning about, into context….the context of your own values and passions, you’ll soon find that you’re dreaming many dreams….some of which will be brash and bold.
But you’ll only truly succeed, only truly find inner fulfilment and satisfaction, if you pursue only those dreams that play to your strengths, passions and values……dreams that ’re uniquely yours and respect your individuality.
Your dreams gotta be your dreams. Not the dreams of your forefathers. Or those of your family and friends. Not the dreams of your pastors, imams and fetish priests. And most certainly, not the dreams of society…Unless of course, you decide to adopt and adapt those dreams such that they become dreams of your own.
I appreciate that it won’t be easy for some of you, given that we live in a society, that too often, pre-defines the sorts of dreams that’re acceptable. As a result, many of us cave in and don’t stand up for our dreams. BUT really, who’s to say your dream’s better than mine, or mine better than yours?
Everyone’s dream is needed and valuable. Everybody’s dream is different. Your dream is your dream and yours alone. No matter what anyone else says! But dreams alone get you nowhere. The real magic is audacity…Audacity to turn dreams into reality. Audacity to act on your dreams comes with preparation. The more prepared you are, the more audacious you can get.
The Akans have a saying that “Agoro be sↄ a efi anopa” which means that for a party to succeed, the preparations need to start much earlier. The University of Ghana has provided you with a great foundation. But that’s only the beginning. I’d say there’re two parts to this: developing technical mastery and gaining social capital.
When you start work, make technical skill and knowledge acquisition your priority and invest a disproportionate amount of your time towards that. Psychologists have shown that what the world’s most successful people have in common is a relentless pursuit of technical mastery. Apparently, it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in any field.
Assuming 3 hours a day, that is 9 years! Think about that! There really are no short-cuts. And if you’re still looking for job, rather than just sit at home glued to your Xbox or netflixing and chillaxing, volunteer somewhere, take a free course online. Find a mentor whom you can learn from.
The other thing you’ll need to invest in is social capital – building networks and relationships with people. Make time to invest in relationships. Build on the friendships you’re graduating with and make effort to keep in touch. Throughout your lives, cultivate and develop relationships with people. I’m specifically talking about the offline variety of friends…face to face, person to person encounters that are becoming so obsolete these days.
The people you’ll need to help turn dreams into reality are those who get to know and to trust you. That level of trust can’t be built easily on Snapchat, telegraph or Facebook. Those too have their place. But old-fashioned non-Facebook friendships are truly priceless.
Dreams grow and change in time with the dreamer… So don’t be afraid to allow your dreams to grow with you. The process of dreaming and redreaming, imagining and reimagining itself is a source of personal and spiritual growth. In time, you’ll come to recognise which dreams are ready for an update and which you must cast away entirely
But at all times – in dreaming bold brash dreams and acting audaciously to make dreams happen, you absolutely…must be guided by your own ethical compass. We all know that dishonesty and corruption is the way of life for far too many Ghanaians including, with all due respect, many from this university. Whenever you’re faced with an ethical dilemma, take a minute to pause and take a deep breath.
Then, in respect of whatever it is ask yourself this question: ‘If, it was to make its way, the next day, into all the social media feeds and the traditional media, would my family be mightily proud of me? Ask yourself that question and then listen to the answer that lies within you.
Big dreams…Bold brash dreams…And the audacity to put those dreams into action are fuel for personal success and social progress.
So, Class of 2018, I leave you with two questions…two questions I urge you to ask yourselves every day. Every day for the rest of your lives: What…..are….your…dreams? and what are you doing to develop the audacity you require to turn those dreams into reality?
Thank you and congratulations once again