Chairman; Head Table parents, graduates, friends, good afternoon.
I thank Principal Whytely for his kind invitation and the opportunity to speak here today. I have to say that I have thought about what to say with great care. Addressing young minds is more like carving your initials into a tree than writing your name on a blackboard. Now I am not even sure if you use blackboards anymore but I know that the day’s lessons, written with great care on a blackboard can be easily removed by the idlest of passersby. But an etching on the bark of a tree can last for generations.
I assume, that you do not have the cynicism to dismiss as useless what I may have to say even before hearing it and that you have now near its peak a mind that wants to hear, assess, maybe learn, and perhaps even change. I ask you to open for me, that fertile mind as I intend more to etch on your consciousness thoughts and ideas which I hope cannot be so easily removed as writing on a blackboard but which may somewhere, in intended, or unintended places leave nuggets that may be of some value on this great journey of life which lies before you. I depend on the truth of Oliver Holmes’ words ‘A mind, once expanded by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions’.
Before making my main points I ask each of you to look around you, to your left and to your right, in front and behind, the persons you see will be your most trusted friends for the rest of your lives. There is a trust that develops when you have nothing, that you will lose as you move through life, and begin to have things, begin to have influence, and therefore begin to question motives of those who would be your friends. Those who are your friends when you are unsure as you are now, without anything to give in return but friendship itself, and who accept you with pimples, and bad fitting clothes and personal knowledge of your awkward maturing moments will be your best friends from henceforth. Open your homes your hearts and whatever doors you can for these people as you go forward. Take time to stop and say hello to them on the highways and byways of life. Nurture and value these relationships. They are hard to find. Trust me on this – Good fren betta than pocket money.
I share with you therefore, and hold you to this, the words of Jesus in John 15:12. This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you.
As you leave these gates, perhaps for the last time for many of you, you do not know what you will encounter, you will feel unsure, many will have dreams and goals that you have no idea how you will achieve. Life is neither straight forward, nor straight up, nor straight down. It is a little bit of everything. Where you end up is entirely up to you. It’s important that you understand this and know it to the very core of your being. It does not depend on where you were born, who your parents are, or where you went to school. It depends completely and totally on you.
Let me share with you a case to make my point. I listened to an interview with a man named Mohed Altrad, recently. He started the interview by saying,’ I don’t know where I was born exactly, nor the day, nor the year nor the month’. Mohed started life in a Bedouin tribe roaming the deserts of Syria. His father was the head of the tribe. He did not get to know his father though. His father actually raped his mother twice, when she was only thirteen years old. The first time she got pregnant with Mohed’s older brother and the second to Mohed himself. His older brother was killed by his father and his mother died giving birth to him. He was taken in by his grandmother who didn’t want him to go to school, advising him instead to learn to be a Shepherd that he did not need to go to school to learn how to be a good shepherd. He knew intuitively that he did not want to be a Shepherd, that he wanted something else for himself. He got up early in the morning every week day and snuck off to school, without shoes, without a uniform, just a simple cotton rag wrapped around his waist. Mohed related – everyday when he came back from school, he had what he called ‘a terrible sanction’ from his grandmother. In other words, beating. He describes his so called school as a small building with a lot of holes in it. He was not registered in the school so he looked through the holes from outside at the blackboard to learn. The teacher at the school, after seeing him outside for months, committed to learning, invited him in to sit. Before too long he proved to be one of the best students in the school. Not only because he was bright, but because he was motivated to learn, to improve himself. Tired from getting up early, sore from the beatings, he sat among the sheep and studied after classes were done. ‘Life in the desert he said’ has its own rules’. One of those rules was that if you are poor, if you are at the edge of the tribe, you have no rights. One of the rights you don’t have is to be first in the class, which he was. So since he was audacious enough to come first in the class, his fellow students decided to teach him a lesson. So they dug a hole in the desert and threw him in it. That he described as a Terrible moment in his life. But he survived, he climbed out of the hole and kept climbing in life.
Hi grandmother died and again he was alone and faced the terror of the unknown. One of the members of his tribes was married but could have no children so he adopted Mohed and gave him a couple of meals a day. Eventually he won a scholarship to France where he continued to struggle and eventually started his own business.
Over the years he built a multi-billion dollar business and on June 7, 2015 He was chosen as the World Entrepreneur of the year at an event in Monte Carlo. A Bedouin reject turned Billionaire Philanthropist.
