HON. TANNEH G. BRUNSON’S REMARKS, 2023 COMMENCEMENT CEREMONY, COLLEGE OF BUSINESS AND PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION, UNIVERSITY OF LIBERIA FENDELL CAMPUS
MAY 31, 2023
Hon. Matthew G. Zarzar, Chairman and Members of the Board of Trustees;
Prof. Dr. Julius Julukon Sarwolo Nelson, Jr., President of the University of Liberia and Members of the UL Cabinet;
Ministers and Officials of the Government of Liberia present;
Officiating Prelate and Clergy;
Presidents of Universities and Colleges present;
Deans and Directors of Academic Programs;
Participating Members of the Faculty Senate and University Council;
Acting President of the UL Alumni Association;
President and members of the UL Faculty Association;
President and members of the UL Staff Association;
President and members of the Undergraduate Graduating Class;
Parents and Guardians;
Ladies and Gentlemen
Good morning and thank you, Mr. Lamin Salley, for that very generous introduction.
I am so humbled and grateful to be back here at this intellectual powerhouse, the University of Liberia, where my professional career and training started.
It is indeed quite an honor to have been selected as Speaker for the 103rd Convocation Exercises of the A. Romeo Horton College of Business and Public Administration and for the opportunity for me to be standing here, in this moment before Liberia’s future leaders.
I am overwhelmingly impassioned about what lies ahead for our great nation and its place on the global stage. It is no secret that Africa is going to play a vital role in shaping the future and you all are our decision makers of tomorrow. Africa must unite as “One Africa”, Liberia must unite as “One Liberia”. My concerns often border around what is being done to equip and ensure that the next generation of leaders are adequately prepared with the necessary capacity, skills and resources for the tasks that lie ahead. Leadership belongs to those who take it and it starts with you. I see so much hope, talent and promise in this group and for that I say THANK YOU and CONGRATULATIONS to the new graduates and their families for all your hard work and dedication!
As an alumna of this illustrious and phenomenal institution, my life has truly come full circle today, and it gives me great joy to return to my roots, to the very place that was a critical stop on my journey. Like you, I once pounded these pavements and walked these halls to get to my classes. And when I completed the work, like you, I sat in these same seats with my loved ones in the stands behind me beaming with pride because a monumental feat had been accomplished, one that was for all of us to share in. And by all of us I don’t just mean my immediate family. As a community and as a country that’s united, moments like these are uniquely Liberian. Regardless of your origin, tribe or religion, when one Liberian succeeds, every Liberian succeeds!
My journey through L.U. to graduation from the prestigious A. Romeo Horton College of Business and Public Administration was not easy for many reasons. For one, I did not always have adequate, reliable transportation to get here. Just like you, I “myself” spent many days standing in that hot sun around the City Hall area where we had to walk to catch a taxi, only for it to finally arrive and then break down on the way. And on many occasions, I did not have the resources to cover my school tuition and ended up getting a part time job to pay my bills. So, believe me when I tell you that I fully comprehend and empathize with the challenges you have faced and the sacrifices you and your families have made for you to reach this glorious milestone. What I learned from those experiences was a universal truth that holds today, that anything worth having is worth working hard and waiting patiently for. All those struggles you went through and all those long days and nights you put in were absolutely worth it!
Quick question… What is the quickest way to absolve a challenge?
Did I hear someone say quitting was the quickest way? Do you think you could ignore the problem with the hope that it will take care of itself? Or, if you just ran away, it will simply go away. Through all of the challenges you faced along this journey, I am sure many of you thought about quitting at least once or twice. It is only human, but as evident by your presence here, each of you, adorned by your caps and gowns which signify your achievement, smartly and correctly chose to endure and press on. And for that you have emerged victorious, so give yourselves a round of applause!
The objective of your education, what you have learned from kindergarten through college and from society as well, I hope, has prepared you to face the world with an intelligent, strong mind-set that will contribute to a sustainable world. But, there is so much more out there that will allow you to grow and find achievements. No matter where life takes you after today, you must be excited and passionate about finding what makes you happy. Strive to live an intentional and purpose driven life of leadership and truth to service, integrity and transparency, hard work with good moral values and love for country. Those are the motivations that should drive your ambitions!
The curriculum is designed to teach you how to plan strategically to create organizational value and master financial principles. In addition, it provided you with a strong academic foundation in core business and public administration functions including general business and public administration, accounting, finance, project management, information technology, human resources, marketing, and organizational behavior. These competencies are flexible enough that upon graduation, careers in a variety of different fields may be available. There are endless possibilities and opportunities for success and I am sure that as a graduating class, you now appreciate the importance of your education.
