Commencement Speaker's speech

Remarks by Commencement Speaker, Mr. Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, at the 10th Commencement Ceremony of AUN, May 19, 2018.

 

 

Thank you! Thank you so much for having me here today.

 

The Founder, His Excellency, Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar,

 

The Chairman of the Board of Trustees, AUN, Mr. Akin Kekere-Ekun

 

The Members of the Board of Trustees of AUN

 

Distinguished Guests from the Public and Private Sector

 

The President of this University, Dr. Dawn Dekle

 

The Faculty & Staff of this University and other Universities represented

 

Students, Parents, Friends

 

The Class of 2018

 

First of all, I would love to congratulate you on the great occasion of your 10th Convocation Ceremony. I had quite a number friends from my high school Loyola Jesuit College come here for college — but never quite had the opportunity to visit until now. It is a truly beautiful campus and a testament to the vision and commitment of the founder. It seems hard to believe you have come such a long way from only 13 years ago when these doors opened. Congratulations on all you have achieved.

 

Again — I want to thank you for the honor. I was joking with my mother and my fiancée right before I left Lagos that this would be the first actual graduation I would fully attend. On both my own high school and university graduations, I, unfortunately, had to leave right in the middle to a waiting flight or business meeting I couldn’t afford to miss. So I’m really glad I get to experience our graduation. Yes, it is a big day for me too.

 

Class of 2018! You know — the great thing about having a commencement speaker under the age of 30 is that I can actually understand what you just went through. I was literally in your seats six years ago. And the one thing most of the distinguished older folks behind me may not really understand is that at our university graduation we aren’t just celebrating four years of what can only be described as pure hell. It is actually the end of almost 20 years of nonstop academic study — from kindergarten to primary to secondary and now university. So you and your families definitely deserve all the accolades after 20 years of paying quite a lot of actual dues.

 

Congratulations once again.

 

Now since I’ve been out of the ivory tower six years before you — I’ve got some good news and bad news from the world beyond these four walls.

 

The good news is, you really are free to do whatever you want. Life has no report card. No grades to check. No term paper. No stupid rules to follow. No thesis due. No classes except the ones you choose to take. The degree you will receive today is awesome but you may never even really have to use it. You can as I did six years ago — take your law degree, gift it to your mom and go do something completely different.

 

The bad news is, you are now fully responsible for yourself. Adulthood really is a scam. You get a lot of freedom but with even more responsibility. When you drive off this campus today — certificate in tow, depending on how generous your parents are, you’ll get a 3-6-month honeymoon. Afterward, all you will hear is the siren song of “you need a job.” Then you’ll know it's time to find your own path – and pay your own bills. You will not have the luxury of blaming anyone but yourself for your fate in the world beyond these walls. Not your parents. Not your teachers. Not the university administration. Like you, they too have paid their dues by giving you a world-class education. That is the best they can do for you.

 

But here comes the mind-blowing part. As some of the best-educated young people in this country, you are now not only responsible for yourself. You are also now responsible for the fate of our human species. In fact, this is the real challenge the last 20 years have been preparing us for.

 

Now I do not say this merely because I believe we should be kind and giving and should serve others. No. While all that is certainly true that is not really what I mean.

 

The truth is given the factual realities of the future we will live in over the next 20 years, I believe as Africans and Nigerians we have a critical role to play in the continued survival of our species. Here are some of those realities of the next 20 years :

 

· More than half of the global population growth between now and 2050 will happen in Africa.

 

· Nigeria will be on track to being the third most populous country in the world — with well over 300 million people.

 

· Lagos is and will remain one of the largest and fastest growing cities in the world.

 

· And much of Nigeria’s oil reserves in the Niger Delta will completely dry up and disappear.

 

In this future, every single challenge we face today as a nation will grow to epic proportions — a scale the world has never seen before. Over 200 million young Nigerians will be born over the next 20 years:

 

· How do we ensure our women don’t die giving birth to them?

 

· How do we educate them? Can we ever build enough schools or hire and train enough teachers?

 

· How do we house them? Feed them? Transport them? Employ them?

 

· How do we afford to govern well over 300 million people without easy oil money?

 

Class of 2018, it will fall to us to figure it out. Our parents will not figure it out. Our leaders will not figure it out. They are too short-term minded and will likely not live to see this future. They cannot even imagine it. And so we simply cannot wait for them to lead if our species will survive. Hence, it is we — who have had the preparation of a world-class education over the last 20 years who have to take responsibility for the world we will live in over the next 20 years. We must pick up the mantle of leading our country and our continent into the future. Today. Not tomorrow. Today.

