CHOOSE TO DARE MIGHTY THINGS
A Commencement Day Lecture Delivered to the
15th & 16th Combined Ph.D. Graduating Class on 17TH March 2022
Francis Chukwuemeka Ezeonu
Ph.D., LDM Cert. (Harvard), FICCON, FCAI, FSESN
Resident Electoral Commissioner, INEC, Imo State
Professor of Environmental Biochemistry & Toxicology
Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka
I feel greatly honoured to be invited to present a commencement address to the 15th & 16th combined Ph.D. graduating class. About twenty years ago, I had the privilege of being the first person to earn the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree of Nnamdi Azikiwe University in September 1992. I did not have the privilege of a commencement lecture like this. The University was nothing near what it is today. The improvements to our University facilities and development over the past years are simply remarkable. Through the efforts of successive Vice Chancellors, the prestige and reputation of our University has continued to soar and these successes add value to our degrees as alumni. The postgraduate programme of the University has so much advanced and expanded that it has grown from a School to a College. I wish to commend all the successive Deans of the School and the pioneer Provost, Prof. Philo Igbokwe for nurturing the school to greatness and for instituting the commencement lecture for graduating doctoral class.
It is my pleasure to welcome all the doctoral graduands, their family members, and members of the University faculty to this ceremony. Every one of you have made an impact on the graduands who sit here today. Congratulations to all the doctoral graduands. I am so happy to share in the excitement of your graduation, and so very proud of you, too! I wish you the best in your next endeavour. The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree is not merely a meal ticket as we often say in Nigeria. It is a most advanced degree and only a limited number of graduates are privileged to get there. In saner climes, the drive for a doctoral degree is the search for knowledge, to seek for the truth, which liberates. In Nigeria like in many other developing countries, there are some other motives. Some of you may have enrolled for the programme just because a doctorate is a prerequisite for career growth in your chosen profession; some others may have enrolled for the programme because they have been long in the labour market and believed that a doctoral degree will enhance their chances of getting a job, yet for others, it is the desire to wear the toga of the title of doctor for the respect and social prestige it commands. Whichever is applicable, the destination is the same and you have all arrived there. You are being initiated into the prestigious collage of philosophers. With the doctorate degree tucked in your pocket, it is time to show that you can philosophize.
As a UNIZIK brand, cooked in and manufactured by this College, I am so proud that our University has continued its long-standing tradition of producing the best! For most of us, our time as a student at UNIZIK was a crucially formative period in our lives. The education we received opened doors for success and the relationships we made created friendships for life. Guided by the University motto, DISCIPLINE, SELF-RELIANCE AND EXCELLENCE, we received the encouragement and/or confidence we needed to forge ahead in life. The institution gave us a sense of place that became part of our identity, our time at this University made it forever a part of who we are. The testimony is everywhere; in virtually every sector of the Nigerian society the UNIZIK imprint appears bold and beautiful. In every field of endeavour, academics, business, entrepreneurship, entertainment industry, politics and governance, the products of this university stick out like a thorn.
On the global turf, the story remains the same, the cannon shots fired from Nnamdi Azikiwe University are today heard all over Europe, Canada, USA and the rest of the world. Just a little incite, Ernest Ezeajughi, an alumnus of this University was in 2019 elected the Mayor of London Borough. Rita Orji, a Nigerian-Canadian Computer Science Professor, Research Chair in Persuasive Technology, and the Director of the Persuasive Computing at Dalhouise University, Canada sprouted from here. She made a First Class in computer Science in her first degree at Nnamdi Azikiwe University. Her innovative research has brought her high reputation and global visibility in her profession, commanding respect among her peers internationally and earning her numerous awards globally. She was in 2021 listed on the top 100 Canada’s Most Powerful Women. Ifeanyi Ezeonu, another Nigerian-Canadian Criminology Professor at Brock University, Ontario, Canada made a first class in Sociology in the early 1990s and was the first person to make a First Class in the Faculty of Social Sciences, Nnamdi Azikiwe University. Today he is a high-profile scholar credited with introducing the concept of Market Criminology: a new area of criminology that explores the criminology of preventable market-generated harms and the criminogenic effects of market rationality in variegated forms of capitalism. Barely one month ago, Emmanuel Ikechukwu Umeonyirioha, a graduate of Nnamdi Azikiwe University was inducted as the first Igbo language lecturer at the University of Oxford in England. I can go on and on and on…
You should therefore have it in your subconscious that your University is a great one with a track record and that the society at large will expect you to espouse such greatness in all you do.
