There is a temptation for most people to measure their ability and competence and dream by what others—the surrounding environment—thinks of them. This is particularly true for young people who lack experience with the wilder world as they prepare to enter and interact with new frontiers of life. This could be true for dozens of graduates of the Cuttington University Junior College as they matriculate into the new social ecosystem that is so fluid and unpredictable. But there was a Convocation Speaker on hand at their graduation ceremony who urged them to eschew inferiority complex and uncertainty but push themselves forward as deliberately as possible in order to fulfill their full potential. In the words of former Information Minister and former Liberia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Lewis G. Brown, God gives each one a blank check upon which to write their own worth and that the young grads must seize the moment to make use of the opportunity according to what they think they value after graduation. See full transcript of Ambassador Brown’s statement BELOW:
Commencement Address delivered by Amb. Lewis G. Brown at 2019 Graduation Ceremonies of the Cuttington University Junior College in Kakata, Margibi Cpunty on June 28,2019
Dr. Browne, I am grateful to you and the Cuttington University Family for honoring me with the opportunity to share in this important ceremony. I congratulate you, members of the Graduating Class of 2019, and offer special thanks to the families and friends who supported you.
This is a first university-level commencement address for me. I hope it will not be the last. I do not believe you will remember anything I will say, but being my first, I am not likely to forget this occasion. I also don’t remember what my commencements speakers said either. In any case, I hope I can hold your attention for a few minutes. I am not known for being brief but I intend to try. I like to make three points.
The first is that graduations testify to the truth that in each of us lies the often unexplored power to transform dreams into reality. For many of you, what may have begun as a dream is, today, a reality. By a combination of diligence and commitment, you have successfully transformed that dream into reality. You have essentially changed your life. Your job status may not change tomorrow but your level of qualification has changed today. You have successfully altered your reality with a new sense of empowerment. We gather today to confirm and celebrate your transformation.
You must never forget this about yourselves – you have the power to make dreams come true – not only because it is true but also because it should guide you in your future endeavors. Yes, each of you – ordinary you – can really do extraordinary things if you set your minds and hearts to doing it, and are also willing to apply your feet and hands to accomplish.
And so, in addition to the receipt of your degrees, what we have also come to witness today is the simple but enduring truth of human existence – the truth that in each of us lies the power to shape our future, the power to pursue our dreams, the power to alter our reality, the power to build our lives, the power to love our fellow men, the power to continuously define ourselves, the power to recreate our world, and the power to improve our environment. This is not a power conferred on you at graduation; it is a power in you which you use to invoke graduation.
Harnessing the power to own your destiny, in truth, is never too easy nor are we liable to celebrate the results as quickly as we may desire. And yes, there are no short cuts with transformative powers. It takes time; it takes courage; it takes belief in God, in self and in the rightness of your dreams; and it takes perseverance. Often, we must wrestle with the echoes of doubts reverberating in our heads, or the voices of naysayers screaming that we cannot succeed. We must also struggle with the looming fears of failure and all the negative prophecies that could likely attend the pursuit of our dreams.
Too often, rather than digging deeper with faith and believing in ourselves as humans with extraordinary powers to recreate ourselves, some are quick to let go – to settle for the paths of least resistance, or to surrender their dreams to the trappings of fears, doubts and naysayers. Too often, we let ourselves fail before we even start.
For too many of us, the power to recreate ourselves is untested and unexplored. We may be unsatisfied with who we are, and yet we are afraid to explore who we can be. Some people never try to find their transformative power. They look to others to try to change them when it is actually within their reach to change themselves. And so, they settle to merely exist without ever letting themselves truly live.
And yet, until we actually die, each of us possesses the power to shape his or her future. This, in truth, is the essence of life – it is the richest blessings of our humanity. This is what truly separates us from all other creatures of God. And so, to truly live, is to excite the power that lies within us to be the best in life that we can possibly be. When the power of our humanity is awakened – the power given to “go and conquer the earth” – it does not matter what gender, religion or tribe you may be, you can never, ever, truly, be the same.
