Kagameís Commencement speech at William Penn University
Dr. Ann Fields, President of William Penn University;
Mr Jerry Ellis, Chairman of the Board of William Penn University;
Dr Noel Stahle, Vice President for Academic Affairs;
Faculty and staff;
Class of 2012;
Parents, ladies and gentlemen:
Thank you Dr Fields for your kind introduction and for the honour of this degree you have just conferred on me. I accept it with deep humility, knowing that in actual fact, it is a recognition of the collective effort of Rwandans to work for a better and brighter future.
It is a distinct pleasure for me to be associated with William Penn University personally – through this honorary doctorate – but also as a country through the special partnership we have in the common search for what can better the lives of our people. This partnership is evidently beginning to produce results.
Today we mark another milestone in this relationship with Rwandan students being part of this graduating class. We are proud of them and this university, and hope to have many more coming here. They did not only find an education here but also a home away from home.
I would like to thank Mr Steve Noah and Joe Crookham for providing the Rwandan students the comfort and warmth of home and family.
We value the partnership with this university and with other learning institutions, and with nations because we recognise that the future of humankind is best guaranteed by collaboration in learning, research and joint approaches to issues of our time.
I am also happy to say that Rwanda shares the principles and values on which this university was founded and that continue to shape it – equal access to quality education without discrimination.
Wherever people decide to live the best life they can, and better the lives of others as well, one will find some common characteristics - vision, determination and resilience. I believe this ethos is what inspires the William Penn University community – and it is what should keep the ties between this institution and my country Rwanda even stronger for years to come.
Many of you know that Rwanda’s history has been a challenging one – and in describing our nation’s recovery, reconciliation and socio-economic progress, the word “miracle” is sometimes used.
Well, certainly, there has been rapid change – but not in the mystical sense that most may think; there has been no magic formula to fix the daunting challenges we face.
While appropriate policies and good governance structures have all played their rightful role, the key to our transformation lies with the individual Rwandan citizen and in their interactions with each other.
In their capacity to find common ground and a common cause and purpose, to come together in pursuit of peace and national prosperity – there has not been a Rwandan miracle as such, but millions of them.
In every language, there are words that are not easily translated. One such word in Kinyarwanda - the native language of Rwanda – is agaciro.
In English, you might say self-respect, self-worth or dignity -- but none conveys its meaning precisely. The word tries to capture the very essence of humanness.
Agaciro has been - and continues to be - the indispensible ingredient of Rwanda’s transformation.
To truly grasp the meaning of agaciro, it helps to contemplate the consequence of its absence. After all, this is what made our history so tragic.
The genocide in Rwanda eighteen years ago had its origins in decades of bad governance (combining internal and external factors), hateful ideologies and impunity. For that to have happened – to the unbelievable degree that it did – people had to have surrendered the last shred of their dignity because to truly value one’s own life means valuing the lives of others.
As a people, Rwandans have since sought to rebuild a sense of individual as well as collective worth.
As a government, we have pursued policies of economic growth - not for its own sake, but because expanding the horizons of opportunity for our citizens will lay the groundwork on an equitable basis for prosperity and peace.
Our work in tackling corruption has earned respect from around the world, but that is not why we took such steps.
We did so because there is no dignity in paying a corrupt official to get your goods to market, your children to school or hospital, or for the guarantee of temporary safety.
Our national mission is towards self-reliance, but it does not come from some kind of reflexive nationalism.
It is simply the recognition that there is no self-respect in depending on the permanent generosity of others.
Rwandans of your generation are more optimistic about their country than any before them. They are full of hope, full of pride. This is because they have grown up in a society that has restored the enduring spirit of agaciro.
Class of 2012;
Ladies and Gentlemen:
These lessons we have learned along the way in Rwanda may have some relevance for you, Class of 2012:
Today marks the culmination of much preparation and hard work – and you stand here to celebrate your achievements, realised dreams and the promise of a better tomorrow. Congratulations!
Indeed, this is the end of one phase of your education – but also, the beginning of a whole new different one. You will now get the opportunity to apply what you have learned to real life situations, moving beyond theories and debates to action that can make a difference in your own life, and for those around you.
You are graduating as leaders of this century – possessing the idealism that has driven leaders over the centuries, but also tempered by the realities of the world we live in, and above all, equipped with the knowledge and skills to deal with its problems and challenges.
And how you deal with them and transform the environments in which you will be working shall be the test of true leadership.
Your formal education has given you a valuable skill set to succeed in the world – but it will be the values you uphold, and the high standards that you set, that will distinguish you as the leaders our communities need today.
It is these values that will help you deal with the inequalities that exist in the world, to know that what is taken for granted in one place is not the same in another. And so the goal will be to reduce disparities and increase opportunities, and create societies where everyone can realize their potential.
Every generation has its unique challenges and opportunities, but also its specific mission. In your generation, technology and globalization have created a borderless, fast-paced and interdependent world. In this environment no single individual, however talented, no one nation, however powerful, can live in isolation or think that they do not need the other. It means we must collaborate in dealing with humanity’s challenges – whether they are about international security, economic difficulties, climate change, energy, education and healthcare or food for the world’s increasing population.
I am confident that the networks for such collaboration are being formed here at William Penn University and others will be made in the workplace in the different continents.
You are entering a competitive world where knowledge, skills and innovation matter a great deal. Competition has over time produced the best in humankind – in academics, sports, science and technology, and many other areas – and propelled us to the present level of development of the human race.
Leaders who will make a difference are those who are able to harness our competitive energies, creative and innovative potential and channel them into work for the common good.
You should always remember that leadership is not about a single individual, no matter how gifted; it centers on the ability to inspire others to move together in the right direction, towards a common good. Aspire to be that person.
I have no doubt that among the 2012 Class of William Penn University there are outstanding leaders ready to step into the future and make the world a better home for all its citizens.
Once again congratulations to you all, and I wish you success in all your endeavours. Thank you for your kind attention.