Speech delivered to the finishing class of 2012, at the University of Nairobi

“Humility: The ultimate goal of university education and other important truths beyond campus”

Before I begin, I should point out that behind me in this dais, sits a politician, a clergyman, and a philanthropist, all about to be awarded an undeserved honorary degree. That should be the first lesson about life beyond college. There are a lot of undeserving, lesser qualified and real bogus individuals who running stuff in this world.

The Minister of Education, the Chairman of the council, The Vice-Chancellor, Senior and junior members of staff, dignitaries, invited guests and parents who are here purposely to fulfill their college dreams through their children and who seem to enjoy these things more than everyone else, thank you for this opportunity.

This came pretty sooner than I had anticipated. I am not the appropriate speaker for this great day. I suppose Sonko would have done better. For he embodies the true street attitude and antics that seem to be more empirically workable in today’s world than the degree or diploma you will be earning. Sonko is the epitome of everything right and wrong in our present society by default. Fortunately, he can’t speak coherent English for 27 straight minutes and besides, he is not a distinguished graduate of this fine institution. I must warn though, my speech might contain strong adult language, deal with it.

I do understand the certainty and expectant attitude of those who have been in blue-chip courses; the medics, lawyers, engineers, planners and architects. I can feel the insecurity around those who did courses in business, economics and their unrealistic expectations in the job market. I can sense the palpable anxiety of those in Arts and Anthropology whom it must be dawning that the job market is not very stratified. Never mind, these things happen.

My task, this morning is to impart practical wisdom on your days beyond campus. This is going to be more fan, funny and pragmatic than all the countless and thankless hours you have invested in order to earn your degree. Forgive the exaggeration. Of course you have had Google and Wikipedia to thank more than your lecturer or hard work. By the way respect the folks on this dais, with the exception of those after the honorary degree. They toiled the hard way. Checking stuff on your 3G smart phones is sexier, funnier and far much easier than going to the library to check on those 23 books listed on the course outline. Especially during exams.

Speaking of course outlines, by the show of hand, how many can agree that we should save our environment by not listing those ridiculous book titles that are never available, and when available they look like something William Ole Ntimama plucked during his undergrad in the mid 1960s. You don’t read them anyway, or do you? Come on, your lecturers are not here, there are no repercussions, no single mark will be taken from you. How many of you found the reading list useful? Precisely, my point.

Moving on, I want to make this day not only remarkable, but memorable and enjoyable by telling you the truth. This class of 2012 has been impressive. Of course the greatest class was that of 2011, with a possible exception of the anthropologists.

Indulge me to tell you something about the 2010 class, however briefly. That was by far the dullest, slowest and most unimpressionable lot in 47 years history of this university. Quite frankly, I hated them. They were despicable. They never inspired anything. They were lackluster, so much that when they finally left nobody noticed. I mean when we were in our second year we managed to get the chairman, the vice-chair academic affairs, the treasurer and the secretary of accommodation into the 8-seat executive arm of the student union. Beat that. And that is only our Arts class. These guys even worshipped and adored us. We were impossible. We were great. Can I have a round of applause for the 2011 class? By you not applauding, you don’t make us any less of the distinguished lot we were.

Not that I fancy this university’s student politics, real. Never have. Never will. The SONU politics has lowered the bar so low that when you look at the list of its officials since 2003, you will wonder whether; is that the best university in the region can produce? I have never seen a greedier, tribally charged bigots than those elected to SONU in the recent past. Frankly, they are no more disgraceful than the city’s chair-throwing, vulgar civic leaders. But you take comfort in the fact that even at national level; it is not so promising either. Coincidentally, the crème of our national leaders were once leaders in this inaugust union. The future can only be bleaker.

But that is now in your unchangeable past. Fast forward to June 2012, you are out of this place and you will now discover how irreversible time is. Let us now discuss more progressive stuff in the 5 points that I have outlined in this speech.

The first lesson you learn is from an analogy that you probably have read or heard about. Before sex, you are always full of desire and passion. Blood rushes in your body, unencumbered. As you approach each other, the man will indulge in the foreplay, desperately longing to get past that part that very few men enjoy. If anything he will be undressing you, cautiously and in a lovely way. Equally, with more women here very much inclined to blowing up stuff, you will often find their hand sliding down and groping with your marauding whooper as she licks it. Then you will have sex.