It does not mean that we have to necessarily compete with others, or stab anyone in the back, or even pull others down so that we can climb. What it means is that we must have faith – faith in a just God whose purpose is that we succeed, and attend the search for success with diligence and honor. And we must be faithful to our calling.
Yes, we, too, can actually move mountains, not from the comforts of our beds and only with a wish that our mountains disappear, but with a willingness to push ourselves beyond our comforts – beyond the limits others have defined for us, or we have grown to accept – and to work as hard, as smart and as determined as we possibly can.
For many of you, earning these degrees were mountains to climb. And today, you have proven that you can climb those mountains! And so, after today, why doubt yourself anymore? Why doubt your power to change your reality? If you can move this mountain, you can move any mountain in your life. If you have never trusted yourself, or doubted what you can possibly accomplish, now and always, look back to today, and let yourself believe: You have the power to transform your dream into your reality.
The second point I would like to make is equally extraordinary in its simplicity. And it is that success is never measured by the size of the challenge we face. It is always measured by the size of our determination to overcome our difficulties. Sir Winston Churchill described this quality of determination as “continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.”
About two years ago, all that you had was a dream, a thought, or an ambition to earn an associate degree. Some of you did not even have the money before you embarked on this journey. Now, here you stand, living examples that where there is a will, there is always a way!
And so, over the course of at least two years of ups and downs, failing grades and passing grades, nursing the thoughts of dropping out and finding the inner strength to continue, paying on time and barely scraping through in debts, after the many hours dedicated to studies and hearing others saying you would not make it – today, here you proudly stand, transforming what seemed to have been an impossibility into your new reality.
About two years ago, many, if not all of you, may have had no academic qualification but a high school diploma; now here you stand, ready to receive a new level of academic qualification. This may not be the highest academic qualification you can possibly achieve but it is qualification you did not have two years ago. It may not guarantee a job for you tomorrow morning. But it has you feeling a bit more empowered. And that is not a sense of empowerment anyone can take away from you. You have earned it; you should be proud of yourselves, as I am proud of you.
And so, your degrees are not only proof of your new qualifications, they are actually evidence, if not to the world, then certainly to you, of your unwavering determination. That determination that has now made this possible is the new lens by which you can now view the world and its many possibilities for you. It is the yardstick for setting your goals, for challenging yourselves, for silencing the critics and naysayers, and for confronting your personal fears and doubts. With this determination, don’t you ever dare to limit yourselves. Reach for the sky, and you will soon discover that it is possible to touch it.
You see, your determination is the switch to turn on the light when all around you is dark; your determination is the overflowing well from which to draw continuous strength to keep you moving forward along the winding corridors of life’s ever-changing conditions.
As I review the program, I see the names of men and women from all across the rich diversities in our country. And so, it reminds me that it really does not matter where you are coming from, what your name is, or what difference we may have by birth or earthly circumstance; whatever we may desire for ourselves, each of us can achieve it, if we are determined to try, and to never give up on ourselves. Like Churchill would say, “never, never, never give up.”
And so, in all of human endeavors – big or small – success is never measured by the size of the challenge we will face but by the size of our determination to overcome. The same is also true: Our determination is never measured by our perceived sociological differences nor is it measured by the length of time it may take. It is always measured by the sacrifice in work we are willing to make. Determination is an educated choice which enables us to see failures as by-products of success and bumpy roads as never being enough to stop us from reaching our destiny.
Many of you did not make it this far with the blessings of exceptional brilliance or even enough money to fund your schooling. For many of you, each day was a battling choice between giving up and carrying on. Naturally, some of you have had to work harder than others. This is who you are. And so in all things, know yourself, and be the best of whatever you are.
Douglas Malloch says this best:
If you can’t be a pine on the top of the hill
Be a scrub in the valley – but be
The best little scrub by the side of the rill
Be a bush, if you can’t be a tree
If you can’t be a bush, be a bit of the grass
And some highway happier make
If you can’t be a muskie, then just be a bass –
But the liveliest bass in the lake!
