Vice-Chancellor, distinguished guests, deans, faculty, alumni, family, friends, my fellow graduands, good morning! My name is Sandra Bucha and I’m beyond honoured to give this speech on behalf of all graduating students.
Quite frankly, I was rather worried when I was asked to give this speech – not particularly because I feared that my usually dry jokes would be drier, but because I felt the pressure to deliver a speech that not just law students can relate to but everyone present at this graduation square. That meant that I ought to deliver a speech that all graduands can relate to, a speech that my parents can circulate over ‘Wozzap’ every time they mentioned that I had graduated and a speech that would make sure that my transcripts are not withheld.
Thinking about the many people present today and how I hoped my words would strike a chord with each and every one of them, my mind settled at thought of the reason why we are gathered here today and that is us, the graduands.
Four years ago, we gathered in the auditorium behind me for orientation – or at least some of us did. Four years ago, some of us did not want to be here yet for some, this was the university we had been longing to get into. Four years ago, some of us did not know who we were while others knew exactly the person they are and the person they were working to be. Four years down the line, a lot of that has changed. We have learned – not just the requisite coursework but also a lot about ourselves – we have unlearned and we have survived the days, the assignments, the units and the exams that we once thought would be the reason why we would not graduate.
We’ve had a memorable four years. Perhaps, some of us may echo Charles Dickens’ opening line in A Tale of Two Cities – it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Personally, I’ve always thought that if asked what the peak of my undergrad life was, I’d say this – graduation. In retrospect, there have been several peaks: dancing with my classmates after Communication Skills one Friday afternoon in SBS, trying out for that moot court in first year and winning it, visiting the ICJ and ICC in The Hague, being reminded of our ‘Africanness’ at the European Union Parliament, going to Dadaab, and singing the national anthem with my wonderful classmates at midnight in Germany.
Looking back, we have a lot to be thankful for. For starters, we owe our presence here to the Almighty. Coming in a strong second, we recognise the sacrifices made by our parents, guardians and sponsors and we remain ineffably grateful for their choice to invest in us and our education. We also have the people who make up this wonderful institution to thank – from the housekeepers to the faculty administrators, the lecturers, the catering staff and the general university administration. We cannot forget to thank those friends who oh so kindly shared with us their notes, particularly during revision time. To these friends, reading your notes gave us a richer experience of the same lecture and we cannot express our full thanks but hopefully these words are a good start.
As we close this chapter of our lives and move on to the next, degree in arm, there is a lot we risk. We risk oblivion, we risk making the wrong choices, we risk disappointing those we care about; but more than that, we risk failing by not trying. Despite us having our degrees, let us remain open to learning. The truth is that having a degree does not mean we have our lives figured out nor that we are infallible. So, we will make those mistakes, we will inevitably disappoint people we care about and we will make the wrong choices here and there, but in all of these, let us always look for the lesson to be learned.
Going forth, let us define success on our own terms; let us rise with even more grit after every fall, and let us actualise the ambition cradled in us. As was once said, our mission is not to follow in the footsteps of those who graduated before us but to exceed their footsteps and crush the shoulders of the giants upon who we stand.
I’d like to close by echoing Jon Stewart and Douglas Vermeeren’s words – college is something you complete but life is something you experience. Don’t worry about your grade, results or success. Success is defined in a myriad of ways and you will find it and people will no longer be grading you. It’ll come from your own internal sense of decency. And so, your opus isn’t just what you do, it’ll be the legacy of what you’ve become.