Commencement Address to the
College of Business & Public Administration, University of Liberia 98th Convocation Exercise
By Clemenceau B. Urey, Sr., CEO, Atlantic
Life and General Insurance Company
UL Fendall Campus
December 8, 2017
The President of the University, Dr. Ophelia Weeks, (my classmate), The Dean of the College of Business and Public Administration, the Faculty and Staff of the University of Liberia, Honored Graduates, Officials of Government, Proud Parents and Guardians, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, Fellow Citizens.
Many years ago, in 1969 to be exact, I entered the walls of the University of Liberia, our own Lux in Tenebris, as a young man seeking to drink from the deep fountain of knowledge from the University of Liberia; I graduated in 1972 and entered the University of the world and beyond to navigate my way around, with the determination to succeed. I considered it an honor and privilege to be here today, having been selected from among a pool of many eminently qualified individuals to serve as your guest speaker at this 98th Convocation of the largest college in the University system of the University of Liberia, my alma mater. I hope I will justify the confidence reposed in me.
When I consented to serve as your guest speaker today, I began asking myself some questions. Why did I, Clemenceau B. Urey Sr. seek a university education. What does one need to achieve success in a university environment? What is my definition of success? Did I possess the required characteristics to succeed at the University of Liberia? What kind of individual will I be at the end of my university sojourn? Or, how will I be transformed intellectually and character wise at the conclusion of my university sojourn? I will seek answers to these questions, using my experience as examples, as I go through this discourse and I hope they will be relevant to you, graduates.
Most of us here today are aware of the importance of education in the life of every individual. This is why we have supported the graduates here today for the past four or more years and are here today to celebrate with them. Education is important in the life of every individual, especially so, those who find themselves located at the lower end of the economic and social ladder. For those who find themselves at the lower end, as some of you may be, education is the tool used to free oneself from the depths of poverty and ignorance as one ascends the ladder. So the higher one ascends the ladder of knowledge acquiring a college degree and beyond, the greater the probability of freeing oneself from poverty and ignorance to an improved quality of life and social advancement. Let me hasten to add, however, that obtaining a college degree which symbolizes one’s determination to ascend the ladder of knowledge quality will not by itself guarantee success. One must obtain the degree with character, not by cutting corners such as purchasing grades with cash or kind, cheating or spying, etc. One must utilize the familiar characteristics which helped you to succeed in obtaining your college degree, to achieve success in the world. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. Some of the characteristics for success in obtaining a college that are also useful in life are: Discipline or hardwork, self motivation or drive, compassion or concern for others, Integrity or honesty, flexibility to compromise and dialogue to resolve contentious issues, to name a few.
Many of you who utilized these characteristics during your stay at the University of Liberia and are today as graduates, did not find it easy, as the learning environment these days are very challenging in contrast to the period of my sojourn at the University of Liberia. During my time, we found our stay at the university more conducive for learning. For one thing, the university population was much lower than it is today. For example, the total number of graduates in 1972 for the entire University was 94; today, it is 1,542 candidates for only one college, the College of Business and Public Administration. The small population during my period of stay made it easier to support and manage the University of Liberia and it was well supported financially. We knew nothing of pamphlets. The university bookstore was well supplied with text books- both new and used. There were many scholarships partial and full, which included textbooks and stipends. There were well qualified staff both foreign and local; among the qualified foreign faculty were the full-bright professors. Nothing such as Teaching Assistants or TAs teaching full University courses existed; we had functioning dormitories, well-furnished and comfortable classrooms, functioning Language and science labs. Today the learning environment is less conducive because of the high population, scarce resources, limited qualified faculty, compounded with high tension between students and the University administration, etc.
My advice to you students still at the university listening to me today is, reduce your militancy and try to listen to reason and compromise to reduce tension and conflict at the UL as it is not in your interest. You cannot afford to take a large portion of the academic year just for registration. We are quite aware that things are difficult economically but try to plan well ahead of time for registration. It is written in the scripture, that one must do unto others as you would have done unto you. In the future some of you will become leaders and you would expect that those you are leading will abide by this potion of scripture. To the university leadership, try to adopt new measures to simplify and streamline the registration process. Keep your channel of communication open at all times and continue to engage the student leadership and the student body at large and be proactive. Already things are bad on campus as a result of limited resources, over population and others. Therefore, let’s find ways to reduce tension and promote harmony and cordiality on campus to make the atmosphere more conducive for learning.
