Your Excellencies; Members of the Board; Odeefoo Oteng-Korankye II; Nananom; distinguished guest speaker, Kofi Appenteng; parents, family, and friends; my incredible colleagues; and dear Class of 2023, welcome to the 19th commencement ceremony of Ashesi University.

What a joy to be here with you this morning, Class of 2023, as we celebrate your accomplishments, and the promise of what you will achieve in the world.

As Christabel said, this is also a day for gratitude. Let us a take a moment to thank all those whose contributions have brought you to this day: your families who have supported you throughout your lives; the faculty who guided you on your learning journey here; the administrators and support staff who made this a nurturing campus for you; and our donors and friends who stood by us to create this place we call Ashesi.

Class of 2023 today marks the end of one chapter of your life and the beginning of a new one. All around the globe, Commencement Day is the day when speakers urge the graduating class to go out and make their impact on the world. Don’t worry; I am not going to ask you to go and save the world. All that I ask is that you do something you will be proud of.

On the day I graduated from college, I was certainly not thinking about doing grand things. I was just happy to have received a job offer before I graduated. I was slightly nervous about traveling to a new place and starting life anew. I had very little money in my bank account, and I looked forward with anticipation to my first pay check. If anyone had tried to talk to me about doing grand things or saving the world, I would have paid no attention to them.

I think there is perhaps a bit more going on today than there was in 1989; so, you may be more open to thinking about doing grand things. The world is making amazing strides in science and technology. Humanity has reached consensus on a set of global development goals, and we are connected like never before. We are working together to address global challenges such as climate change and healthcare. And some things remain the same. The cold war seems to be coming back; the cycles of economic booms and busts continue; and the challenge of Africa’s underdevelopment remains ever present.

I would like to suggest to you, that as you consider what do in this next chapter of your lives, you consider the great opportunity of Africa’s development. It is a significant frontier for reshaping the world as we know it, and it is worthy of your attention. Ghanaian Philosopher, Kwame Gyekye, in his book, The unexamined life, described development as a central concern of most people in Africa. Yet, he pointed out that most African countries since independence have been afflicted with political corruption, and that Africa’s people have been let down by their leaders.

Professor Gyekye was right. After breaking the shackles of colonialism, most African countries fell into an era of poor governance --of unethical and ineffective leadership. With a few exceptions, we are still operating in that era. Emerging into a more beautiful and prosperous age will not happen by accident or merely by the passage of time.

So, what will it take for us to achieve a breakthrough? In Kwame Gyekye’s opinion, it will require the thought leadership of philosophers. The question, “What is development?” in his view, should be treated with the same weight as those questions philosophers have grappled with for millennia: What is virtue? What is truth? What is justice?

Some of you may be asking, “What does this have to do with me?” After all, none of you today is graduating with a philosophy degree. Others of you might be asking whether development is really a project of philosophy. What about economists, engineers, lawyers, judges, doctors, educators, programmers, artists, and scientists?

Obviously, the development of any society requires the engagement of many different disciplines. But I think Professor Gyekye’s insight is correct. We do need people in all the various professions to be philosophical–to engage in deep conversation about what kind of society we want to build and our role in getting us there. For example, imagine what our society would look like if our most educated people came to a deeper understanding of justice-- to mean, not just lawfulness or equity, but also of diligence in one’s work? In many African countries, including this one, some highly educated engineers have spent that last decades building roads that fail within months of completion.

Have those engineers treated their society with justice? Have they done great things that they can be proud of? What might our society look and feel like, if we understood development as a phenomenon of economic growth and the advancement of our people in many dimensions: in the advancement of an African aesthetic in the world; in self-reliance and concern for each other; and in appreciating the beauty of nature?

What if we understood that development depends on nurturing the highest levels of human virtue, beauty, truth and justice? When I ask you to do something grand, I’m asking that your deepest Ashesi conversations stay with you –that you to continue to think and discuss with your colleagues how we might build a more perfect continent. I am asking you to work with diligence and grace --not according to how much you’re paid, but rather, by how much you and the society you live in, are worth. I am asking you to do things that you will be proud of, and that will outlive you.

“Grand” does not need to be some new shiny technology. Recognise the value in the full spectrum of things that need to be built in Africa. “Grand” is not necessarily measured by earning the same salaries as your peers living in the global north or even by how much attention you get for your work. Grand is bigger than that.

Remember too, that great things often come from doing smaller things in collaboration with others. I remember the first years of Ashesi when I worked with a small team of dedicated people, working against all odds to build this institution. My new job as Ashesi’s founder was different from the high-tech job I had left at Microsoft. I learned to do every role at Ashesi except perhaps security guard duties. I served as the receptionist on some days, answering calls and welcoming guests to campus. I helped develop budgets. I taught a leadership seminar. For years, I was the webmaster of the university. And of course, I helped formulate strategy, build a team, and secure the resources to implement our mission.

Casper recently reminded me of a day when I found a pool of water on a classroom floor (from a malfunctioning air-conditioner) and how I went to get bucket and mop to clean up the mess. My students stopped me, took the mop from me, and cleaned up the floor. It was a leadership seminar, and I think that day, my students learned something about leadership. It was one of many small acts towards accomplishing something grand: educating a new generation of leaders for our continent.

Just yesterday, one of my colleagues told me his team members and he had noticed me often standing at a particular spot here on campus staring out into the distance, sometimes for 10 minutes at a time, and they wondered what was going through my mind at those times. He asked, “In those moments, are you thinking about the next thing? Do you feel proud of what you’ve accomplished?” My answer was, “Sometimes, I’m just taking a break.”

And yes, I do feel proud of what we have accomplished here together, and excited about what we will yet accomplish tomorrow. This is what I wish for you, Class of 2023.

Congratulations, and God Speed!