Commencement Speech by Rev. Albert Ocran at the Graduation Ceremony of the College of Education of the University of Ghana on Saturday 19th November, 2016.
The chairman of the university council, the vice chancellor, faculty, staff, graduands, parents and distinguished guests, twenty-nine years ago, l took the matriculation oath in this Great Hall with a sense of pride but little insight into what lay ahead. Returning to give a commencement address here means a lot to me. God has indeed been good.
I trust that my thoughts will go some way to help each of our 1,550 graduands to achieve your own life goals. I am speaking on how to move from DEFICIT to SURPLUS and my message is simply entitled “STRETCH.”
Let me start by establishing three foundational truths:
A. Natural Deficit. Each of us starts life with a deficit. A child is born vulnerable, dependent and inadequately equipped to deal with the harsh demands of a hostile world. When you’re born in our part of the world, you inherit some additional deficits that have nothing to do with you. Economic inequalities, a seeming lack of opportunity and an often hostile environment all conspire to alienate you from the global stage. You design a great product or write a book in Ghana and probably need ten times the effort of your colleagues elsewhere to be noticed and to breakthrough.
B. Potential for Change. You may have no choice about how you start life or where you start from but you have a responsibility to move yourself from a deficit to a surplus. You need to create a better life for yourself, your children and others after you. Don’t die at the same level where you start. Determine to move from the back to the front. Will there be competition? I bet you. But you can become a world changer if you apply yourself to it.
C. Critical Choices. There are proven choices that can rapidly move you forward in life. In a very competitive environment, there are things you can do to stand out from the pack and guarantee yourself an advantage. It is some of these choices that form the basis of my message today.
I have chosen to summarize seven key attributes in the acronym “STRETCH” for ease of remembrance. After all, one has to really stretch to move from a deficit and be able to generate a surplus. Each of these has nothing to do with your degree or talent but can make a real difference in determining how high you reach. So how do we stretch?
1. Smile. Life can be stressful and everyone wants to hang around someone with a pleasant personality who cheers them up and lifts up their spirits. You may be competent at what you do but if you always have a frown, people will easily be put off. Whether you’re a banker, lecturer, doctor or pilot, a pleasant outlook will enhance your appeal make you more valuable to your clients.
A New York University research on personal branding indicated that within 7 seconds of people meeting you, they would have formed a lasting impression about you. Really? Count up to seven and ask yourself how much of your true nature or inner beauty a person can see in seven seconds. It is evident that your smile is the mirror of your soul and an important first indicator to others of who you really are inside. Smile!!!
2. Timeliness. Punctuality is an another enabler that like a smile requires no talent and has nothing to do with your GPA. The unspoken rule in any organisational arrangement is that the person who is always on time is serious and dependable. If you know you’re not too talented, resourced or well connected, compensate for your deficits in life with an amazing sense of punctuality. You will easily be noticed and you will rise. Punctuality is not debatable. 6:00 AM is always 6:00 AM even if someone doesn’t like you. Be serially punctual.
3. Relationships. Cultivate valuable relationships on your way. Many people are too busy looking for money to care about who they travel life’s journey with. I was blessed with priceless relationships in Legon that have served me well throughout my life. One of the most important choices I was privileged to make right here in Legon was to find my wife Comfort. There is a positive correlation between your relationships and your progress in life. Marry the right person, choose the right business partners and hang out with the right friends.
One of the most incredible pieces of advice I ever got on relationships was to carefully prepare a list of the 100 most influential people in my life and to connect with each of them at least once a month. Strategically select and deliberately lubricate your relationships and your life and career will flourish.
4. Excellence. This is the quality of being unusually good and surpassing ordinary standards. The difference between being excellent and very good is that extra touch, that commitment to read over the script once more. It is the boldness to reject what every one else says is okay.
In my days as a print executive, we voluntarily offered to reprint, at no cost to the client, 10,000 copies of a book that had a minor defect which could easily have been ignored. It sounded like a very bad business decision. But the client was so impressed by the sense of professionalism that he publicly recommended us to others and became a number one client for years. Excellence pays.
5. Tenacity. Tenacity refers to the strength to take responsibility for your life and keep moving it till you reach the place where you desire. Many of us enjoy blaming everyone else for our circumstances. It is fashionable to blame our parents, government, the university, our employers and even our friends for one thing or another. List your deficits today and take responsibility for changing every one of them.
American motivational speaker Nido Qubein once told a story about how he landed from Jordan with only $50 and no knowledge of the English language. He desperately wanted to become a public speaker and so he learnt to memorize 10 words and their meanings every day for 6 days in a week and to rehearse his weekly “Vocabulary” on the 7th day. He did this for years and eventually become the president of the American Speakers Association and president of his own university. Take responsibility and be tenacious!
6. Curiosity. Years ago, I visited a printing fair in Düsseldorf that had several nationalities present. As I stood next to the multi-million euro equipment that was the centerpiece of the fair, I noticed something interesting. Everybody was taking pictures but the interests seemed to be different. The Asians climbed the machine and took pictures of the engine at work ostensibly with the aim of building superior technology. The Europeans took pictures of the machine’s output with the intention of buying the machine and trading with it. The third category of people took selfies next to the machine that would probably end up on Facebook.
Earlier in today’s ceremony, the Vice Chancellor cited a World Economic Forum report from June 2016 and listed the 10 most critical skills needed for the job market in 2020. As he spoke, I noticed that very few students seemed to be writing down the points. I wanted the information. Immediately he sat down, I took my phone requested his speech and took a picture of that page. My friends, ask the right questions and you will find yourself always better informed and more competitive. What am I hired to do? What are the critical success factors? How do I make a greater impact? Why is my competitor so successful? Rudyard Kiplin alluded to six honest servants who taught him everything he knew. They were all questions – Who, Where, Which, How, Why and When. Ask questions and you will significantly accelerate your journey.
7. Honesty. This last attribute is the most critical of them all. Several top CEOs were asked for the single most important attribute they would look for in promoting people and they overwhelmingly chose honesty – integrity, trustworthiness or reliability. Keep your word. Be true to who you are. More people are dismissed all over the world for lack of integrity than for their technical deficits. Build a reputation of being honest and it will follow you all the days of your life.
So there you are. When I say STRETCH!!! I mean Smile, Timeliness, Relationships, Excellence, Tenacity, Curiosity and finally Honesty.
I want to thank the college and the faculty for preparing these leaders for the next stage of their lives. Let me take time to thank all parents who have invested your all to fund your children’s education. I want to specially salute you. On behalf of my 77-year old mother Dora who gave up so much and sold all she had to educate me I celebrate all parents here and say AYEKOO.
I would like to congratulate the new graduates as you step out to the next level. Believe! Begin! Become! Dare to dream that you can be the next big achiever to emerge from Africa. May a young person out there about to start life look at you and say “It is possible.”
I want to tune in to the global news networks in the next decade and see you celebrated all over the world because you dared to STRETCH. That is when you would have moved from Deficit to Surplus.
God bless the College of Education!
God bless Legon, my alma mater!!
God bless our homeland GHANA!!!
God bless us all!!!!