As this graduation ceremony today culminates in your sojourn at the university to enter the University of the World, several challenges await you. The first that comes to mind is expectation, from parents and guardians that they have invested well in you to provide them the social security to secure their well-being, especially at old age, as Liberia still lacks a viable and comprehensive social security system. Expectation that the University has adequately equipped you with the skills/ knowledge, necessary to successfully navigate the new world environment to locate employment, support yourselves and meet the expectation of your parents or guardians and thirdly expectations from society that you will be a good citizen and contribute meaningfully and significantly to make your contribution for improvement in the society at large. How well one succeeds in meeting these expectations depends on how well one acquired the academics/skill and applied himself/herself in the acquisition of knowledge at the University of Liberia, not cutting corners but spending one’s time wisely, reinforcing and strengthening those values that build strong character to cope with the vicissitudes of life beyond the university environment, meet the challenges head on in the university of the world by grappling successfully with the severity and prevelance of negative forces that existentially threatened the meeting of your expectation in the world environment. To prepare oneself for success in the world and realize the expectation referred to earlier as one engages in his/her academic pursuit at the University, one must adopt a broad focus on life and not a narrow one as the narrow focus leads to the I, me, and my syndrome; in other words, selfishness. It is the root cause of many aspects of poor citizenship and bad governance such as personal aggrandizement of power and wealth, nepotism, greed, corruption and the like, all of which are obstacles to good governance. A broad focus on life on the other hand, looks beyond mere satisfying the needs of an individual and his immediate family and is sensitive to the general well-being of others. This brings me to the subject or title of this discourse, which is, “Define your personal goals of life in broad terms to impact your environment in positive ways”. Those who do this are likely to exhibit characteristics such as compassion, love of country, integrity and the like, which are seemly in short supply in our country today; these individuals look out not only for their interests only but the interests of others. They make positive contributions to their communities in which they live and society at large, thus leaving footprints on the sand of time. As you end your sojourn at the university of Liberia and enter the university of the world at this time, you are about to enter a very challenging environment, where there is severe economic stagnation and depression and, therefore, one in which opportunities for employment in your fields of study may be very limited, where students who graduated three or more years ago find themselves still in the search of employment in their fields of study. Where the wage bill consumes an unrealistically high portion of the National Budget. Where our private sector is occupied and controlled mainly by non- Liberians; Where some individuals in high places are actively involved in the trade and commerce of the country, having established business relationships with non- Liberian business people; they are, therefore, paying lip service when it comes to enforcing Liberianization policies and Laws and are, conspiring to maintain the status quo; where access to loans for business formation or expansion are difficult to acquire and when you are successful in acquiring one, the payment terms are very stringent to meet; where tax incentives to support small and median size businesses are virtually non existent. Where commodity export prices for leading exports such as rubber and iron ore are depressed, thereby suppressing expansion and leading to cut-backs and non-hiring; where the ugly head of corruption remains endemic at all levels of society and is frequently at the core of most business transactions. So dear graduates, you are about to transition to a new but challenging world environment that may lead you to severe frustration and depression. But do not despair, as opportunities are still available. This reminds me of a familiar story of a shoe manufacturer who sent a salesman to a distant land to sell shoes. He returned and told the marketing manager. There is no market there for shoes; the people there move around barefooted; they wear no shoes. The sales manager sent another salesman back to the same land. He came back and reported. There is a huge market for shoes as the people move around barefooted; therefore, they need shoes. So, others see opportunities in a situation where others see nothing, depending on your power of discernment which is a function of one’s character and the nature of your preparation. Therefore, while our situation in our country is indeed challenging, it is not without hope. As you transition from the university to the world, now is the time to bring all that you’ve learned from Kindergarten to your successful stay at the university to bear as you attempt to survive and cope with the challenges to advance yourself. I usually engage university students from time to time and our conversation goes like this: “what are you doing young man/lady? I am at the university”, they would respond. Most of the time; when asked about their fields of study, many would say, “Management”. And then my next question is, “what would you want to do with a degree in management?” And they would respond in various ways, but the respond I would look for is, “I want to manage my own business” I then encourage these young people to embrace the entrepreneurial spirit, go into the private sector, meet the challenges and make room there for themselves. While the public sector is where one goes mainly to serve, the private sector is where one goes mainly to seek and create wealth. Generally, one does not get rich working for others but for oneself. I, therefore, encourage all of you graduates in buisness and even graduates from the school of Public Administration to eventually consider making a change later on in life to the private sector for a while if you are not fairing well in the public sector. As for me I received my first masters degree in Public Administration, worked in the public service and later moved on to the private sector after responding to circumstances that led me to pursue my second masters in Finance and made a change to the private sector; and, I don’t regret making the change. Besides the contribution I am making to our country as an employer, I am enjoying my independence. I don’t work any less but I work at my own pace. While the environment can be challenging at times, however, it is a good feeling to work for yourself.
