MONROVIA: In his first ever convocation address at any higher institution in the country since his inauguration, President Joseph Nyuma Boakai has told the members of the 19th graduation class of the United Methodist University(UMU) on the pathway to building a better society, stressing that it is important to begin holding conversations that will lead to a positive mindset just as he emphasized that such conversations should not be about harmful individualism that leads to greed and corruption but about societal change for the common good of the people.
Speaking yesterday, Tuesday, January 30, 2024 at the 19th Convocation exercise of the University in Doemah Town, Margibi County, President Boakai said with all the virtues available to building a prosperous society that will be beneficial to everyone, “regrettably, Liberians spend more time bringing each other down and missing the opportunity to upgrade themselves”.
“We are aware that years of war and violence have had a social impact on our country, but we must also acknowledge that we have had many years of peace, stability, and opportunities to reshape society, in ways that should allow us to frown on behaviors that eat the very fabric of society.
“The growing decline in good moral standards is of great concern to me, and it is becoming increasingly evident that until we address bad public behavior in society, generations will come to believe norms that are inimical to society”, President Boakai said..
Speaking on the topic “Transforming the Mindset for Societal Change” the President who is a strict disciplinarian stated that the lack of respect and love for each other is demonstrated daily in many ways across society in the way “we think and talk and use media channels including the radio to tear each other apart for greed and selfish reasons”.
He lamented that citizens, it seems nowadays, are prepared to undermine each other, and lie to protect their jobs, even if it is detrimental to the public good adding it is disheartening that very few people now subscribe to values and principles, adding “these vices are becoming pervasive in society with young people feeding on them as the new normal”.
“We must start challenging these predominant norms that have overtaken our society and negatively impact behavior. We need a mindset shift to break the recurring challenges of underdevelopment in our country; we must see things differently, treat others with mutual respect, and view service from a more compassionate lens than individualism and greed, which fuels the scourge of corruption so prevalent in our country. On this note, I would like to quote Pope Francis who poignantly said:
“Rivers do not drink their own water; trees do not eat their own fruit; the sun does not shine on itself, and flowers do not spread their fragrance for themselves. Living for others is a rule of nature. We are all born to help each other. No matter how difficult it is … Life is good when you are happy; but much better when others are happy because of you.”
“Change comes when we develop the mindset to break from the past and free ourselves of such notions, undermining progress. The change we must seek should challenge these societal vices and their agency. A transformed mindset that opens up space and grants everyone equal opportunity builds the foundation for an equal and compassionate society”, President Boakai said.
Speaking further, President Boakai, who is a graduate of the College of West Africa, the institute from which the United Methodist University originated elevated the place of education as the key to transformation “which is why as graduates and students who have been taught to think, you must challenge the current mindset and question norms that are contrary to love, a compassionate spirit, integrity, honesty, and peaceful coexistence”. He told the students that their degrees should not just be about the knowledge they have acquired, but how well they are going to use it to impact the conversation and bring about collective change.
“It is important to tune down the rhetoric and hold meaningful dialogues about the questions of society and how we should deal with each other across the divide. Peaceful conversations enable divergent perspectives on what confronts us as a country and how we can together address them. The false messages on Facebook are not helpful to future generations.
“My friends, the road to a new mindset is not walking alone; it is a journey that should involve us all, and taking a cue from a wise African proverb, “If we want to go farther on this road, we should walk together.”
“Always remember the power to change society is with you – the way you think and behave will shift the mindset in the direction of truth, accountability, integrity, fairness, and transparency. I, therefore, challenge all of us to begin thinking of a new mindset that will transform our country and become the promise it was meant to be by the founding fathers. Let us live by the golden rule to do to others as we would have them do unto us”, he said.
Speaking directly to the graduates, he said the day of leaving from the walls of their alma mater marked more than just academic accomplishments, stressing that it was the beginning of a journey filled with boundless opportunities and urged them to view the moment as only the start of a profound journey of great opportunities.
“Many of you will likely pursue careers in the public sector to contribute to your country’s development. However, in this age of boundless opportunities, the private sector is emerging as a dynamic force for economic growth and innovation. I urge you not only to consider joining this sector but also to become pioneers in its expansion.
