I cannot begin without firstly expressing how grateful I am to the Director of the Lux-In-Tenebris Honors Program and the Administration of the University for inviting me to serve as keynote speaker at this august occasion. I am informed that out of total student enrollment of above 30,000, only 77 students are enrolled into the UL Honor’s program. Before being admitted into the program, a student must have demonstrated academic excellence by earning a G.P.A of not less than 3.5 in addition to successfully passing through a rigorous admission process. While in the program, students also benefit from a hosts of training and character development programs. These Honor Scholars are the cream of the crop of the UL student populace; they are true leaders of the students, for they have led where it mattered the most – excelling in their studies. Therefore, I feel truly humbled and immensely honored by the mere fact that I have been asked to speak to men and women of honor, the true Lux-In-Tenebris (Light in Darkness). Like the woman in the Bible who persisted until she could touch the garment of Jesus Christ, I feel I have been given the opportunity to touch the garment of these honorable young men and women so that I too can receive virtue.
I am informed that this year’s Lux In Tenebris Honors Day will not only witness the induction of newly qualified students into the Honors Program but will also the hosting of a research symposium on the theme: “The Role of Research in Providing Sustainable Solutions to Liberia’s Socio-Economic Problems.” During the course of the day, an array of erudite facilitators and brilliant student scholars will be presenting lectures on a wide-range of themes of topical relevance. I therefore do not want to steal the thunder from these symposium presenters.
For now suffice it to say that as a country and a people, we need to do more in cultivating the culture of research not only in academic institutions but in the general society. Research unlocks an extra door to a hidden body of knowledge and makes mankind to come closer to hidden truths or mysteries of the universe. There is a common saying that goes like this:
“I hear, I forget; I see, I remember; I do, I understand.” Research involves doing; and as a result, it brings the student closer to understanding an intricate phenomena. It closes the gap between theory and practice as it takes the students from the cloud of the classroom to the sometimes cold reality of the real world. Almost every socio-economic or political problem has a solution; almost every disease has a cure; Research is usually the bridge between a problem and the solution to the problem. Societies that are well advanced are societies that put premium on research. Universities that are considered top-notch are universities that emphasize research. Companies that are ahead of the competition – whether technological or otherwise- are companies that emphasize research and development.
At the University of Liberia, we must admit that there is still a significant in making this academic environment to be not only a citadel of good teaching but also a citadel of cutting-edge research. May I dare ask, How many professors have published research materials or are undertaking research projects, not to mention students? How much have we allocated in the UL Budget to fund research activities of professors and students? We know that the economy of the country is facing some serious headwinds at the moment, but if Liberia must occupy a front-seat position in the constellation of nations, we must dedicate significant sums of money to research. But again, I will not belabor this issue further as the subsequent speakers will dive deeply into it.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,
As I said earlier, every student admitted into the Honors Program is deserving of our praise. Achieving a G.P.A of 3.5 at the University of Liberia, which is a basic requirement for admission in the UL Honor’s program, is no small feat. I also profoundly congratulate those members of the UL Honors Programs who have formed part of the 96th commencement exercises of the University this year.
But let me hasten to note that while academic excellence may elevate a student to the Honor Roll List, academic excellence does not necessarily produce a student of honor. Academic excellence only proves that the student is sharp, that the student is smart. But we should also remember that a cutlass that is used by a murderer to chop off the head of an innocent victim is also very sharp; and that the crook who applies devious accounting skills to steal from his employer is also smart. Academic excellence proves that students have absorbed tons of knowledge in their heads. But while what is in a person’s head is important, what is more important is what is in the person’s heart. What values do they stand for? Do they stand for nothing and can therefore fall for anything? As novelist C. S. Lewis puts it, “Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.”
So, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, how can we ensure that our academic institutions are not just churning out “clever devils”? Is the Liberian society and the value system that exists in it contributing to the cultivation of men and women of honor? To be honest, as I look at our society today and the value system that is getting entrenched, I sometimes get very depressed because I see some troubling realities.