Today, fellow Liberians, we find ourselves at a very critical juncture in the in the life of our country; one where we must seek answers to the $64.00 question in response to our deep concern at the moment relative to whom we elect as our leader. Is there one who can organize a team or group of like-minded people around him/her who are prepared to lead our country by good examples to achieve lasting peace and prosperity in our country?. We must make a very critical decision as to which direction we must go as a Nation and people. Turn left and we continue to further decline and be left behind by more progressive countries in our sub-region and beyond. Turn right, and we continue to build up zeal and maintain the momentum towards progress so that you graduates and others to follow will transition to a more hospitable environment that which is fraught with opportunities. This is about opening your eyes, ears and mind to vote and asking the Almighty God to guide us Liberians to make the right leadership choice. And here the distinguish orator, the learned lawyer, Plo Lumumba, from Kenya is most appropriate. We must not be fooled this time around and be moved by baseless sentiments, flowery rhetorics and unrealistic promises. Promises we’ve heard before and promises we are hearing for the first time; some politicians claim to have special God-like powers if elected to make Manna fall from heaven, make bread without dough, create ice without water and the like. The results are excuses and broken promises after being fooled by such claims, when the wrong choice is made. We must elect a leader who is realistic and prepared to create an enabling environment of opportunities for our young people to realize their dreams and aspirations. An enabling environment where Liberians will be given first preference in thought, words and deeds.
We must elect a leader who has a high probability for success. A leader who has received some kind of training and experience in leadership. Let us not take unneccesary risks and do otherwise. My fellow Liberians, while it is good to make history, let us make good history. A history, we can be proud of and one that will lead us to success, so that one day when we turn on the Tvs to international stations, we can be like other African countries inviting the world to visit our county, Liberia, for relaxation and recreation to see attractive things.
Fellow Liberians, I am here to tell you today that I have hope and promise in Liberia, no matter the situation. I never left Liberia for good during all through the war years. When things got hot I left Liberia as soon as it calmed down I returned home because I believed then and believe now that the ills in our society can be corrected and we can make our country attractive and prosperous as other countries for all to enjoy. All we need is a visionary committed and good leadership to inspire us. Note the word leadership, not leader; not one person, but a group of people of like-minds, prepared to lead by exhibiting good examples such as- unimpeachable integrity, respect for the rule of law, discipline, promote economic and social justice and the like and the Liberian people will follow the leadership.
