Thank you very much for inviting me to share my leadership experience and the relevance of education with the 2023 graduating class of the Academic City University College.
I am delighted to be associated with the second Commencement Ceremony that marks Academic City University College’s tradition of recognising the accomplishments of graduating students.
Congratulations, Class of 2023! Let me acknowledge your parents and guardians, faculty, and non-faculty members of this great university, for their tireless support towards your growth and development.
Over the past week, I have interacted with students at the University of Cape Coast, the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. I am excited, therefore, to be with you at the Academic City University College today.
You have fought a good fight and won the race, and today – on this auspicious occasion of your graduation – your college permits you to wear the symbolic academic gowns (Aca Pompo as we called it in our days). These gowns mark a discharge from the protective confinement of the ivory tower. These towers were a sterile oasis of learning and research into subjects and theories that were far removed from the realities of society.
Being with you today, I remember the days when I also stepped out of the gates of the University of Ghana, Legon, a young man with a degree in history. Ours was a typical ivory tower. We were venturing into the real world after sixteen years of study from class one in primary school until graduation from university.
At that time, the world was a more certain place. It was more predictable. It was the era of the cold war. It was a bipolar world, with an iron curtain dividing the eastern countries from the Western or NATO allies. The accumulation of enough nuclear weapons to wipe out the world many times over ensured global safety due to the principle of mutual annihilation.
There was no Google search engine. Any research we needed to do had to come from reading through books for days in the university library. In those days, computers were giant machines that could only be found in the computer science department and spoke languages like FORTRAN and COBOL. To interface with the computer, the early whizz kids had to learn to interpret these languages that were essentially gibberish to us, the untutored. And, of course, there were no laptops or tablets.
The rains came at the correct time when they had to, and the harmattan or dry season, was punctual to the dot. We did not know about climate change.
We were full of student activism and, at the slightest opportunity, marched against apartheid, calling for freedom for Mandela. We held manifestations on subjects as far removed from us as the US blockade of Cuba, the nuclear arms race, and the oppression of the Palestinians. There were no ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Quaeda, or terrorist insurgencies in the Sahel.
We left the university gates and walked into ready jobs waiting for us. There was automatic posting if you wanted to go into teaching. Many of us were retained and absorbed into workplaces where we had been posted for National Service. Our colleagues who made first class were quickly snapped up by prestigious banks and private corporations like UAC, Lever Brothers, now Unilever, and Standard Chartered Bank as management trainees.
Fortunately, or unfortunately for you, the world is entirely different today. Climate change is creating forest fires in the northern hemisphere and pushing temperatures to historic highs. The coral reefs are dying; the polar ice is melting. Africa is facing either droughts or incessant flooding. The Sahara Dessert is drifting southward, threatening us with an ever-drier climate.
Ukraine and Russia are at war. Sudan is in a civil war. There are many conflicts all over Africa. Terrorists have taken over the Sahel and are threatening to push down to the West African coast.
There are no ready jobs to absorb you. It may take years for you to find decent employment. There are cases of students who remain unemployed five years after completing university. Unemployment in Ghana is at its highest in history today, estimated at 13%. Our economy is in crisis. The closure of indigenous banks and the banking sector cleanout have led to the loss of several jobs.
A Debt Exchange Programme has led to massive haircuts, eroding the capital of Ghanaian entrepreneurs, the income of middle-class families and pensioners’ savings.
Our democracy is at risk with confidence and trust in leadership at its lowest ebb. But it is not all doom and gloom for you. You have laptops and tablets with more extensive storage and are faster than any computer in our time. You have numerous search engines that put the world of knowledge at your fingertips. But best of all, you are not stepping out of an Ivory Tower.
Over the years, universities have adjusted their curricula to integrate them and make them more relevant to the societies in which they exist. One such institution is Academic City University College. An innovative Centre of learning that equips its students with practical knowledge that allows them to be instruments of societal transformation wherever they are employed.
Mr Founder, the Academic City University College has been at the forefront of alternative education for the past five years, channelling graduates’ intelligence and determination towards entrepreneurship rather than traditional job pursuits. This strategy is essential for fostering innovation and other critical skills for accelerated job creation to fuel our nation’s development.
I am happy to note that in just five years of Academic City’s establishment, the institution has earned the prestigious ranking of 15th in Sub-Saharan Africa and second in Ghana by The Times Higher Education. This achievement is a significant landmark worthy of celebration. Congratulations!
Ladies and gentlemen, in my speaking engagements across the globe, I have found a common thread whenever and wherever I have related with students. Students are full of hope, innovation, energy, and drive. Students are also resilient because of the rigorous academic work faculty subjects them to. This observation always strikes me; I can see and feel it here, just as when speaking at UCC, KNUST, Harvard University or Oxford University.
There are challenges to be confronted, but with appropriate tailoring of the knowledge skills, theories, models, and frameworks you have acquired from your training here, these can be surmounted if you are ready and willing to think creatively. I know you have big dreams and ideas to help lift your families and our nation out of poverty. I want you to go out there and make a positive mark. I believe in you, so believe in yourselves.
Undoubtedly, your hearts and minds have been adequately trained for the task ahead in every sphere of endeavour. Please do not disappoint me, do not disappoint your parents, and do not disappoint your alma mater. I have been convinced throughout my life that quality education is the key to empowering individuals, elevating societies, fostering progress, and ensuring the development of nations, particularly in the 21st Century.