As I congratulate you today for achieving the great feat of earning a doctoral degree, I will share with nostalgic feelings two experiences that brought me to the conscious realization that earning the title doctor, confers on you a prestigious status and simulates great societal expectations.
The first experience was that soon after earning a Ph.D. in 1992, I went for a village meeting and during roll call, somebody reminded the Secretary that I should be properly addressed as doctor and not a mister. While I appreciated that recognition, I immediately protested and told them that the title is not a traditional one and was therefore not relevant to the village meeting. Coming home the next day after visiting a friend, I saw an old woman whom I was told had waited for me for a while. She had refused to disclose her mission to anybody insisting that she wants to see the doctor and was willing to wait. So, I said to her, Mama, what can I do for you? She then started telling me about her health challenges, the arthritic pains on her knees, her inability to sleep at night and so on. So, I said Mama, better go to the hospital and see a doctor. She turned to me in surprise and said but my son told me you are now a doctor. You cannot imagine the disappointment that greeted her when I told her that I am a doctor but not a physician. She now asked in a rage of anger, “then what type of a doctor are you?” My explanation to the effect that I am a scientist made no meaning to her. All she cared for was that if you are a doctor, then you should solve her health problems. I was lost for a while in thought and surprise, then to pacify her, I said to her, Mama, I am a big doctor that teaches those who work in hospitals, don’t worry I will arrange for one of them to come and see you. The next day, I got a doctor to see her and then I bought her drugs.
In another incident, I attended a social event in a friend’s house. It is customary in Nigeria to have a handshake and a perfunctory greeting with every person you meet at such occasion. What jolted me however was that once he introduced me to people as a Doctor, I received a second greeting from them, this time with reverence, and oftentimes with the person shaking me with two hands and in a few instances even genuflecting. The second greeting, in all ramifications was with respect and carried with it the grace of recognition. In most cases it was preceded by an exclamation like oooh! or aaaah! which appears to say sorry I didn’t know your reputation before now. It was obvious that the second salutation belonged to the degree, and not to me.
The point I want to make here is that the appellation of the title Dr before your name changes your status and also heightens society’s expectations of you. The society will count on you to advance knowledge, to create new knowledge, to drive cultural development and fulfilment, and to solve problems with which society is faced. You should be prepared to confront this. You have been endowed with the skills and competencies required for this. Out of here, people are not interested in what you studied, they are interested in what you do, the problems you solve, the relief you offer and the leadership you provide. As a product brand, your service should revolve around value addition to people and society.
You’ve got the tools to lead and meet these aspirations. And because I have so much confidence in you and the trainings you have acquired, I’m not going to spend the remainder of my time telling you exactly how you’re going to make the world better. You should choose to dare mighty things. That you will figure out. But I do have a couple of suggestions that you may find useful as you go out there and conquer the world.
- Choose a mission. If you want to be successful in life, “find a problem and solve it; find a need and meet it; find a hurtful feeling and heal it”. The great martin Luther king (Jnr) said that “if a man hasn’t discovered something that he is willing to die for, he isn’t fit to live”. You are not free until you have been made captive by your mission in life.
- Be positive in your thoughts. We are told that the limits of human progress are the limits of our imagination. Whatever the mind can comprehend it can achieve. Thoughts have wings, therefore think positively and act positively. According to Tyron Edwards, “thoughts lead on to purposes; purposes go forth in action; actions form habits; habits decide character, and character fixes our destiny”.