Firstly, I am troubled by the fact that more and more Liberians are signing up to the mantra of “Seek ye first the kingdom of money and all other things will be added unto you.” More and more Liberians ascribe to the belief, and they may probably be right, that with money, you can purchase anything and everything in Liberia as there seems to be a monetary tag on almost everything. More and more Liberians believe that they can purchase a good name; a good headline; a prestigious award or honor; a valuable contract; a good judgment; and of course, political power. This thought has created an environment of reckless and unbridled self-seeking and cutting of corners. The right road is defined as the road that will bring the biggest bucks in the quickest period of time. The word “Honor” itself is given a warped definition: the honorable course of action is one that brings you quick money; and the dishonorable course is defined as one that will not bring you quick money. The “smartest” persons are defined as the individuals who know how to enrich themselves in whatever ways possible in the quickest time possible. The “stupidest” persons are defined as those who refuse or do not know how to enrich themselves wrongly.
In such an environment, who are the men and women of true honor? The men and women of true honor are not those who follow the easy road just because almost everyone else is following that road. Men and women of honor should understand that the right road may be thorny, lonely and sometimes, very costly. A man or woman of honor does not try to adjust his conscience to justify or fit his/her wrong behavior. Instead, a man woman of honor adjust his/her action in order to be true to his/her conscience.
Another troubling reality in our Liberian society is reflected in how Liberians easily and remorselessly shortchange their country for personal benefit whenever they have the chance. As a result, the country, Liberia is treated like an orphan who does not have parents; a mother who does not have children; a street urchin who is neglected by friends. What is even more painful is that a good number of Liberians behave like morticians and treat their country as the corpse that does not have any sense of feeling and can therefore be chopped off left right center, as a mortician would chop off a corpse in the mortuary.
Men and women of honor in this country must be the parents to that orphan child and the children to that childless mother called Liberia. Men and women of honor must be the ones who feel for and stand up for Liberia no matter what anyone says and does. If standing up for Liberia or feeling for Liberia makes you to be called “stupid” or “Gbelleh”, then men and women of honor must be proud to be called “stupid”, “Gbelleh”, “old-fashioned”, etc.
In the Liberia of today, another depressing reality is the contradiction that exists between the people’s rhetoric and the people’s actions vis a vis the fight against corruption. The public rhetoric and the public action often move in opposite directions. On the one hand, the generality of the Liberian people are very vociferous in condemning corruption; but on the other, many of the very Liberians who condemn corruption are surprisingly not prepared to make the sacrifices or to take the right actions or decisions that will ensure that corruption is minimized. How can we in one breath condemn corruption and in another “celebrate thieves and vilify good people?”, as Kenyan anti-corruption crusader PLO Lumumba would put it. How can we say we are against corruption, but at the same tarnish the reputation of those who would refuse to loot from the public coffers to meet our unreasonable demands?.
It is precisely because of this contradiction that I once stated that most Liberians, no matter what they profess, do not have a fundamental problem with corruption. In Liberia whether a corrupt act is considered good or bad depends on who benefits from the fruits of corruption. If a typical Liberian benefits from the “generosity” of a corrupt individual, that individual is not considered a thief, but rather a good man, a kind man, a savior. As unfortunate as it is, corruption per se is not considered bad by many Liberians; instead, it is the manner of allocation of the fruits of corruption that many Liberians actually have problem with.
In Liberia of yesteryear, there was a hoodlum called Jimmy Ringo who was notorious for perpetrating bold and brazen acts of robbery sometimes in broad-day light. Jimmy Ringo was from Terminal Island, a community located not too far from the Free Port of Monrovia. The story is that Jimmy Ringo would steal from town and carry his loot to Terminal Island amidst massive jubilation from many Terminal Island residents with whom he would share some of his loot. So while some people called him a thief; others called him a hero. In the Liberia of today, the Jimmy Ringo phenomenon is playing itself out on a daily basis in many sectors and at many levels. What is considered wrong by some is considered right by others just because they benefit personally from the wrong. You may call an individual a thief, a wrong doer, an exploiter; but like Jimmy Ringo, there are many Terminal Islands around the country where that thief or wrong-doer or exploiter is hailed as a hero.