He said at the function “My story should tell anyone that you can change your destiny,”
Let me share with you a few important lessons from this one man’s experience, an experience which has been told in many versions from the story of Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers to stories that are here today, among you, thought of, experienced but yet untold. It is part of the human experience.
Where you are from is not as important as what you are here to do. Mohet was from a backward forgotten desert in Arabia yet he rose to be World Entrepreneur of the year, Jamaica can barely be seen on a globe, a spot, a speck, yet we have produced the world’s best musicians, artists, activists and sports men – from Garvey to Marley, Nanny to Shelly, we have given to the world leaders and achievers beyond what our size would suggest. Do not say to yourself, I am only from here, therefore I cannot reach over there. Here is yours, and there can be yours too. Indeed the world is yours, grasp it with both hands and shape it. You belong. You are important, you matter. Never forget that. Again I turn to the book of John.
When told by Philip that he had found the one Moses wrote about in the law, Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph. Nathaniel responded ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip said to him, Come and see.
The savior himself came from a place that people regarded as backward, Nazareth, often described as a backwater in the Roman empire, yet he was as John described the Lamb of God, Come to take away the sins of the world
Where you are from is not as important as what you are here to do.
The second learning I want to leave with you is that character matters more than circumstances. Who you are as a person, to your core, is more important than the circumstances you find yourself in. Mohed found himself, poor, abused and forsaken, destined to be a shepherd and live out his days in the deserts of Syria. Those were his circumstances, but not his destiny. That was not who he was. From the foundation of his character he set goals, had dreams, persevered and suffered, he took his destiny upon himself and did not allow circumstances to define him. Think of this for me. Think on it in your own life now, and remember it for the circumstances you will find yourself in repeatedly through life. You will always face challenges, great and small, it is an inextricable part of the human experience. But your life’s rudder is in who you are. And by the way, to be clear, character is as important, if not more important when you have success than when you have failure. I have seen many a decent young man of strong moral bearing, lose his way because he had become financially successful and the lures and temptations of the world call his name. Character is important. It is not easy, some days are better than others, it’s not perfection its practice, list your Principles, practice them, live by them. Learn to forgive yourself. Learn to be gentle with yourself. Learn to start over with yourself.
Like Joseph in Potiphar’s house, know when to leave your cloak and run. You may pay a price, you may suffer, but God has a plan for each of you and God knows best.
The third learning I want to leave with you follows on this. Looking back, Mohed could see where his suffering led to his success but it was not evident in the midst of his suffering, all he saw and felt was pain. As the founder of Apple, Steve Job’s said in a commencement speech, ‘We cannot connect the dots going forward, only looking back.’ It’s hard to see where suffering is part of God’s plan for you. To you it’s only suffering. Consider Mohed, the troubles that caused the man who adopted him not to be able to have children, was a big problem for the man and his wife but it was part of God’s plan for Mohed. Later when he wanted to be an Air Force Pilot, the Air Force stopped taking in new recruits, his option was to go to France to do anything he could find, so dejected he went, speaking not a word of French, but it was from France that he built his business empire. He could not have known this as he slept cold and hungry in meagre accommodations he was afforded.
How would Joseph have known, as he lay in a pit that his brother’s dug for him, that this was part of a plan not only for himself but for an entire nation, Israel. How would he have known that the path to becoming chief administrator for Egypt led through a dungeon? He could not know, he could only have faith that some good thing would come from all that he endured. That all things work together for the good of them that serve God.
As you take on this great adventure of life, there will be times you will wonder, why me lord, you will feel stagnated, there will be times when nothing seems to be working in your favor, remember you are only on one page of a very long book, have faith, in yourself and in God, that he has written for your life a grand and beautiful story. Enjoy every moment of the ride. It’s is your life, it’s your gift, the greatest gift you will ever receive.
The world lies before you, the journey lies before you, with strong character and sure faith, strike out with all the enthusiasm and optimism of youth, make your dent in the universe, make yourself better, make your family better, make your community and your country better. We are depending on you. This is in your hands, empower yourselves and be the change you want to see around you.
I close with the words of Maryann Williamson
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Congratulations to each of you, I wish for you God’s richest blessing, and Godspeed. I leave with you the admonition and blessing that my fathers left me. Walk good.
Thank you all very much.