Last Friday I was privileged to speak to the graduating class of the Aga Khan Academy, Nairobi. Like all graduations it was a celebration of a significant commencement in the lives of the young men and women who gave their all.
Here are excerpts from the speech:
While we are gathered here in this place of privilege and promise, we must not forget the tens of millions of Kenyans your age who will not graduate from high school; who will not enter college. Not because they are not smart, talented or interested. Their contribution to this country in the years to come will be no less valuable than yours.
But to whom much is given, much is expected. Your country and your generation will look up to you for leadership as faith leaders, teachers and professors, doctors and comedians, politicians and judges, musicians and architects, artists and engineers. And most of all, as caring, decent, ethical and compassionate citizens.
While your transition into the second decade of your life is both exhilarating and perhaps liberating, it is a source of great anxiety and turmoil for your parents and teachers. But I hope that your time at Aga Khan Academy prepared you to meet and match this important transition with courage, confidence and a sense of self-worth.
But what lies ahead?
You are coming of age in the most breathtaking epoch in human history. A staggering range of technologies have caused the convergence of the digital, physical and biological realms.
Other technological wonders include Globalisation, the Internet of Things, driverless cars, blockchain, which will radically transform commerce; and digitisation of matter (biological tissue, bones and prosthetics).
The promise of technology is delicately balanced with challenges: Climate change threatens our food, pasture and water resources.
Ecologists believe that billions of populations of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians have been lost all over the planet. Kenya’s population will be just over 70 million when you turn 35 and the median age will be less than 25.
Most Kenyans will live in dense, squalid places like Nairobi and Mombasa. In Turkana county, where the mean monthly expenditure per adult is Sh4,862, 76 per cent is spent on food. Some 35.8 per cent of Kenyans consume below the minimum daily calorific requirement.
These challenges are your inheritance and must be solved in your lifetime. You are Kenya’s greatest generation.
You have had the privilege of a great education. You been educated to be critical and analytical, to be reflective and skeptical, to communicate and collaborate, to lead and to follow, to be creative and to solve problems.
You have had a great education and a bright future of promise and responsibility awaits you.
But you must always remember that education doesn’t take place only in stuffy classrooms and musty libraries, it happens all the time and everywhere and you can and will learn not just from your teachers and professors.
As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”