Speech Delivered at the 2014 Graduation of the American International School, Moevenpick Ambassador Hotel, Accra on 5th June 2014
Madam Senior Administrator, The Principals, Teachers and Staff of the American International School, Parents and Guardians, Graduands, Students, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I do not remember anything that any Guest Speaker said at any of my graduations. And so, graduands, I will not hold it against you if you don’t remember anything that I will say today. But it is a privilege to have been invited to be the Guest Speaker at this august graduation event, and I am grateful to the American International School for this honour.
My topic for the graduating class, today, is “TIMES CHANGE, AND TIME CHANGES.”
TIME is that indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole. CHANGE is said to occur when the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of something/one thing becomes different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone.
In 1986, when I graduated from Secondary School, we had no mobile phones. Indeed telephones were not that common and I do not recall having a telephone conversation from school, with my parents at any time during the 7 years that I spent at Mfantsipim. There was no email, SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter, Google or Yahoo search. If you needed anything from home while in boarding school, you wrote letters to your parents, which took about 2 weeks to move between Cape Coast and Accra. Thus by the time your parents read that you were unwell (and it was mostly from malaria), you would have recovered already. If you wrote a love letter to a girl in the nearby girls’ schools, you would either post it (and that would take a week or so to arrive, by which time all your words would have become stale) or hand-deliver it yourself to her when you visited on Saturday or Sunday. If you were as shy as I was, you would ask her not to read it until you had left!!
But what happened? TIME went past and in the course of that TIME, CHANGE happened. I am no longer that skinny, gangly, bright-eyed boy who wanted so badly to become a lawyer. Today, I am a lawyer – I have achieved that dream and attained that vision. Today, I have children of my own, 3 of them, one of whom is about enter her sophomore year in college, this fall. I have grey hair. TIMES CHANGED, and the TIME CHANGED me. The world around me changed. I had to CHANGE to meet and suit the CHANGING TIMES. I would be an irrelevant, fossilized dinosaur, the object and subject of interest of archaeologists, extinct, but awaiting the magic of a Jurassic Park resuscitation, if I remained stuck in the world of 1986, when we are in 2014. There are many human dinosaurs around. Don’t become one.
Yours today, is a fast moving digital age. It is often said that CHANGE IS THE ONLY CONSTANT. That change can be frightening and daunting if we do not recognise that each passing second, minute, hour, day, week, month, year, etc provides us with an opportunity. Thus, the CHALLENGE OF CHANGE, is at the same time, and in and of itself the OPPORTUNITY OF CHANGE. It is important to see those opportunities and take advantage of the new possibilities they bring.
Today, each Graduand is witnessing a change. When we leave this room, you will not be a high school student anymore. You will be a high school graduate. What has changed? Just your designation or description? I think not. You whole life has changed. You are at the cusp, the edge of a new beginning, a new journey, where there is no end or destination until you die. The journey of life, is itself the destination. You only fail when you stop undertaking the journey.
And so tonight, you must celebrate the fact that one season is past, and another season is born. So party, dance, rejoice. But as you celebrate the end of one stage of your life, you mark the beginning of another stage of the same life. When you leave this room, when you wake up tomorrow morning, it will be the beginning of the rest of your life. CHANGE has happened. CHANGE is happening. Are you ready for it?
Allow me to suggest 7 things that you need to do, if you are going to remain relevant in this fast-changing world. And I will borrow substantively from the thoughts of Kathryn D. Leary, writer, marketing and public relations consultant and former President & CEO of the Leary Group Inc.
1. TAKE STOCK. Spend some time thinking about your life to date. Search your soul. Make an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, joys and disappointments, mistakes and successes. What have your brought to the world and what else would you like to do, accomplish or experience? Stay open to all possibilities and allow time to really ponder about yourself.
2. IDENTIFY POSSIBLE GOALS & OPTIONS. Once you have taken stock, start identifying new interests and possible goals for the next phase of your life. Your life from childhood to date definitely has a store or wealth of assets, from your experiences and the skills and learning that you have acquired along the way. Don’t be stuck in a groove. Think outside the box. How are you going to use these assets to create satisfying and enriching life?