- Learn to persevere. Nothing good comes easy. The scripture tells us in Psalm 35 that “weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning”. You must learn that every bright day must be preceded by a dark night; the darker the night, the brighter the day. Note that wherever you find the greatest suffering, there you are likely to find the greatest success. Think deeply of these apparent contradictions that are a purposeful design of nature, the rose flower and the thorn, the honey and the bee, salvation and the cross. You must learn that though the flower may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.
- Do not be afraid of failure. The degree you have just earned places you in a position of trust and leadership. You must not betray it. Wherever you find yourself, others will look up to you as a leader; with great predictions of knowledge and wisdom. They expect you to take a position and lead in all matters of interest. You should not fear failure so much that you refuse to take stands or try new things. In every demanding situation, take a decision; in every circumstance take a stand. You must avoid the attitude of passivity, and mute indifference. Don’t be a ‘sidon dey look’; because thatis not a cause of action. Even the Bible admonishes us to be either cold or hot. The book of Revelation 3 vs 16 says, “because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spit you out”. Learn to take a decision, if it turns out wrong, you learn from it, if it turns out right others learn from it; either way, it makes you a philosopher.
Heed the advice of Oswald Avery, “whenever you fall pick something up”. Remember that on His way to Calvary Christ fell thrice and, on each occasion, got up stronger and more determined to accomplish. Thomas Edison reminds us that “people are not remembered by how few times they failed, but by how often they succeed”. Tom Hopkins similarly reminds us “that the single most important difference between champions and average people is their ability to handle rejection and failure’.
You should be guided by the deep reflections of Theodore Roosevelt who said, “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows no victory nor defeat”
- Watch your reputation and be mindful of your character. As a philosopher which you have become, you must think deep, reflect and rationalize before you act or take a position. You must watch your reputation. You must live out your conviction. Do what in your judgement you consider to be the right thing, don’t act to please people. Society expects you to inspire and guide by moral example, putting character above any other primordial considerations. Wherever you find yourself or in whatever you do, whether in the public space or in private, you should avoid all forms of corrupt practices and undeserved gratifications and strive to exemplify through personal conduct the true values of a life of honesty and contentment.
Again, because people hold you in high esteem; you must watch your ways, watch what you say or do. It is good to watch your reputation, but it is more important to be mindful of your character. Reputation is good but character is better. Reputation is what people think you are, but character is what you are. There are many people whose character does not match their reputation. Outside they have a good reputation but inside they have a bad character. When we were kids, we had a man in our church who was popular and admired for his supposed piety. To us the kids, he was a symbol of piousness, he was popularly called “otito dili Jesu” and his reputation in the church went before him. He was very active and visible in parish activities and belonged to many pious societies. His reputation stood him in good stead until he wanted to join the knighthood; that was when it was revealed that he was a wife beater and a terror in his immediate and extended family. He had good reputation but bad character. This is not good; you must live what you preach.
- Be honest in big things as in small things. Talking about character, one character that you must own, cherish and propagate is honesty. Honesty is in great lack in the Nigerian society and that is why we are where we are today. Honesty is the best legacy in life. Honesty pays. You may not gain materially by being honest, but it sure earns you respect and a peace of mind.
- Do not despair, keep moving. The worst thing that can happen to you is to get despondent or to despair. In all circumstances never give up, keep up hope and never say die. The great admonition of Martin Luther King says it all;
If you cannot fly, run; If you cannot run, walk;
If you cannot walk, crawl; But by all means keep moving.
- Avoid envy and hatred. Just the way our faces look different, the same way our ambitions, our aspirations and talents are different. Discover yours and actualize yourself; there can only be one you. Do not envy, it is bad for the heart.