To highlight this phenomenon, I will quote from a speech I delivered in this vey auditorium on April 14, 2010 at a program organized by the Vanguard Student Unification Party (SUP): “These corrupt individuals who clad themselves in cloaks of benevolence create a vicious circle of poverty. Given the opportunity to be fair to the country, they act unfairly; given the opportunity to be true to the country; they act falsely. The net effect of their action is to throw more people in poverty, people whose children will then depend on their false and filthy generosity to continue in school. In short, they cut your legs and bring an artificial limb to you, knowing that you are not sophisticated enough to link your need for an artificial limb to their wickedness. And so, you become overly grateful for their favors and in your kindness, you give them what they want, your political support. In short, this is the way they wash their dirty money, give it to the poor of their choice for selfish and political reason and by so doing compound the poverty of the nation as a whole. This is nothing but money laundering.”
Men and women of honor must understand this reality and refuse to do good for a few at the expense of the state or at the expense of others. Yes, Robin Hood was the robber who took from the rich and gave to the poor. Jimmy Ringo too was a guy who often stole from the rich and gave to the poor. But in spite of their unholy generosity to some people, Robin Hood and Jimmy Ringo were robbers – they were rogues, to put it crudely. So as the tempting as it may sometimes appear, men and women of honor cannot behave like Robin Hood or Jimmy Ringo.
Additionally, men and women of honor cannot afford to just be clever politicians. Men and women of honor must instead behave like statesman. As someone once said, “The politician asks, will it help me to win? The statesman asks, is it right?” Statesmen take the right course of action no matter the consequences. Statesmen stand up for country, worry for country, and fight for country. Clever politicians stand up for themselves and fight for themselves.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,
As I wrap up my address, I want to call on all employers in the Liberian society, especially government institutions, to take the Lux-In-Tenebris Honors Program at the University of Liberia seriously by using it as a premier source for the recruitment of quality staff. Instead of graduates of the this Scholars Program chasing after employers for employment, let us have a situation where employers are chasing after the graduates for employment. But to give employers a good level of comfort, the University of Liberia should continue to do all it can to maintain the sanctity and the quality of the UL Honors Program. To do so, we must ensure that Honor Roll lists or the grade sheets from which we make one of our major eligibility evaluations are as credible as the examination report of the lab technician in a hospital. In other words, the grade sheet should be a snapshot of the true academic performance or potential of a student at a particular period of time, just as the lab technician’s report is a snapshot of the diagnosis of a patient in hospital. Just as the consequences of a misleading diagnosis in a hospital may be huge, the consequences of a flawed academic evaluation may be also be huge.
To ensure that Honor Roll Lists or grade sheets are credible at the University, teachers must give credible grades that reflect actual performance from credible and fair examination or evaluation systems applied to students who, in the first place, entered the University also through a credible and fair entrance and admission system.
Finally, to those members of the UL Honors Program who are this year graduating from the University of Liberia to enter the University of Life, I admonish you not to rest on your achievement. Go as far as you can go or climb as high as you can climb on the academic ladder. While earning a bachelor’s degree may be a proud achievement, consider it just a good beginning on a long and arduous journey.
Furthermore, do not proceed into the University of Life thinking that your circumstances will always be favorable. As you expect the best, prepare for the worst. In other words, as you pray for the best-case scenario, prepare for the worst-case scenario and do not think that anyone owes you anything. In fact, do not be surprised if everyone thinks that you owe them something. Make the best use of your circumstances instead of lamenting how unfavorable they are. As the popular saying goes, if life gives you a lemon, transform it into lemonade; if life gives you a broken egg, transform it into an omelette.
Even if the night is to be pitch dark, try to be that twinkling star that illuminates the night’s sky. And whenever you want to get hopeless, cling to the profound wisdom and motivation that come from the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us” . The UL Honors Program has over time cultivated in you the right spirit, the right stamina, and the right character. So I urge you now to be a true Lux-In-Tenebris, a true Light in Darkness. Go now and brighten your environment, brighten your country and brighten your world!
THE ABOVE KEYNOTE ADDRESS WAS DELIVERED BY AUGUSTINE KPEHE NGAFUAN, FORMER MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AT THE HONORS DAY PROGRAM OF THE UNIVERSITY OF LIBERIA HELD ON THE MAIN CAMPUS OF THE UNIVERSITY ON TUESDAY, DECEMBER 15, 2015, UNDER THE THEME: WHO ARE THE MEN AND WOMEN OF TRUE HONOR IN THE LIBERIAN SOCIETY?