103rd Commencement Convocation: Day 2 Keynote

103rd Commencement Convocation: Day 2 Keynote

Honorable Mathew G. Zarzar, Chairman, Board of Trustees,

Dr. Julius Sarwolo Nelson, President of the University of Liberia

The Vice Presidents, Deans, Faculty and Staff of the University of Liberia

Honorable D. Ansu Sonnie, Minister of Education

Other Government Officials Present

Dr. Charles Ansumana, Dean, Thomas J. R. Faulkner College of Science and Technology,

Associate Professor Leroy W. Cegbe, Sr., Dean, William R. Tolbert, Jr. College of Agriculture and Forestry

Mr. N. Hun-bu Tulay, Dean, College of Engineering 

The 103rd Graduating Class, HA-LA-KEH-MENI

Other Invited guests

Student body

Members of the fourth Estate

Ladies and Gentlemen

I feel honored being an alumnus of this noble institution and to be afforded this golden opportunity……I’m humbled.

Let me express my appreciation to Dr. Nelson and his team for the wonderful work they are doing in preparing Liberia’s next generation of Leaders. Congratulation to the University of Liberia on the successful hosting of the 103rd Convocation Celebration!


As your Commencement Speaker, please allow me to tell you my story;

I have always been bullied growing up as a kid, due to the unfortunate situation I experienced from a fire accident that consumed about 65% of my body. This alone had a huge psychological effect on me as a person I must admit, but against all odds, there has always been this “driving force” that has propelled me throughout my life. I have always refused to see myself as a lesser person even though I wear my scars every single day, but you know what? I WEAR THEM PROUDLY.

I didn’t allow self-pity to take the best of me because I knew I had a purpose which is part of the reason why I am here today. I am a fond reader of Helen Keller’s novels. From one of her master pieces, I picked this powerful line “self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world”.

This mishap took place when I was just 13yrs old. The first few years were the most difficult experience I had while growing up. Most especially as a kid, when I could not get the best from both parents due to a broken marriage. This affected me gravely for several years. Nevertheless, I still mustered the courage to complete high school and subsequently pursued a Bachelor of Science Degree in Zoology from this prestigious institution with an ambition to become a medical doctor one day.

The dream of becoming a medical doctor, although not realized, I cannot say this was easy. However, I have always tried to’’ TRAVAIL AGAINST ALL ODDS’’ adjusting to prevailing situations while still retaining my focus.  Interestingly, I got reminded by David Cuschieri that “Dreams are not what you leave behind when morning comes. They are the stuff that fill your every living moment.”

For example, immediately after obtaining my first degree, I became a mother with a family – a situation that challenged my vision of becoming a medical doctor.  

However, still persistent with an open-mind, I explored other opportunities which led me to volunteer at the Ministry of Agriculture with the intent of obtaining a scholarship to advance myself—- with AN UNDERLYING GOAL OF BECOMING A CAREER WOMAN.

While at the Ministry of Agriculture, I did not obtain a scholarship immediately. Nevertheless, a vacancy availed itself which I applied for in the technical department of the Ministry (the Bureau of National Fisheries).

Fortunately, I was accepted as a Fisheries Monitoring Center Staff within the Monitoring Control and Surveillance (MCS) Department – a program funded by the World Bank, where I was able to acquire the needed technical skills in vessel monitoring and analysis of navigational data.


Not being content with the job and an undergraduate degree, I reverted to exploring scholarship opportunities within the Fisheries and Maritime fields to help breach some of the knowledge gaps and for my personal advancement.


Life usually present situations that we must be able to overcome through either our dedication to our vision or persistence. To borrow the words of Steve Martin who once said “Thankfully, persistence is a great substitute for talent”.  In my case, I was committed to ensuring that I stop at nothing but to succeed in my field. Your case may not be different from mine, but you would agree with me that the challenges that I encountered yesteryears are still prevalent in our society TODAY, at least for some of us.

Again prior to my Master Degree studies I was faced with yet another challenge, I received a notification on my scholarship award immediately after the birth of my second child. At this crucial point I had to make a tough decision between pursuing my professional studies in Europe which was sponsored by the United Nations from a specialized University “World Maritime University “ or stay back to mother my only son whom I so desired to have. Still keeping focus on my goal and considering opportunities come but once, I decided to pursue my goal with a very heavy heart.

