The season of graduations brings the contradictions of life to the fore. The joy of completing higher education is often seen confronted with an economy unable to provide jobs. This is a painful reality for both the graduates and their parents. As a reflection of this prevalent contradiction, the commencement speeches of rich and poor nations varies widely.
These days, great speechs start with little anecdotes. The stories are beautiful paths that take us to the main points of the message. In the end, sustained claps and animations follow. The United State’s president Barack Obama springs to our minds.
Government officials in the highest echelon of authority have been busy writing speeches to address university graduates. Assembled in big halls, they sit and wait to turn their little drapers to one side from the other, a sign of pronouncement of graduation.
The excitement and emotions of the moment can only be felt, rather than expressed in words. The whole country, particularly the parents of graduating students, is seen mesmerised by the feeling of joy, in seeing the harvest of what they have sewn and nurtured.
The occasion is also a moment of nostalgia and old memories for many old timers. The old memory can bring tears to one’s eyes. This is particularly true if the subject graduated in a foreign land, where there was no one to share the joy with or express his or her congratulations. But, graduation seems to be ceremonious anywhere in the world.
I remember vividly the colourful atmosphere that prevailed that morning in the graduation hall inLeedsUniversity, located in the North of England. At exactly 8 o’clock in the morning, a bugle was blown as a sign of the arrival of the chancellor of the university. He was a Nobel prize winner and highly respected gentleman, dressed in the embroidered special gown.
He was leading the procession to the tune of accompanying music. On both sides, there were lads walking in metered steps, keeping their distance and carrying live torches. The university community, composed of professors and lecturers, lined up for about four metres. Behind, the chancel kept their steps and followed.
Then came the doctorate graduates, in a seemingly well-rehearsed parade. When everybody took his (her) seat, the president of the university came afore and made a very brief speech and invited the chancellor to address the graduating students .
The chancellor came to the podium and requested everybody to be seated, knowing that all were seated before he said the word. The way he looked up to see what had happened and posed, ignited uproar of laughter that turned the air into a hilarity even before he began his delivery. The chancellor then spoke about an interesting story of an encounter he had had some time ago. The end of that anecdote had drawn the attention of all present towards what graduation means in one’s life.
The Ethiopian graduation speeches have also important messages, despite their similarities. One can even easily summarise the whole Ethiopian graduation ceremony as a series of events.
Tens of thousands of students have been successful in their academic achievements and have graduated at a time when the country is in a dire need of trained manpower. This comes in the light of the multi-faceted development schemes. The message that follows will be the graduates should not be expectant, but rather should try to exert every effort to create jobs and be self amplified.
Graduation is only the end of chapter one in one’s life, goes the speech. Education is a lasting matter. The lessons in real life starts with a new chapter.
The intonation may vary. The pauses and voice decibels may not be the same. But, the lengthy deliveries revolve around more or less the same point: don’t expect government to find a placement for each one; try not to choose between jobs and be quick to seize the opportunity when it avails itself. This is even true if it is simply laying cobblestones or digging ditches.
Gebeyehu Lemma, 58, is a carpenter who often gets surprised by such commencement speeches. He picks up any carpentry contract of minor undertakings, like roofing, fencing or the repair work of old furniture.
His son, Abiy, has graduated from the Science and Technology Faculty of Addis Abeba University. Abiy, hardworking as he is, had been a liability for the poor father. He gave all sorts of excuses to milk his father and get money for buying a bundle of khat to chew.
His mother had to pay for his laundry and footwear. He had to get money to settle his bills of cigarettes and soft drinks, which he consumes from the nearby shop. The pretext was his graduation and the honours and privileges it brings with it.
With the coming of the season, Abiy’s need for more money rose at an accelerated speed. He had to have new clothes and footwear. His father had to borrow about 4,500 Br to cover the expenses.
That was not enough. Abiy needed some more money for the group partying at the clubs of Bole. Every graduating student went, starting from the very night of graduation; Abiy was no exception.
Gebeyehu, on his part, threw a big party and invited everybody in the neighbourhood. It was a big feast by his standard. People were enjoying the food and drink laid at their disposal.
Abiy showed up late. He was showing signs of fatigue from the effects of the dances and drinks he had consumed the night before. The leased gown had to be dressed for photo snaps.
He could not open his eyes properly.
Finally, one of Gebeyehu’s friends came with a little present of a bottle of wine. He expressed his heart-felt joy over Abiy’s achievement and wished him all the best of luck. The whole house was gleeful until the old man asked Abiy, “Where are you going to be employed?”
Gebeyehu interrupted the old man, “God know that, but keep on eating the food, please.”
Of course, we shall make no mistake that knowledge is nothing but accumulated information. It is an achievement by itself, whether or not one is employed or left loose on the streets looking for a job. Enlightenment is an objective in itself and a priceless treasure.
This, however, depends on the courses taken to the needs and requirements of the nation. If this is not the case, all the investment on the graduates will be next to nothing. This might even require the education ministry to revise its course outline.
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