As graduates, each of you now has a choice on where the future takes you. In spite of all you have been through, you are still here, still standing and you made it to this day. Now, it’s time to begin a new era in your lives where you are about to enter a world where your dreams will scare you. You may, however, have to get there in stages. Remember your journey has only just begun so, celebrate knowing that you have fulfilled not just your own dreams, but that of all those who came before you, whose broad and brave shoulders you stand on. Your graduation today is the manifestation of the wishes and prayers of all those who love you and have helped to carry and deliver you to this promising place in your lives. You should cherish this moment for all the years to come, because the community and the world you are inheriting is rapidly evolving. Look at the BRICS, an influential economic alliance that is reshaping the global economy and comprises Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Whether we like it or not, the BRICS has become a part of the global geopolitical and economic landscape.
There are, however, so many things about life that are not taught in the classroom. More
will be learned from your numerous experiences and yet many will be learned from
intuition and your own innovation to grow.
When I graduated in the late 70’s, cell phones, text messages and e-mail were non-existent. Our means of instant communication was through a landline telephone which was costly and time consuming. We hand-wrote our papers then, too, and if we wanted to be fancy and impress our professors, we would ask someone to type it for us. Registering for classes was not just a click away. Instead, we had to stand for hours in very long lines that wrapped around the block. I’ll bet none of you can even imagine going through such. But that was life then. Today, in 2023, the technologies that were mostly spoken about jokingly during my college days have materialized, especially with the advent of the internet. We now live in an era in which the rigid and hierarchical systems of the last century, whether political, cultural, scientific, or economic, are quickly being replaced by an integration of systems spanning all disciplines and borders – enabling information and people to engage at rates of speed that were unimaginable even a generation ago.
Today, many of you have cell phones and your own personal computers that enable and equip you get your thoughts out (to the masses if you so choose) by a swipe. The digital economy has already begun to have profound and unintended consequences for our world. In the past year the New York Stock Exchange took steps to become a virtual trading floor, and in China we witnessed an explosion in the use of mobile technology and the internet to circumvent strict state control of information.
Although these technological advancements have enhanced some aspects of how we communicate and carry on in our daily lives, they have also, in many ways, disrupted industries and norms as we know them. That is perhaps the single greatest challenge ahead of you as newly minted graduates in the field of business and your generation is tasked with exploring new realms of possibilities, profitability and prosperity while preserving the sacred tenants and traditions that have shaped and defined our culture.
Your generation, like mine, is charged with moving the needle a few notches forward for the sake of progress, advancement and development. And to be perfectly clear, these charges are not demands. No one is imploring you in hopes you will eventually oblige. Rather, they are commands, orders of you to listen, observe and act accordingly in the interest of the greater good of yourselves, your families, our shared community and our beloved country, Liberia. By a show of hands, who accepts this challenge? Good, and thank you. Today, I will share some nuggets that have helped me along the way not just throughout my academic and professional careers but also in my non-professional life. Through them, it is my hope that each person leaves here feeling inspired and motivated to continue chasing your dreams beyond the confines and copy books and classrooms at L.U.!
Employers from the private sector, public sector and donor communities look for a wide range of skills offered by business and public administration degree earners. I do hope that part of your learning here enabled you to develop these critical skill sets in business and public administration practices, such as logical reasoning and critical thinking and have also had the opportunity to learn to manage people and communicate (verbally and in writing) in a professional manner.
You see, in today’s technological world, it’s not only about your academic qualifications in terms of your degree, but also more about the skills and innovation that you bring to the table in solving problems or getting the job done. So, I ask the question, what can you do with the degree? How do you fit in the real world? How do you relate to others? And mostly, how do you translate your theoretical knowledge, what you have learned, into the practical experiences you encounter?
Now, more than ever, it is imperative for young people everywhere to develop a greater breadth of skills and knowledge and apply them in ways that meet the demands of the evolving social and economic landscape. Memorizing facts (as you are probably accustomed to) is not as important. And while academic skills remain paramount and a significant tool, they are no longer sufficient to foster thoughtful, productive and engaged citizens. Skills like teamwork, critical thinking, innovation and flexibility are needed to address complex global challenges such as climate change, health epidemics, cyber security and sustainable development. These cross-functional, multi-disciplinary skills are essential for collaboration with diverse groups to solve problems. And then there is the new digital economy. From A.I. (artificial intelligence) to crypto currency, there are real implications to the global economic sector, ones that are having profound and unintended consequences such as job elimination due to automation, market volatility, lack of creativity, and privacy violations and each of you must be prepared to tackle these new world issues.