Globally, economists and governance experts have long acknowledged that development does not start with goods; it starts with human capital development. Hence, without education, or quality education, our natural resources – land, sea, minerals, forests etc. – will lie dormant and unexploited. Even if exploited, the environmental and socio-economic implications will be dire for our nation’s progress.
For education to achieve its purpose of churning out resourceful and skilled human resources who meet the needs of societies, it must be of optimal quality. A focus on expanding access to education without attendant improvement in quality renders education insufficient in churning out the well-equipped human resource society needs. And because education is also a leveller, poor quality education tends to widen the gap between our country’s rich and poor.
To secure quality education at all levels and address inequalities, the Social Democratic tradition of my party, the NDC, has prioritised investment in education over the years. This quality-indexed spirit motivated the NDC to establish the Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFund) as a financial supplement to the traditional sources of financing education.
Regrettably, GETFund has suffered severe financial setbacks in recent times. In the future, we can work together to make the GETFund work for students and institutions needing financial assistance in private and public schools.
Let’s also remember that the 21st Century thrives on the digital revolution in which innovation and originality propel progress. To succeed in this era, our educational system must evolve to equip the next generation with critical thinking skills, creativity, and innovation to solve problems.
This is why the National Democratic Congress, in our quest to build the Ghana we want, is seeking to partner with the private sector to invest three billion dollars (US$3 billion) in an integrated ICT infrastructure, including onshore and offshore fibre super-highway and electronic applications. The investment will leverage 5G technology to propel communication, commerce, civil liberties, and individual expressions; while supporting other national priorities in health, education, agriculture, petroleum, and the power sectors.
This initiative will also make governance effective, transparent, and accessible, improve the quality-of-service delivery to Ghanaians, modernise industry and outdated legacy platforms and IT systems, improve network security and create thousands of decent and sustainable jobs in the value chain.
At the centre of this next-generation education is Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) which provides a holistic approach to learning, dismantling traditional silos and nurturing interdisciplinary knowledge and abilities. I, therefore, challenge the Academic City University College to explore further opportunities to enhance and promote STEAM education.
As I said earlier, today’s ceremony reminds me of my experience decades ago when I was among my graduating class. The journey was not easy, but through perseverance and determination, I graduated successfully with a strong foundation for further studies.
It is the quality of knowledge, skills, and competencies I developed through my university education that opened doors for me to develop leadership skills, which have accounted for the many achievements I have recorded whiles serving our dear nation as a deputy minister, minister, Vice President and ultimately President of the Republic of Ghana.
To you, the Class of 2023, I do not doubt that Academic City has equipped you with the skills and knowledge necessary to face the unavoidable challenges associated with life. You are ready to contribute towards building the Ghana and Africa we all want.
As you venture beyond the boundaries of this academic environment, I encourage you to embrace the values of hard work, honesty, compassion, tenacity, and patriotism. Remember that, as a graduate; you are an ambassador of Academic City. In leveraging on the education, you have received from this reputable University, take time to comprehend the world around you, challenge the status quo where necessary and make a positive impact wherever you find yourself.
Think outside the box. Perceive every task with a new pair of eyes. Prepare yourself for leadership tasks. Use your developed competencies to provide leadership in solving challenges at home, the workplace, church, mosque, and wherever you find yourselves.
My dear students, I would like to sound a caution for some of you who will find yourselves in politics. As President Akufo-Addo said, “If your goal in coming into government is to enrich yourself, then don’t come. Go to the private sector. Public service is going to be exactly that; public service”.
With what is happening today, I am sure the President has forgotten that he spoke these wise words. The day of accountability will always come, and with increased awareness, Ghanaians are demanding to be citizens, not spectators as the President exhorted them to be.
Leadership is full of challenges. You cannot escape these challenges. Leadership is inspiring when one focuses and pursues a noble agenda to serve the people’s best interests.
It would be best if you eschewed the unhealthy temptation of using leadership positions to promote personal, sectional, or partisan interests to the disadvantage of the organisation or the nation you serve.
In addition, you need to ensure that you do not use your leadership roles to settle personal scores, victimising people and promoting discrimination. Your kind of leadership must unite and develop our country and citizens.
As graduates of the Academic City University College and leaders in your rights, I demand that you encourage different shades of opinions. Refrain from joining the self-centred model of leadership. I expect you to provide leadership that will strengthen our public service, promote competency-based staff engagements, and strengthen systems in our public and private sectors.
Finally, while I congratulate you, graduating Class of 2023, on your academic performance, which crowns your valediction today, I wish to remind you that you are getting into a world full of uncertainties and competition. You do not have to rush in life. Today represents the beginning of a new chapter in your life: A chapter filled with countless challenges, blessings, optimum opportunities, and potent possibilities.
Rise in your glory, and keep in mind that your academic gowns are not merely the end of your educational journey. Today’s gowns begin your lifetime pursuit of further studies because you hold the keys to unleashing your potential to unlock opportunities to shape your future and make Ghana and the world better.
I wish that you will continue to pursue knowledge, cultivate empathy, and work to improve the lives of others – the world requires your enthusiasm, expertise, and leadership.
Let me thank the Founder of the Academic City University College, Mr Der Varyani, for this valuable investment in the youth of Africa that will be the conveyor belt producing the next generation of Africans. May God continue to replenish your resources.
Once again, congratulations to the graduating class of 2023. Go forth with your acquired knowledge and leave your mark on the world.
Be Good Ambassadors of Academic City University College and Ghana wherever possible.