We must, however, never be satisfied even after electing such individuals. We must not give them a blank check and become mere bystanders as they run the country. For the saying goes, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We must always remain suspect and be prepared to hold their feet to the fire for the promises made and this must be done collectively, through collective group action. This is why I have joined some patriotic and well-meaning Liberians to form a civic organization which is known as, The Forum for Societal Change. Members of this organization believe that the pace of our development is rather slow when compared to other countries in our sub-region and beyond and that our pace of development can be accelerated by employing the principles and practices of good or better governance. Good governance involves making use of positive values referred to earlier to bear in the practice of governance to ensure the judicial management of our country’s scarce resources for a better life. The Forum was actively involved in voters education at the legislative level during the recent elections as we strived to strengthen the first branch of government, the National Legislature, by getting competent and patriotic men and women elected. When our long running election saga is concluded, we will continue to constructively engage the government of the day on topical issues of governance. For example, we intend to join forces with other patriotic organizations to ensure that our 2018 National Budget truly reflects a more development focus. We expect the three branches of Government to take drastic cuts in salary and benefits (at least 50%) and utilize the savings for social and development programs: To receive more generous consideration from our international partners, we must demonstrate our commitment to improving the situation in our country through reasonable funding in the National budget before turning to our international partners for assistance; we must demonstrate our commitment to transforming our country for the better. We must talk the talk and walk the walk. Most politicians talk about agriculture as the way forward to mitigate our economic problems, while we believe that also, my question is, what kind of Agriculture are we talking about? Some think about promoting agriculture only in a narrow perspective, such as giving farmers more tools, providing better seedlings and training more extension workers and the like. While these are good, they are grossly inadequate. To realize huge benefits from agriculture, we need to think big and do more. A comprehensive, large scale and well-funded program is the only viable approach which we must embrace with vigor to grow our economy and solve the high unemployment problems we are experiencing, as it is important that every nation utilizes what assets it has been endowed with by the Almighty God to improve its quality of Life. Liberia is endowed with abundant land, rainfall, sunshine and proximity to Europe, a ready market for its tropical produce and potential tourist attraction.
Liberia produces or has the potential to produce several types of tropical produce (crops) both for home consumption and export. Some are pineapples, avocados, oranges and tangerines, pawpaws, mangoes, bananas, cashews, oil palm products, cocoa and coffee our staple food, rice and more. However, most of these produce are not produced in the quantity and quality to meet international standards- for exports. Some are harvested prematurely and therefore, lack enjoyable or pleasant taste such as oranges; some are highly perishable and do perish because of the lack of proper preservation and storage facilities, adequate farms to market roads, and the lack of capacity to add value or engage in processing. In short, Liberia lacks the organizational framework to produce adequately for home consumption and export to earn badly needed foreign exchange and at the same time solve our high unemployment problems. Consequently, the little foreign exchange earned is spent on imports for basic food and other commodities. The challenge for us as a nation and people is to reverse this situation by engaging in comprehensive, organized and scientific agriculture to meet our local consumption needs, earn foreign exchange through exports and at the same time attack high unemployment in our labor market by putting our youth and others to work through the various stages of agricultural production.
The various steps or stages to comprehensive, organized and scientific agriculture in my opinion, are:
- Land Tenure and Procurement
- Land Preparation
- Land Cultivation- using modern and scientific methods/ techniques, such as conducting soil analysis or test to determine, appropriate crops for land utilization. Utilizing new species that result in higher yields and better taste, etc.
- Timely Harvest and storage
- Processing and adding Value
- Marketing and export
Assumptions in implementing this blueprint are:
- That our Government will take the lead and demonstrate commitment by making meaningful initial funding through National budgeting appropriations; encouraging and securing public/ private partnership and foreign aid, by reviving the Agricultural and Cooperative Development bank, and by calling on our international partners and friendly governments such as the Chinese, Israelis, and Americans to provide us some massive but well directed technical assistance to support the various stages indicated above.
- That the Cooperative and Development Agency will be strengthened to train more personnel to manage and establish more agricultural cooperatives throughout Liberia to support agricultural activities.
- That manpower needs assessment for the various stages outlined above will be determined and the required training will be organized to enhance the performance of functionaries, thereby creating job opportunities for our graduates and others.
