Accepting Honorary Doctorate
Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania
feel very privileged to
be here, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for
this honor done me today.
I still remember the evening when Maurice Eldridge called me in Accra to inform me of the Board's decision to bestow this honor on me. I had just
completed another long day at Ashesi, when my mobile phone
beeped. And so with mosquitoes buzzing around me in the parking lot, I listened to Maurice's message and then blurted out, "Do I really deserve this?" He assured me that I did, and then I had the good sense to thank him, President Bloom, and the Board of Managers.
I see this honor, not necessarily as recognition of my achievements to date, but rather, as a statement of Swarthmore's belief in what I might yet accomplish.
I am humbled to receive such high praise from an
institution that I hold in great esteem and that will always
have a special place in my heart.
the Class of 2004, the awards that you receive today are not
merely an indication of how well you have performed the tasks
associated with being undergraduate students. This entire day is an affirmation of what your future
represents for the world we live in.
You are an inheritance that Swarthmore College is
giving to the world, not just for today, but for generations
This is a good thing, for in the words of King Solomon, a good man leaves an inheritance for his children's children.
We would be in a different place if all our leaders
committed themselves to leaving a lasting inheritance of
freedom, prosperity, and peace for future generations.
Sadly, far too often history's leaders have lacked the wisdom of King Solomon.
We see the results all around us.
thankfully, we also have institutions like Swarthmore College,
whose entire purpose is to leave such a gift to the world, in
the form of enlightened and committed people who have the
wherewithal to chart a better course for the future.
People who understand that real freedom can only be
attained with justice and respect for the dignity of others.
People who understand that true prosperity can only be
attained when we feel compassion for others, and act on it.
People who understand that peace is not merely the absence of war, but something much more profound that can live in our hearts and bring us closer to God's creation.
that I have helped establish in Ghana, Ashesi University
College, is an attempt to create an institution like
Swarthmore College in Africa.
We face enormous challenges on a continent that has too
few such institutions. Yet, we persevere with the knowledge that our success will
make a tremendous impact on the lives of many future
generations in Africa and the world.
We take hope from a most unlikely place; a prison in South Africa called Robben Island - the site of Nelson Mandela's incarceration. Robben
Island was a dark place.
Yet, a light shone there that could not be extinguished
by the night. And
this light lived in the persons of Nelson Mandela and his long
time friend, Walter Sisulu.
Together, these two men created what could arguably be
called the first real institution of higher
learning in sub-Saharan Africa. Believe it or not, they even called their prison "the university."
And they weren't kidding.
at Robben Island, they read great books, they conducted
cultural performances, and they ran seminars while they broke
stones at a quarry, discussing the books they had read. In prison, these men engaged in a deep conversation about the
good society and how best it might be organized.
importantly, Nelson Mandela and his friends moved beyond
intellectual conversation, to action.
They insisted on maintaining their dignity. They fought a persistent and successful battle with the
authorities to create a more just society at the place of
their imprisonment. Through this process of intellectual discourse, Nelson Mandela learned to consider the different perspectives of our world, and to negotiate with his enemy for the sake of his children's children.
Robben Island "the university" is a remarkable phenomenon that is not fully appreciated in the world.
It helped shape a man who is undoubtedly one of the
greatest leaders of our time.
It helped shape a man who has created an inheritance of
liberty for his children and their children.
knows, Africa needs many more people like Nelson Mandela; in
our governments, our classrooms, our hospitals, indeed, in
every corner of our society.
Ashesi seeks to nurture such leaders in Africa, just as
Swarthmore has shaped you over the course of your time here.
Ashesi's success will largely be a result of how Swarthmore molded and prepared me.
And for this, I will be eternally grateful.
have a pretty good memory of my graduation ceremony here at
Scott Amphitheater, and I remember simultaneously having a
sense of great relief about having completed college,
excitement about the job I had just landed, and significant
uncertainty about how my life was going to play out.
I did not for a moment consider the prospect of becoming a leader, and I imagine that many of you here today don't either. But
believe me; you will each be a leader: in your home, in your
chosen profession, and in your country.
As you chart the course of your respective careers,
remember to nurture close friends; remember the values of
integrity, hard work and perseverance; remember the peace that
comes with compassion; and remember the wisdom of King
Class of 2004, you are a precious inheritance for your country
and for the world. Congratulations
on achieving this important milestone.
We all look forward to your contributions in the years
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