Thus, your education will not conclude when you walk across this stage and exit this campus. Learning is infinite and lifelong. Continue to keep yourselves informed about the world around you to be able to engage (and contribute) at every level. Open yourself to continuous learning especially about things on the global landscape! Read, Read and Keep Reading! It not only enables you to think critically and analyze information objectively, but it also promotes a thirst for knowledge.
When you enter the workforce, take your whole self. The organization is more likely to succeed when people bring their differences in thought, experiences, background and culture. It is the diversities amongst us that enrich and empower high-performing teams and ultimately drive innovation.
As you navigate through the world, be open to collaboration and integration of other disciplines or systems outside of what you have learned. Build relationships, relationships are everything as it strengthens your capacity to navigate through cultural, social and economic diversities, which optimizes your position as a team player. It’s all about who you know. Find people who challenge and inspire you to be successful and spend a lot of time with them. In other words, NETWORK! These will change your perspective on life. Be innovative, inquisitive, open yourself to continuous improvement and never waver in your quest for knowledge. At my age, I am still learning, even from the younger ones. That, I think, is the fuel for professional growth!
I’ll tell you a true story I heard when I participated in a team-building retreat some time ago. It’s about Charles Plumb. He was a US Navy jet pilot in Vietnam. After a couple of combat missions, his plane was destroyed by a surface-to-air missile. Plumb ejected and parachuted into enemy hands. He was captured and spent 6 years in a communist Vietnamese prison. He survived the ordeal and now lectures on lessons learned from that experience.
One day, when Plumb and his wife were sitting in a restaurant, a man at another table came up and said, “You’re Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!”
“How in the world did you know that?” asked Plumb.
“I packed your parachute,” the man replied.
Plumb gasped in surprise but with gratitude. The man reached out his hand and said, “I guess it worked!” Plumb assured him, “It sure did. If your chute hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be here today.”
That night, he kept thinking about that man. He kept wondering what the man might have looked like in a Navy uniform: a white hat, a bib in the back and bell-bottom trousers. He wondered how many times he might have seen him and not even said ‘Good morning, how are you?’ or anything, because he was a fighter pilot, and the man was just a sailor.”
He thought of the man hours the sailor had spent on a long wooden table carefully weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of each chute, holding in his hands each time the fate of someone he didn’t know.
So, do you know who’s packing your parachute?
We all have people in our institutions who provide what we need to make it through the day. In Plumb’s case, he needed several parachutes when his plane was shot down over enemy territory. He needed his physical, mental, emotional and spiritual parachutes and he called on all these supports before reaching safety.
Sometimes in the daily challenges, we miss what is really important. We often fail to say “hello,” “please,” or “thank you,” congratulate someone on something wonderful that has happened to them, give a compliment, or just do something nice for no reason.
I felt this was a good story to share with everyone but more so, with you our graduates as you begin this new leg of your journey. People, regardless of their position, are important and are part of a system that makes everything come together. Regardless of their rank of hierarchy, people in any organization are a vital link to its overall success.
As you go through life, recognize people who pack your parachute!
A fundamental to and foundational in every aspect of life is listening. It enhances decision making and fosters a culture of inclusivity & belonging. Always listen to others and consider their perspectives. Sometimes, it’s those seemingly silly ideas that provide solutions to problems. So, listen to understand, and not just to respond or defend.
Know that people notice everything, especially the small things, so be excellent at what you do. You would be surprised who’s watching your journey and being inspired by it so, don’t quit. And whatever you do, lead with your values. By leading with your values, I mean you should make decisions big and small, each and every day, based on a deep understanding of who you are and what you believe.
Your actions will speak louder than any great new business pitch or innovative technology breakthrough that you might be contemplating. So, before making any key decision, ask yourself what that decision would convey about your own values and the character of the organization you represent. Who you are will be defined by what you do, not what you say.
Values such as integrity, honesty, accountability, responsibilities, and patriotism that are instilled in you form the building blocks of your character. Your integrity and good name are everything. They take years, decades, and in our culture, generations to build. But in an instant, they can crumble. Once they’re gone, it’s almost impossible to get back. So, protect your good name and reputation in everything you do. It’s the most important investment that you will make.