Thanks to my husband Mr. Eric W. Glassco Sr. and my mother Prof. Mary E Metieh, former chairperson of the biology department of this noble institution, UL who provided me the moral support thus leaving my 2months old baby with them in pursuit of my goal. Hmm! that was a pretty hard decision but in life you must be willing to make sacrifices and so I did….

Being very focused on my goal, I went to school in Sweden to pursue my MSc. While in school, I later became the President of the World Maritime Women Associations (a conglomeration of seven other regional associations worldwide). I tried to maximize all of the opportunities available to me and not overlooking any because you never know which one will land you to your DESTINY.. To sum it all, I returned home upon graduation to contribute my quota to the development of my country. Without the slightest thought of becoming what I am today nor obtaining this portfolio as the Director General of NaFAA.

Consequently, upon my return, I was appointed Director General of NaFAA by our dynamic President H.E George Manneh Weah. A man who believes in unlocking the valuable potential in young people.


In addition to the many other challenges came a gigantic one; “managing a newly established institution” still in its embryonic stage from being a framework document to a vibrant internationally recognized State Owned Enterprise, that is now creating an emerging economic sector for our country ……………. This enormous task requires handwork, commitment, dedication, technical skills as well as passion.

Also, in a spirit of patriotism and to breach the knowledge gap in our country, I took a least traveled career path being cognizant of the dearth of job opportunities in this particular field.

I now challenge you aspiring graduates and undergraduates to become pioneers in new and exciting fields that may not be locally available at this time but prepares you for future opportunities in an effort to grow and develop the economy of our country.

It is a known fact that our academic institutions present limited career options wherein obtaining academic qualifications in traditional specializations are viewed as hallmarks of success. For example, a person graduating with a science degree is more likely to become a medical doctor or a pharmacist and be considered successful. Bearing in mind Liberia’s economic status, and also recognizing the richness in our biodiversity and natural resources, there is no telling that it presents enormous opportunities to explore diverse careers paths. I therefore urge you to pioneer new fields of studies.

Only recently, after Liberia had discovered the possibility of oil exploration and possible exploitation that the young people became motivated to take on career paths in oil and gas management and engineering.  Here we are again with the same enthusiasm to explore career opportunities in the fishing sector.

Kindly permit me to pause for a second and use this opportunity to applaud the University of Liberia, headed by Dr. Julius Sarwolo Nelson, for being very proactive by offering a new Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Fisheries Management and Aquaculture Sciences at the Thomas JR Faulkner College of Science and Technology. This we believe is a step forward in breaching the existing human resource gap.

This has been a systemic problem in Liberia, even with existing budgetary constraints, Liberia is always in the business of importing international experts to fill in our human resource gaps, something that continues to cost the country millions of dollars.

The big question to our academic institutions is; why must we wait for the discovery of a new sector before preparing professionals? Are there not researchers in these institutions making new discoveries to lead the way?

Diversification in our academic programs is a step forward in creating a prepared nation for the future. This serves as a national call to action for all educational stakeholders including the government, to increase its investments in the education sector which is practically the only way towards elevating Liberia’s economic status.

I am also challenging academic institutions to create additional programs other than the conventional ones such as a medicine, law, accounting, public administration, sociology, etc. We must not limit our skills development to our skills demand but rather develop variety of skills that can be marketable to the region and the world at large.

Also, drawing from the experience of the Republic of Cuba, I believe we can also export our labor force to attract foreign remittances.

Cuba exports healthcare services by means of sending physicians, nurses and healthcare technicians to other countries as a revenue source. Liberia can do same or better, retrospecting on our record of once having the most sophisticated labor force in West Africa in the 1960s.

We must also look at skills development in order to tap into emerging industries such as the multi-billion dollars Seaweed industry of which Liberia is a natural habitat. Why aren’t we taking advantage of these opportunities?

Seaweed, which is commonly seen as dirt along beaches when it is pushed out by the ocean tides is currently valued at 17.85 billion United States dollars and can be used as vegetables, animal feeds, fertilizers, cosmetics, and industrial gums, among others.  Indonesia for example is a leading exporter in this industry followed by America and China.

For instance, Mango is an important fruit widely consumed globally. Substantial investment can be made into Mango to aid in boosting the viability of our agricultural sector thereby creating an entire value chain, from harvest to processing and to foreign markets, eventually creating jobs in agriculture, marketing, logistics, etc.