We can’t all be captains, we’ve got to be crew
There’s something for all of us here
There’s big work to do and there’s lesser to do
And the task we must do is the near
If you can’t be a highway, then just be a trail
If you can’t be the sun, be a star
It isn’t by size that you win or you fail –
But be the best of whatever you are
Lifting the weary spirits of Americans fighting for racial equality, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said “If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run, then walk, if you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” And so, I say to you, in life, never give up – keep moving forward.
Finally, I begin my third point with two questions: Where do you go from here? And how do you intend to get there? I hope you have found some time to consider these questions. They are important for you. Whatever answers you come up with, please consider this advice which is as old as the Holy Bible urging us to let our light shine. It is unwise, the Bible says, to light a lamp and then cover it with a bowl, or hide it under a bed. A lamp is placed on a candle stand or in a location to shine.
Consider yourselves to be lighted lamps. Do not bury your light. Stand out. Dare to be different. Let your light shine. Your light may not be so bright, but let it shine. Your light may be small – just a glow – but let it shine. Your light may be from an economically-depressed community, but let it shine. Even the smallest light can brighten the biggest darkness. Let your light shine.
Shining your light is applying yourselves diligently and honorably to be better. It is not just claiming to have an intention, but also, it is acting on your intentions. They say an expert is someone who has applied at least 10,000 working hours to their craft. Don’t settle for less. Shining your light means applying yourselves diligently to being the best that you can be in whatever you are called to do. Shining your light is an unending commitment to the continuous improvements of your minds for it is our minds, not material possessions, or wealth that is the measure of a man.
Said Dr. Isaac Watts, the English hymwriter and theologian:
Tis true my form is something odd
But blaming me is blaming God
Could I create myself anew
I would not fail in pleasing you
Were I so tall to reach the pole
Or grasp the ocean with my span
I must be measured by my soul
The mind’s the standard of the man
My father never would have matched the eloquence of Dr. Watts, Sir Churchill or Dr. King. How would he? But he was never short on wisdom and hard work. As a boy, he ran away from the safe surroundings of his village in Rivercess, and came to Monrovia, where he knew no one, and could speak no English. He was defiant in refusing to settle for becoming either a fisherman or a farmer, the life to which many of his peers were restricted. He wanted something more for himself, and if he could not get it, he wanted it for his seed. He slept in market places, and knocked about town teaching himself to be a mason, and to speak and write as much English as he needed to communicate.
As my brothers and I tumbled over each other on the old spring bed – somehow it always pulled us to the center – and my sisters were experiencing the same in their room, my father was busy tearing down and rebuilding overnight portions of the mat house of three rooms he had hurriedly constructed in Gardnersville, until it became a cemented building. He had to work overnight because he had to go to his day job of a maintenance man at the JFK Memorial Hospital.
My mother, a cook at the Maternity Hospital, was up at 3am every morning to bake bread to supplement the family’s income so that I would attend the St. Patrick’s High School, and so that my siblings would get the best education which none of my parents had. My parents knew – they understood – that the mind is the standard of the man. What they did not have, they wanted their children to have. And today, it is by their light – their hard work and determination – that I have seen my way to reach where they did not reach. It is on their untiring efforts that I proudly stand today.
As often as he could, my father would say to me and my siblings: “Life is a blank check given to you by God. God wants you to write your value on your check. He has given you the power to do so. Never be afraid to write upon your blank check the true value of your worth.” “And never forget”, he would say, “whatever value you write on your check, that is the same value the world will accept of you.” He would often end by saying, each day you breathe, is a chance to rewrite your value. Never miss the opportunity while you still breathe.
And so today, I urge you as my father urged me: Write on your blank checks. Do not return it to God as blank as He gave it to you. And write the value you know you are, you know you are truly worth, and you know the world ought to accept of you.
Congratulations to the Class of 2019.