These values are more critical in the fields of business and public administration. Administrators need to be well organized, have the ability to get along with people from many backgrounds and communicate effectively with individuals and groups. Thus, speaking and writing skills are important in many business and public administration positions. As part of your job, you may need to present information at meetings or write analytical reports and recommendations and there you’ll need critical thinking, communications, teamwork, management and analytical skills. Flexibility and multitasking has always been important for work and life but they will be even more crucial for your generation. Already, rapid advancements in technology are transforming the world of work, and jobs have gone unfilled not because of the lack of knowledge but due to lack of skills. Be prepared!
You see, this thing called fear will sometimes creep in. It has a very concrete power that keeps us from doing and saying the things that are our purpose but do not let fear rule your life or dictate what you do. Be courageous as you move forward. Do not edit your desires (dim your light and suppress your talents) to appease others. Do not allow logic to be an excuse for setting low expectations. Want what you want, regardless of how big your dream is. You may just have to get to where you want to go in stages, and you may stumble along the way, but in the end the journey will be well worth it.
Volunteer, contribute, and always bring something to the table. When people need help, don’t look the other way. Instead, make a way. The benefits (and blessings) of helping others are plentiful and unlimited, so always choose to be a helper!
Throughout your life, there will be many highs and even more lows. There will be moments when you get angry. You will fail, lose deals, be passed over for promotions that you know you deserve, and maybe even be fired. Do not take the negative to heart. Instead, try to always plan for the unexpected. You will not always get what you want, and you will not get everything right every time, but you will learn how to adapt and handle them, which will enable you to develop new strengths and get better in time. Your success is the result achieved, as well as your understanding of why you were successful. In tough times, always find what lesson there is to be learned from the experience. Be thankful for those lessons because failures are actually opportunities to learn and grow.
My dear graduates, I want you to know that your greatness will not come from sitting back and feeling entitled to what you want or are opportune to have. No one is entitled to anything, and life doesn’t owe you a thing just for being here. Entitlement can be burdensome, can be an impediment to your success and often makes it harder to achieve your goals. So, if you want greatness, you need to work towards your goals.
So, let me ask a question that is not necessarily rhetorical. How many of you graduates are aware of Africa’s strength, in terms of its youthful population? Well, a few years ago, Liberia hosted a continental meeting to discuss how we, the African Continent, could optimize our demographic dynamics in a post-COVID era. Over the next 20 years Africa will have the highest number of youthful populations in the world. However, from a global perspective, because of our delayed growth that is now exacerbated by the pandemic and other global crisis, our children continue to be left behind for so many reasons, including limited access to technology. So, what does this mean?
We are at a critical point in our democracy, and what we do now will determine whether or not our aspirations and global expectations are met. Given our demographic structure, there is significant potential for economic transformation in Liberia and across Africa. We do have a rising youthful population, which challenges us to harness the demographic dividend, as it presents an opportunity to build resilience in terms of women and youth empowerment, data, ICT and other socio-economic variables. If we must be the pole for global growth in the decades ahead, we must renew the call for a development that is sustainable for us to reverse some of the negative trends. Therefore, our collective responsibility, as citizens and leaders, is to ensure we adequately invest in the development of our greatest asset: our young people. Any society that does not succeed in tapping into the energy and creativity of its youth will be left behind. We not only need the involvement of the youth, but their ownership should also be part of their responsibilities as they have a lot to offer.
Today, each of you should be appreciative of all you have accomplished and thank your families (especially your parents/significant others) who continue to make sacrifices for you, including your friends and all who supported you along the way. Thank the amazing faculty and staff for the passion they have passed onto you and I hope you will carry it into your future endeavors. As a graduate, wherever your education takes you from here, whether it be the private or public sector, you have an obligation to utilize it in innovative and transformative ways to bring about meaningful and impactful reforms.
I am proud of each and every one of you and I believe in your ability to make a difference in your own lives and in the lives of those around you. I strongly encourage you to continue to reach for the stars because your journey has only just begun! What is important is being able to pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, and all of you are already champions so you will continue to be champions!
Lastly, and perhaps the most important, as you climb the ladder of life and ascend to levels that neither your parents and grandparents, nor I or the people on this stage have ever seen, remember to pull someone else up right behind you! The Fruits of life are sweeter when shared, and knowledge and education are wasted if they cannot be shared!
CONGRATULATIONS, CLASS OF 2023!!
Be bold and courageous! Know your history, know your worth. You stand on the shoulders of great men and women. Do not allow others to define you, your history is your power. Always remember, you have already been blessed with everything you will ever need and how you harness those talents are all up to you!
God bless you all and save our illustrious nation, Liberia! Thank you!