Why are we not preserving Mango for off season? It will interest you to know that Mali is a leading exporter of Mango. Mali currently exports 600, 000 metric tons of mango and generates a revenue of 30M per annum.  We need to build a society of creativity and innovation using our available resources thus making us more independent and self-sufficient towards becoming an export-based economy instead of an import-based economy. I strongly believe we can grow enough to feed ourselves and share with the world at large.

This should not be the responsibility of the central government only, but also the general citizenry of Liberia. If we must change the course, then it’s time we get up from our little complacent zones and make the actual change that we all crave for.

Considering the appreciable level of development in the fisheries sector, skilled people are still needed in areas such as boat construction, fish handling and processing, fishing gear production, feed production, fish pond construction, hatchery management, etc. This same scenario I believe is true in other sectors.

For this very purpose, the Government of Liberia is sourcing an additional US$5 million dollars for the establishment of the Regional Center of Excellence for Fisheries and Aquaculture Sciences to be hosted here in Liberia. This institution will enhance skills development for the informal labor workforce of the fishing sector which constitutes more than 75% as well as its formal sector. Therefore, we are calling on other stakeholders to emulate same initiative. For instance, the greatest economies in the world such as the USA, Great Britain, Germany and Japan have a greater portion of their work force based on technical skilled labor. These are some of the reasons they are referred to as lands of Opportunities.

In addition to the many degrees and in the spirit of diversifying the economy, we should also look towards skills development as a crucial catalyst in our academic institutions and inclusion of technical vocations within universities. Acquiring these skills in addition to a degree provides competitive advantage and enhance private sector growth through the creation of small/medium scale enterprises. This is more jobs creating than job seeking.

Can you imagine “there is a prominent Liberian whose fish farm we helped to construct. In order to manage his fish farm effectively, he had to bring an expert from Ghana to manage his hatchery, for the singular reason that the person only had the technical skills and not an academic degree.

Most emerging sectors are mostly dependent on skills development for effective functioning. The very seaweed industry is a perfect example. This could be an underlying reason why Liberia is still where it is after a 175yrs; whereas there are economies with only   human resources who are competing with other developed nations.

In the same light of diversification, I am challenging you to explore new opportunities in the private sector so as to expand the growth of this country other than having a fixed minds to assume government positions immediately after graduation. And that is why there is a lot of disappointments where those ambitions are not fulfilled.

Nation building is a collective effort from everyone, if we should build a new Liberia, we all must strive in creating a better Liberia using our collective skills, resources, and innovative ideas simply “thinking outside the box.

My greatest strength as an administrator emanates from teamwork of young professionals from the maritime and fisheries sectors where everyone opinion matters.  Also, I would like to extol the selfless characters of my team members at NaFAA in making a lot of sacrifices at the expense of compromising their invaluable time with their family to get the work done. Indeed, we must make sacrifices to achieve our goals and with boldness we must challenge our fears.

For those who know me and have worked with me, I live by a mantra in my professional life. “I enter every negotiation or engagement with one thing in mind; Never to accept No for an answer” as I go with tons of alternatives. This thought I have coined for myself and resides in me everywhere I go.

I am often challenged when I travel far and near to bring positive developments that I see in other countries. And this encourages me to put in my maximum effort in making sure that we compete with other countries in the region. It will interest you to know that Ghana our neighbor generates about 1 billion United States Dollars in income annually from the fisheries sector, thereby supporting 135,000 fishers in the marine sub-sector alone.

Ghana’s fisheries contribute 4.5 percent to annual GDP and indirectly support the livelihoods of 2.2 million people, which is 10% of all people in Ghana according to the (FAO Report on Ghana Fisheries and Aquaculture Sector Development Plan 2011 to 2016). Senegal, another regional neighbor generates 400 Million United States dollars annually from the fisheries sector.

I envy these countries constructively, and that is why my greatest goal is to make Liberia an export-based economy for fish and seafood products serving international markets, thus attracting foreign earnings to help in strengthening our local dollar value thereby contributing to GDP with the utmost objective of transitioning from subsistence fishing to semi-industrial or industrial fishing.

In this light, and from where we stand at NaFAA, I can safely say Liberia is on its way to becoming a fishing nation.

Finally, to you my distinguished graduates, I trust my story has inspired you to embrace challenges and conceive innovative solutions for the myriad of challenges that exist in our society today.

Now! I urge you to keep your eyes on your goal regardless the circumstances. Remember, that Liberia depends on YOU! Complacency is a killer, do not allow it divert you from your dreams.

Congratulations!!  TO HA-LA-KEH-MENI


God speed!

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