After sex, the man simply rolls over and sleeps. It is biological, but don’t ask me why rapists are never been arrested on spot. Mostly, you dress yourself up. That is the first lesson you will learn about life if you have not learnt already. When you are screwed, you have to pick yourself up. You will screw many things out here. Right from your job to relationships, to family and anything in between. But you will soon discover that the responsibility to fix it solely rests on you. Ladies, when you finally discover that relationship is very toxic for you and drop the sucker, it will be upon you to move on and forget him. Don’t be vengeful or wish him the worst. Men, there will women who will ruin you if you don’t watch out.

But whether you fall, knock things over, most importantly; hold your feet on the ground strong. Cry. Regret. And move on.

Lesson number two takes from number one. From now henceforth, you will be in charge of yourself. For men, you will find it increasingly difficult to live with your relatives or family and you might find yourself in the ghetto. Women are somewhat luckier because they still have a grace period. Some will be married or are already dating well off men. They can go back home. But sooner or later, a period of solitariness will set in. Whereby you will be with strange neighbours who may not know that you were in this great university. Most importantly, they won’t care even if they knew.

Landlords and caretakers will be nightmares and daymares every first ten days of the month as long as you are not employed. You better start rehearsing hide and seek tactics. Your best and closest friends might not be necessarily guys who will rescue your ass. Some will get better jobs and drop you until you find your way into their class. Borrowing the Ksh 500 or Ksh 1,000 that you barely return is not as easy out here as it was in here. The HELB money that now sits in that sewage system, courtesy of the beer or that trunk dysfunctional computer will haunt as your letters are ready for dispatch to your local chief or church. Remember the address you gave the first day you were filling those forms?

Nowadays, they want you to pay either 1000 monthly from your savings or a 5000 fine. That is the problem of having the rich working up there and having small women from USIU working as secretaries. For they don’t know the travails of an ordinary comrade from Vihiga or Mukurwe-ini.

You will discover that your younger siblings, cousins and parents expect much and better from you than you can currently deliver. Funeral programmers will start inducting you. If they get wind you are doing well, you will be invited to wedding fundraising where the bills read millions. Just but to help a man and woman legalize sex that they have already been having. Suffice to say that you are a sworn bachelor like yours truly. Good luck.

Basically, you are no longer a boy. If you commit a crime, the media will refer to you as a MAN or WOMAN. A man of this age did this or that…So brace yourself and if anything, you are now in charge. The phone calls to relatives for more cash will now be limited and instead, you will be receiving more of the same. The society is as such. Every single cent you have ever received, you will repay.

Sometimes, your expectations will exceed reality. Answers to many questions will not be found. Your closest and most trusted will screw you up. Better be ready. Your husband will cheat on you. Your wife will cheat. All you need is preparedness. Men, you need sobriety and money to prevail upon these women. Women, you will need patience and more maternal care to get the best and the most out of your husbands.

Thirdly, is a lesson that I already sneaked up there. The world is run by scum bugs. Assholes if you like. 99.7% of you loathed SONU with a passion. The other 0.3 % is actually SONU. Unfortunately, those are the guys who run the show out here. Big wigs will not be guys that you essentially fancy. The ugly, bitchy woman will be your boss. Some arrogant, balding, man who looks expectant (due respect to expectant ladies) will be your boss. Some guys so full of themselves that they regularly hug their shadows hold so much power in the corporate and civic world. They will ruin your day…Guaranteed.

You will look at yourself as cleverer, more polished to be involved the corporate drama or politics and that is why, guys you generally thought they had lost bearing in campus will probably drive ahead of you. The ladies who got screwed the most will have the grandest wedding on TV and the prudes will be pregnant within two years and abandoned. I just don’t know how life goes. Never judge. Accept the temerity of the scum bugs and their daredevil antics and all will be well.

If you can’t fight your way, by merit or through politics to the top, just shut the fuck up and be content with what you have. In every company, the top brass are possibly the hated, but funny enough, they get things done. It is a corrupt world out here still and Chinua Achebe was right: whom you know is more important than what you know. Qualifications are overrated. Merit is a term only used by the corporate class and politicians to impress. Their relatives, boyfriends and gigolos will always get the first chance. Even if it is a priced company known for competence or has holy name like Transparency this or that. But things will change. Hopefully, in our lifetime.

You live in an era of highly stupid Hollywood shows such as the Kadarshians. A show about women shaving their pubes and worrying about the colour of their poo-poo in a doctor’s room but you like it that way. They are more interesting than the politicians our newsrooms beam to our living rooms every evening. Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and Rihanna are more influential than the next Albert Einstein.

The fourth lesson is tied to the third. It is about awards. You should have discovered that awards do not necessarily go to the most deserving. Like the honorary degrees here. True story. Unless for straight competitions like athletics where the winner can be seen. But even so, the Kalenjins have rendered long-distance running untenable. Whenever they show up, it is taken.