My plea today in this direction goes to the Ministry of Agriculture, the College of Agriculture and Forestry at the University of Liberia and all other stakeholders. Let us get together and craft a blueprint for a massive agriculture growth and development program; one that is comprehensive in nature with the various linkages to support the program. If such a blueprint already exists, then let us take it off the shelf where it is gathering dust and come together to strategize, reinvirigote, operationalize, and make the blueprint dynamic. Let us find ways to identify sources of support for the plan. Let us establish a five year time frame to meet targets and objectives and meet annually to evaluate the plan, make adjustments where necessary and continue to ensure the flow of funding for the plan implementation. My dear compatriots, please do not see this call as one intended to criticize or cast blame on anyone. We are seeking the opportunity to extend a hand of support so that we can work together for the good of our country. We, at the Forum are calling on stakeholders to assist us in organizing the first strategic planning symposium to plan for preparation and implementation of this already mentioned program. We hope stakeholders response will be positive. We are informed that Dr. Akinwumi Adesina who is president of the African Development Bank has a strong Agriculture background and orientation; one who believes that the way forward for African countries to promote growth and economic development is through a robust agriculture program. Our friends, the Chinese, who has successfully fed a billion plus people and still export food can help us; our American friends who produce more food than they can consume, can help us; the Israelis who have successfully made the deserts fertile and productive agriculturally can help us. The goodwill is out there for the asking. However, we must remember that many countries are in competition for the available resources which are not unlimited. Therefore, we must demonstrate more seriousness and commitment to be generously favoured by our partners and friends. Look at Ghana and the Ivory Coast in our sub-region; they are successfully doing what is being proposed for our country to transform their countries. Look at Rwanda, a war-torn country like ours, and see what transformation has taken place in such a short period of time. We must be prepared to roll up our sleeves, dirty our hands, bend our backs and knees, and work around the clock to achieve success. We Liberians can do what these just mentioned countries are doing also. It is about commitment and good leadership to inspire Liberians and we will fellow in this direction. This is our only hope.
To the graduating class:
We expect those of you who have majored in Public Administration to enter public service with the objectives not only to seek personal goals and advancement but also to be a real light admist the many challenges or darkness, serving as detergents to sanitize and rid the public service of all the aforementioned negative attitudes and behavior, thus making the state apparatus more effective in bringing forth adequate social and economic benefits to our people. To graduates of the Business Department, we expect you to enter the private sector with zeal and determination to form alliances and join forces with enlighten elements in the public service and others, serving as lights of hope to meet the challenges in the private sector by overcoming obstacles, thereby, capturing your birthright as Liberians. To achieve these goals and objectives, you graduates of the College of Business and Public Administration must face these challenges with strong positive values that build strong character acquired from childhood and reinforced at the University for your success in the world you are about to enter.
As you enter the world with broad focus and vision, remain vigilent to impact your community, and if possible the world. Make the sky the limit to your advancement and progress and leave legacies to better the world. This will require being active in collective groups’ action for progress such as professional organizations, advocacy groups, like the Forum for Societal Change and others; service organizations such as the Lions Clubs, Rotary and others. These will help you leave legacies and impact the environment in a positive way. Congratulations to you, graduates of the 98 convocation of the College of Business and Public Administration. I hope your expectations will be realized as you commence your journey into the world. Congratulations to the Parents and Guardians, I hope your expectations will be realized from the investments you’ve made in supporting the graduates. Finally, to the University Administration, please permit me to congratulate you the President of the University, Dr. Weeks, other top administrators of the University and the faculty and staff for producing these graduates under very difficult circumstances. We are aware of the enormous pressure you are experiencing as you perform your duties. You are expected to accomplish much more with much less but what ever your situation, I am proud to identify with you as a product of the University of Liberia. I strongly believe that hope is on the way as we choose a leader who will lead us in the right direction for peace and progress to prevail in our country. As I end this expose, please permit me to identify with you in a small way by offering 10 full scholarships annually for students of the College of Business and Public Administration, (5) Business, (5) Public Administration.
These scholarships will be available beginning the next academic semester in January 2018. It will be awarded to students with B average and above and with good conduct in the name of my company, The Atlantic Life and General Insurance Company. I will expect to receive a letter from you at the beginning of each semester with a list consisting of the names of students recommended by you.
May the Almighty God continue to bless the University with peace and progress; May God continue to bless our country and save the State.
I thank you.