“Imagine yourselves as entrepreneurs who shape industries and redefine business landscapes. I encourage you to also pursue studies in information technology, as this area is the new frontier, we will be exploring to advance the country’s development. We will provide opportunities that will help you exploit your talents and be your own employer.
“Knowing the transformative potential of your skills and aspirations can serve as a driving force to push you forward. Your journey does not just involve choosing a career path; it plays a role in shaping the economic future of our country. It would be advantageous for both you and the country to explore different fields, including Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), and the agriculture value chain, which is full of potential. It is an area waiting to be fully explored to create wealth for our people.
“By immersing yourselves in the agriculture value chain, and engineering you become pioneers and trailblazers, pushing open the doors to a vibrant job market.
“It’s crucial that you don’t rest on your laurels. Build your capacity to embrace challenges, seize opportunities, and let your passion light up a path toward a future where your impact goes beyond personal success and leads to transformative change in the world. Today’s achievement should not merely be one of higher education, but tools to help you navigate the complexities of this changing globalized world.
“I urge you to ensure that your pursuit of excellence is not just for yourself but for the benefit of society. As today’s graduates, the knowledge you have gained should not be confined to academia but inspire others. For those pursuing further studies, consider your role not only as scholars but also as agents of change who can challenge existing paradigms and drive transformative progress”, President Boakai said.
Turning to his presidency and the challenges that lie ahead and how he hopes to impact governance to bring manifold changes in the country, President Boakai who came to power on the mantra of “Rescue Mission” said, “as we embark on this new journey, we solemnly pledge to restore not only our state institutions but also the integrity and prestige of our great nation”, asserting that the task ahead notwithstanding being monumental, “but with our youth having the right perspective and a new mindset, we are confident that Liberia will rise from the ashes stronger and more prosperous”.
“In our commitment to transparency and accountability, we want to re-echo our pledge to commission a comprehensive audit of the stewardship of the previous Government.
We want to clarify that this audit is not meant to be a witch hunt. Rather, it is a necessary step towards understanding the extent of the challenges we face and ensuring that those responsible for any wrongdoing are held accountable.
“Moreover, we acknowledge the seriousness of the economic challenges facing our nation, and we are determined to implement measures that promote fiscal responsibility.
“Most importantly, we want to send a clear message to our public officials: misusing public resources will not go unpunished. Graduates, I want you to know that corruption impedes the development of any country and steals the future of generations unborn.
As we move forward, we humbly request your unwavering support, understanding, and active participation in rebuilding our nation. The road to recovery may seem daunting, but together, we will overcome and build a Liberia that stands as a beacon of integrity, progress, and prosperity. Let us work hard towards a brighter future for all.
Let us never shun our resolve to always THINK LIBERIA, LOVE LIBERIA so that together we can BUILD LIBERIA”, President Boakai said.
President Boakai had earlier in his speech commended the President of the University, Dr. Yar Donlah Gonway-Gono for extending the invitation to speak at the occasion and reflected on his link to the University, adding, “I cannot but reflect on my graduation several years ago; and it is even more than gratifying that I can do so at this Institution—United Methodist University – an institution that evolved out of my Alma Mata and a school I helped to found”
“I cannot but mention a few historic coincidences with this university. It may interest you to know that my first commencement address following my election as vice president to President Sirleaf- also an alumnus of CWA – was to graduates of UMU. Today, just a week after being sworn in as President, I am again at the United Methodist University to give my first commencement address, this time to the 19th graduation class of UMU.
“Coincidentally also, the president of this university, Dr. Yar Donlah Gonway–Gono, who was then the only female president of a degree-granting institution invited me to be her first graduation speaker at the Nimba Community College in 2015. I am here again responding to her invitation to speak to this year’s graduating class of the university she heads. I would like to thank Dr. Gonway-Gono for the years of friendship and collaboration in academia”, the President said.
About 1,200 graduates received degrees in various disciplines after successfully completing all requirements prescribed by the authority of the university.