Where it is a question of judging using a panel, forget about it. The awards become more political than anything else. Chinua Achebe has never won a Nobel. That doesn’t make him any less of the best Africa has. Some of the footballers you know, especially, English have been over-praised, you wonder. Women, you have seen women who have won things through the bedroom route than in the boardroom. Those elevated more by their looks than the set guidelines.

It has always happened. And will not stop. So invest in individual merit. Do your best in everything you do and do your part. Don’t fret. Sometimes you will be overworked. Often you will meet an employee so slow, you will question God’s judgment in creating him or her. But God has put you there to show the difference. To show the better way. If you have a degree, you are above gossip. For women, know you are intellectually superior to your mother in-law, hence you should have a more skilled way of dealing with her and the meddlesome in-laws who won’t be served tea in smaller mugs without causing a storm in those very cups and the fat aunts who know how to count the meat pieces in your Pilau.

So there are no awards for everyone, but you can reward your lover, your friend and those who touch you. It could be your ever helpful neighbor. The reliable shopkeeper. That electrician. That cousin. There are good people. Just know the world by design is unfair .Found your place.

My final lesson is on the ultimate role education, more so, university education.

Three years ago, a South Sudanese national was shooting an education documentary and sought my help as a freelance writer/journalist. Typical of me, I had to refer him to one of the leading educationist in the country, Dr Eda Gachukia, the proprietor of Riara Group of Schools. On the day I had secured the interview, I had a CAT and I picked on my charismatic but very arrogant cousin of mine to accompany my Sudanese friend.

I have never met Dr Gachukia in person but I have heard a lot of great stuff about her, given she is part of the rich tradition of this fine institution. When they came back, my cousin, who is by the way one of the sharpest and shrewdest mind in the land told me and I quote,

“That’s what education should to person: Humble you. Period. That woman is so humble to a fault.” My cousin had been touched beyond words. That went just to affirm, what I have always believed in.

Humility. Extremely few people have access to higher education like you in this country. Even fewer get to this great university. But you are not necessarily better or wiser. For the guys who run this country, are not those with degrees. But the diplomas from the school of mass communication. The nurses from the medical training centers and the unschooled traders who are the bedrock of this economy. So your degree, MBA or PhD does not in any way elevate you to a superior being. Never.

The theses you have written, the highly esoteric term papers and your erudite arguments that you hold daily are not helpful if they don’t shape the lives of the less privileged. You have been enlightened and you have a bigger task of ensuring a more representative society, where goods and services are more equitably distributed. A country where there is freedom accompanied by responsibility and upholding of the rule of law.

That will be enough for today. You will learn more by yourself. Like in your life here, if you look back, the guys you cheated exams with, the guys who gave you Ksh 200 to buy condoms are not necessarily your clansmen. You should have discovered that you have reaped a lot from the diversity and differences of those you have met here and you should by all means replicate the same at national level, by being more tolerant and wiser if the university has gone through you.

Remember the world can run without you. Osama bin Laden is gone. Hosni Mubarak and that other dictator from Tunisia are gone. Muammar Gadaffi, for all his supposedly noble Pan-African ideas, is gone. Mugabe will go. Putin will go. Nothing lasts forever. We are all dispensable. And yes, the world can run without you.

Some of your friends will do better than you. You will do better than others. Some will marry. Some won’t. Some will turn gay. Some will go on to do bizarre things that will shock the entire country. Nothing is definite. Nothing is guaranteed. Nothing is given. All you need is preparedness to deal with whatever life throws at you.

What will be your place? Wherever it is, find it. And be patient. God’s time is the best.

Congratulations to the class of 2012.
Can the real life begin?

I dreamt up that speech.


15 thoughts on “Speech delivered to the finishing class of 2012, at the University of Nairobi

  1. Wht a good speech,vry factual n funny.i almst broke my ribs whn i read dat ”you’ll b invited 2 wedding fundraisers 2 legalise sex 4 pple who av bn hving it anyway”

  2. It’s amazing your dream had a God character in it!! Nice speech except the part where you show your deficiency in Anthropological knowledge!! You owe me one for the diss!!

  3. Too bad u were a module 2 student…
    I wish JAB cud have considered u back then…
    Lakini jaribu ur son 2 get Thea as a regular …
    He will surely rewrite this in a beta way…

  4. p.o.i: the writer was a mod 1 student.
    silas i always call u ‘serious’. was of class 2011n was ua classmate: this is the real speech whatever else was given on that day was bullshit. just like budget ya masufferer countering kimunya’s national budget.
    today my life is fuckd up but also am fucking every block of reality.
    kudos my broda!!!!

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