Vice President Foh’s Inspiring and Meaningful Commencement Address at Cuttington

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The Vice President of Sierra Leone, Victor B. Foh, last Saturday urged Cuttington University graduates to be realistic, creative, innovative and self reliant. This, he declared, is the real meaning of “purposeful education.”

The Sierra Leonean leader said he was highly impressed with the higher education Cuttington university offers, describing it as ‘visionary’. He cited in particular two of Cuttington’s programs which he described as “particularly impressive.” These are the peace and conflict program and the service learning program.

The peace and conflict program, headed by Dr. Joseph Gwannu, a leading Liberian historian, teaches peace-building skills and prepares students for participation in peace-building initiating in Liberia and elsewhere.

The Service Learning program emphasizes service to community in which one lives. For example, this program teaches the students that if a bridge in the community in which they live is broken, they should join hands and fix it. This indeed happened recently on the Cuttington campus when the bridge connecting the campus to Goll Farm got broken. Cuttington students rallied to fix the bridge and it was quickly rehabilitated.

Cuttington has a long history of service to community. The graduating class of 1960 undertook such a community project. The classmates included Ayele Ajavon, (now Dr. Ayele Ajavon Cox), Mara Henderson (now Mrs. Amacree), Alfred Telewoda, Bennie D. Warner (later Methodist Bishop and Vice President of Liberia), Yede Baker (now Dr. Yede Baker Dennis), Clarice Halt (later Mitchell) and Esther Roberts (later Esther Varfley). And what did the class of 1960 do? They adopted as a class project humanitarian service the leper colony in Suacoco. They paid weekly visits to the colony, carrying food, medicines and clothes for the inmates.

Turning to this year’s Cuttington graduates, Vice President Foh exhorted them first to be realistic, remembering that no government in the world, the Liberian government being no exception, can employ everybody. He therefore challenged the graduates to be “creative, innovative and self reliant.”

What did the Sierra Leonean leader mean? He meant that Cuttingtonians, like all other graduates, should think about and endeavor to start their own businesses, rather than join the ever long lines of job seekers.

A few years ago a Cuttington alumnus (class of 1963) in a major address to the Cuttington Alumni Association, called for the introduction, of an Entrepreneurial Development Program at Cuttington with the deliberate attempt to encourage and empower graduates and school leavers to start their own businesses.

Kenneth Y. Best, founder, Publisher and Managing Director of the Daily Observer Newspaper, even urged the Alumni Association itself to go into business in order to raise funds to help their alma mater. He suggested a Tourism effort at the waterfall in Kpatawee, just next to Cuttington. Mr. Best and his wife Mae Gene, during their exile in Banjul also founded the Gambia’s first professional and first daily newspaper, also named The Observer.

It is hoped that Cuttington’s service Learning Program – and more especially the University’s Business School – will develop entrepreneurial programs that will empower its graduates with the vision and skills to go out and start their own businesses.

We pray that all universities in Liberia, and even the nation’s elementary and high schools will begin introducing entrepreneurial programs. This, we believe will go a long way in creating within our students and youth the habit of business and self reliance.

Vice President Foh also urged the Cuttington graduates to remember that though governments throughout the world are the largest employers, no government can employ everyone. The graduates must be realistic and know this fact. They should strive always for independence and self reliance and work towards being their own bosses.

We consider this advice as sound and critical one, because we all know our problem in Liberia: Liberians are hardly in any meaningful business. Our economy and business sector are dominated by foreigners. The situation is so bad that many of those firms do not even hire Liberians in any meaningful way – only as store boys and handlers of merchandise from the warehouses. The top administrators, book keepers, accountants and other key functionaries are foreign. This Newspaper has over the years complained about this terrible state of affairs, and blamed it squarely on our government itself. We have constantly appealed to the Ministry of Justice and Immigration; The Ministry of Commerce and Industry, which issues Business Licenses; and the Ministry of Labor, which issues the work permits. But the more we write and plead, the more things remain the same or get worse.

This particular administration has been in power for over a decade and nothing has changed. What legacy of native empowerment do the leaders expect to enjoy when they shall have left the scene?

It seems to us that all leaders the world over should not think and act just for today, but for tomorrow.

That indeed was the thrust of Vice President Foh’s message to the Cuttington graduates he was helping, advising them to plan for the future – a future of independence and self reliance – a future in which they will be empowered to run their own lives, their own businesses, yea their own economy, the Liberian economy.

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