 

And we cannot afford to fail. We are already seeing a small preview of what the world will look like if we do. In Syria. In Libya. In Yemen. In Somalia. In Dapchi. In Santa Fe, Texas. If we don’t rise to this challenge, a crisis will engulf our country and our continent and spill over to the rest of the world. Our species will battle itself to extinction. There will be no hope of a safe and prosperous future for anyone, anywhere on our planet. And this is why the education you have received here is important. Like the Avengers of Marvel fame, you have undergone the training of superheroes. The world now depends on you for its survival.

 

It may seem impossible to surmount these challenges but it has to be done. Yes — it will require more innovation, more creativity and frankly more selflessness and hard work than the world has come to expect of Africans. And we will definitely need to leverage the best technology, thinking, training and talent to leapfrog these challenges and build the future. It will not be easy but I have no doubt in my mind that it is possible. We can do it.

 

I hold this faith because we have already begun that work.

 

Four years ago — a few friends and I sat in a room and asked what would it take to create one million jobs across Africa — and Andela was born. Today Andela is one of the world’s fastest growing platforms for grooming and deploying African software engineering talent across the world. We aren’t quite there at one million yet but a few weeks ago we celebrated our 1,000th team member and have received millions of dollars in backing from Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Google Ventures, CRE, and the IFC amongst several other world-class investors to build towards this goal.

 

Again — just two years ago, a group of us sat in a room and asked ourselves what would it take to build a global payments platform that would connect Africans to the digital economy and by doing so usher in a new wave of prosperity and jobs. Today, Flutterwave has worked with global brands like Transferwise to help Africans make and receive over $2 billion in payments from anywhere across Africa and around the world.

 

Class of 2018, may I remind you that I was in your seats just six years ago. You can do it. You just need to gather a few of your friends and find a room.

 

To be honest, I don’t have any sage advice to give. I’m still on my learning journey so I’ll leave the wise words to the older distinguished men and women gracing this occasion today. However, I want to leave with you three questions that have guided me on this quest to save our planet by building the future of our continent. Perhaps, they could be helpful to you too.

 

The first question is what matters most to you? As Stanford alumnus, I’m sure our newly inaugurated President Dawn [Dekle] recognizes this question as it’s on the Stanford Business School application. Now the funny thing is when I first saw this question on the application — my answer ended up being “not another degree” and so instead of going to business school, I went to start another company. But it is such a clarifying question. What matters most to you? There are many challenges and you can’t possibly solve them all. However, taking the time to figure out what truly matters most to you and passionately working for it is really your first step to taking responsibility for our future. What matters most to you? Healthcare for all? Education for all? A just society? A responsible political class? Find it. Own it. And do whatever it takes to make it possible.

 

The second question is what are you building that lasts? We live in a society where people live each day like the day before and expect something about the world to change. When you combine this insanity with our signature penchant for short-term thinking, you have a nation unwittingly heading for a disaster of titanic proportions. Our generation simply has to be different. We have to intentionally build for the future. We can’t build things just so we can make money or please people. We have to think long and hard about the future and dedicate ourselves to building institutions that will stand the test of time. We cannot think only of today. We must build for tomorrow.

 

The final question is what will you make possible by what you build today? Building the future is hard. It is emotionally draining and sometimes discouraging work. But the one thing that keeps me going in the bad times were thoughts about what kind of future we will make possible when we succeed. I remember in Andela’s earliest days– we asked the young people in our software engineering training program to tell us — what they earn now and what would they like to earn when they graduate from the program. A number of them told us, they earned about N40,000 a month (about $100). Today — only a few years later, even when they leave our program before its four-year duration, many of these young people have gone on to remote jobs where they are earning $4,000 a month — almost 400x what they were earning before they came to Andela. This [is] what the amazing team at Andela has made possible. And for me personally, it made all the sacrifices we made to build Andela valid– from leaving the comfort of foreign lands and foreign education to live in Bariga, to jumping Okadas and Danfos at 5 am to get to Ikoyi on time for class to start, to enduring a meal a day because we couldn’t afford the time or expense for more meals. What will you make possible by what you build today? Keep that image in your head. It will get you through many nights.

 

I’ve spoken for long enough and as a recent graduate myself I would hate to prolong your torture. But I’ll love to end with a quote from Nelson Mandela, who once said,  “Sometimes, it falls upon a generation to be great.” Class of 2018,  we must be that generation. The future is our responsibility. The fate of humanity hangs in the balance. It lies in our hands.

 

We can not fail.

 

Thank you. God bless you all and congratulations once again to the Class of 2018.

 

Good luck!

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