You may be conversant with the legendary story told of a certain man who was envious of the wife’s position in the homestead that he asked God for a role reversal. According to the story, the man felt that the only thing the wife does in the house was to cook and take care of the children while he was away all-day hustling. God granted his prayers so he became a woman and the wife became a husband. Swapping roles, ‘she’ woke up early the next morning, prepared breakfast for the family, served the ‘husband’, cleaned up the children, dressed them up, fed them and rushed them to school. By the time ‘she’ came back the ‘husband’ had left for work. ‘She’ packed up all the used plates and the pots ‘she’ used for preparing breakfast, washed them up, cleaned up the house and attended to the laundry needs of the house. Done with the morning chores she had her bath and settled for her breakfast. By the time she finished her breakfast ‘she’ realized it was noon. ‘She’ hurriedly jumped back into the kitchen prepared lunch and left for the afternoon round of school run. Home with the kids ‘she’ had to wash them up and go through the rituals of feeding them and assisting them with their home works. She forced the kids to bed for their siesta and settled for her late lunch. Just about the time she was vacating the dining table the ‘husband’ came back. ‘She’ served the ‘husband’ lunch and retired into the kitchen to prepare dinner as it was already late evening. The ‘husband’ through with ‘his’ lunch had ‘his’ bath and relaxed over a bottle of beer watching the television. ‘She’ again went through the routine ritual of serving dinner, washing up all the used plates and cooking utensils, and cleaning up the kitchen. Through with these chores, ‘she’ felt exhausted but managed to have ‘her’ bath before going to bed. Despite the exhaustion ‘she’ had to succumb to and satisfy the husband’s demand for the conjugal communion. Completely sapped and exhausted she fell into a deep slumber only to be woken half way by the alarm clock which announced the dawn of a new day at 5.30am. ‘She’ went through the rituals of the first day again, and did this repeatedly for three days. By the night of the third day ‘she’ had convinced herself that the wife’s life was not better than his and prayed God to reverse their roles once again (as originally ordained). God in His mercifulness agreed, but told ‘her’ that ‘she’ will have to wait for the next nine months as ‘she’ was already pregnant.
The point to be made here is that there are different roles for different people; like one of the popular ‘spiritualist’ in this state will say “ekelu olu eke”. Be yourself, do your bit and envy no other.
Also do not hate, it is injurious to your health. Like Mandela said “resentment is like taking poison and expecting it to kill your enemy”. In the place of envy, admire. Learn to emulate rather than to copy. More importantly learn the good virtues; faith, patience and love.
- Keep to the golden rule. Education and happiness can only become beneficial when built upon the practical working and keeping of God’s infallible law, the golden rule –do unto others as you wish to be done unto. Again “as much as it depends on you be at peace with all men” as the scriptures foretold. But do not give in to blackmail and intimidation, for yielding pacifieth great offences (Ecc 104 ). Treat every person with fairness and honesty. Do not be afraid of troubles for they will surely come. Learn to confront troubles, to live with them, to cope with them and to overcome them.
In all you do, be firm and fair to all irrespective of class or creed, and beyond the prejudice of personal interest and ego. Always act without malice, bitterness, ill will or affection.
- Seek the face of the Lord always. Learn to trust in God, “cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you” (1 Pet 57). Know that God has plans for you; In Jeremiah 911 He says “I know the thoughts I have for you, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you an expected end. In Psalm 328 gain the Lord says “I will instruct you in the way you will go”. The confidence we have is that according to 1 John 514 “if we ask anything according to His will, he hears us”.
In Mattew 77 the scripture says “Ask and you shall receive, Seek and you shall find, Knock and the door will be open to you”; so the summary is always to ASK.
Distinguished graduands, ours is a world of diversity, a community of people doing different things. Life is like a music orchestra, with people playing different instruments and generating different tunes. You have two choices, either to hound those who are believed to be playing out of the desired tone or to harmonize the different sounds and nuances to give a beautiful symphony. A good orchestra commander does the later. Be one.
The world is waiting for you to “fill it and subdue it”. There is a choice to dare mighty things! Choose it.