3. ASSESS YOUR OPTIONS. When you have identified you new goals and options, begin your research to explore the viability of each option. The Internet, which hitherto has been your means of pointless chatter and endless gossip, and visiting of websites that you cannot admit you have visited, should become a new tool, a source of information on your areas of interest. What is the current climate for pursuing these goals? It is at this stage that you must identify and talk with people who are doing what you are interested in pursuing so that you can assess if this is something you would really enjoy doing. Learn as much about your options as possible and evaluate whether your skills and temperament are suitable. How viable are the options? Will they make your money? Would they make you creative, or give you freedom?
4. COMMIT TO YOUR GOAL AND GET TO WORK ON YOUR GAME PLAN. After the assessment, choose the goal you desire most and claim it mentally. Affirm your ability to make it happen, based on your commitment, intelligence, wealth of experience and skills. Create a roadmap of what you need to do to pursue this particular goal. What is competitive environment for the dream job, business or new life direction? What are the strengths and weaknesses for this goal? What are you going to do to shore up your identified weaknesses? Special training or courses? Reading books and online research? Be sure to know what you don’t know, then go learn it. Discover everything there is to discover as you get ready to execute your plan.
5. BUILD YOUR CREDENTIALS. When you have completed the commitment and working-on-game-plan phase, it is time to get to work. It is school time all over again. Take the courses you have identified, to attain and improve your arsenal of credentials. This is the time that you build your CV, through HARD WORK. Your CV should not be a mere collection of words and alphabets, but a testimony of your hard work. Use your vacation times to intern or volunteer in the field to gain experience. These will give you opportunities to experiment with your new direction, develop your craft and gain exposure.
6. BRAND YOUR NEW SELF. In the course of all of this, you must seek to become unique. There are millions of artists, musicians, lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers, computer scientists etc. What would you be bringing that would make a mark or dent in this world? Identify what is distinctive about yourself and the unique approach you will bring to the field you have chosen. Use this information to create your identity or brand yourself. Work hard for distinctions because they will count in your branding. Don’t just pass exams. Pass with distinction. Create a personal slogan or tagline that captures your uniqueness and use it everywhere. In my senior year, mine was “failure has no breeding grounds where hard work, discipline and dedication lie.”
7. LET THE WORLD KNOW YOU’VE ARRIVED! At every stage when you have achieved something (e.g. a graduation) you must make a statement. Use every opportunity you can to create a message about the new you. Be creative, be daring and be heard!
My law firm is proud to have been associated with the founding and growth of this school in Ghana, and glad to have seen what was then, but a dream, at the beginning, bear fruit and continue to bear fruit. The best testimony of the greatness of that dream and vision, is and will be the quality of the students that it produces and the effect and impact that they in turn have on society.
As I come to a close, permit me to share with you, my personal mantra: “If others sit, stand. If other stand, stand out. If others stand out, be outstanding. And when others are outstanding, be the standard.”
Yours is a Christian mission school. Some, including your parents, have paid a price and made sacrifices to ensure that you are where you are today. You must respect that. I also cannot end this speech without referring to the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the Source and Finish, best captured on an occasion as this in the words of the hymnists Nicholas Brady and Nahum Tate as follows:
“Through all the changing scenes of life,
In trouble and in joy,
The praises of my God shall still
My heart and tongue employ.
Fear Him, ye saints, and you will then
Have nothing else to fear;
Make you His service your delight,
Your wants shall be His care.”
But I would also leave you with the endearing words of the late music legend, Michael Jackson, who famously sang:
“I’m Starting With The Man [and Woman] In The Mirror
I’m Asking Him To Change His [and Her] Ways
And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place
Take A Look At Yourself, And Then Make A Change”
Dear Graduands, I salute and congratulate you on a successful completion of your course of study. Go out and be that change that you want to see.
Thank you, and God bless you.
Ace Anan Ankomah