Life has a very simple plot; first you’re here, then you’re not. These insightful words were uttered by one British comedian by the name Eric Idle. I’m inclined to imagine Mr. Idle was seated somewhere one day just idling when these very insightful words crossed his funny mind. Words whose truth remain timeless. In a few days, hours or minutes, depending on when you read this, over four thousand ladies and gentlemen will be graduating, or shall have graduated at JKUAT’s 27th Graduation Ceremony, on 30th of June, this Thursday. As the Chancellor will be conferring on them their hard-earned Diplomas, Degrees, Masters and PhDs, a chapter will be infinitely closing, as a new one will be unpredictably commencing. As far as the University’s academic system is concerned, these individuals will cease to exist. Out to the world they’ll be churned, each with hope and determination to continue the pursuit of their dreams and ambitions, this time armed with academic credentials to help them lay claim to whichever opportunities that may or may not be awaiting them.
Seated among the graduands will be one tall, dark and handsome gentleman. That will be me. Clad in a well-tailored soft-checkered charcoal-black suit, stubbornly concealed by the graduation gown, I’ll be seated there, with a contemplative look on my face, with faint remains of excitement about the graduation still lingering on my face. I say faint because by this time, I shall have internalized that a chapter was closing and that what now matters most is what comes next.
On 3rd September, 2012, on a very cold Monday morning, my eldest brother, Dickens Belle brought me to Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology to kick of my Bachelors of Science Degree in Mass Communication and Journalism. I don’t know what might have been going through his mind because four years before then, he had similarly accompanied me to one St. Joseph’s School Rapogi to join form one. The object of this trajectory is that when I joined form one, there was this form in which you had to indicate what you wanted to become, and when I started writing ‘Journalism’, I remember my brother urging me to write a more ‘serious’ course like Engineering or Law. After all I had passed KCPE with ‘flying clolors’. I declined. So here he was, helping me enroll to study Journalism. I’m bringing this up because I know a good number of my colleagues will be graduating with courses they never wanted to do. Either it was a nudge from their parents, or purely out of unavoidable circumstances. A friend of mine once uttered to me a line to this effect ‘Wacha mimi nigraduate nipelekee mzee hii degree, then maybe I can start pursuing what I love’. If that’s not painful then I don’t know what is.
It’s imperative to note that there is absolutely nothing wrong in doing a course you never wanted to do. Fate has a twisted sense of humor. You might find your true passion and purpose in something you had never imagined you would. Nonetheless I count myself lucky to have been able to do what I’d always dreamt of doing. I remember my dad telling me after KCSE results that doing Journalism would be a ‘waste’ of my good grades, but then the old man had brought me up well enough for me to know when to obey him and when to stand up for myself. I’m glad to report he agrees with me now. I was so passionate about being a journalist that I remember in High School I wrote in bold at the back of my chair ‘Mr. Journaliste’. Being able to inform people and tell stories that transform lives and change societies has always been at the epicenter of my priorities. But I digress.
So Campus life kicked off…and the voyage of learning my dream course started. If you came from a school whose discipline level is on the roof like Rapogi High School, and with parents who offer nothing but tough love and moral upbringing, the freedom of University becomes a rude culture shock. In Campus is where you learn to appreciate the real significance of self-discipline, mainly because nobody cares what you do. Basically nobody gives a damn. I remember one of my roommates asking me in first year ‘Belle do you have a medical problem or why exactly don’t you drink or smoke?’ At first I laughed, then the implication of the question slowly sank. The general belief was that once you’re in Campus and you’re young, then you should automatically be enjoying life and drinking and smoking and all that. I’m not self-righteous, I absolutely acknowledge that everyone has a choice. And I made my own significant share of choices, some good, others bad. The point I’m putting across is simply the drowning effect Campus life can have on the faint-hearted. It requires discipline, it requires a lot of soul-searching and a sense of personal identity and direction as to exactly what course you want your life to take. That’s why I respect everyone who will be graduating on Thursday. It is by no means a walk in the park to get to this point. It’s no mean feat. Especially because JKUAT is a no-nonsense institution when it comes to academic quality and standards.
Life in University taught me a lot. There are friends I can’t trade for anything, friends who came through when everything else seemed bleak. There were lessons so precious, memories so irreplaceable. Professionally I’ve grown and I have so many people to thank for this, I can’t possibly finish if I started considering my word limit. And now graduation is here. One truth about graduation I’ve come to appreciate is that it’s never the happiest phase of the University cycle for any graduand, especially undergraduates. It comes with unrealistic generous expectations from family, friends, and relatives/village mates, some of whom didn’t even know whether you were in JKUAT or KU. All they know is that ‘their’ son or daughter has now completed University studies and now ‘you are going to have money’. Almost as if employers for various professions will be queueing at the JKUAT main gate after graduation, each holding a placard written ‘Hiring!! Unlimited Vacancies! Starting Salary 100k’
But that is the world we live in. Expectations and pressure is the order of the day. It’s either you go hard or go home. To my fellow graduands, I urge you all that despite the next challenging phase, take time and give yourself a pat in the back for getting here. Thank God for His grace. Let the mistakes made and challenges encountered during Campus not serve as an obstacle to your next big leap but as a learning curve that shall only catapult you to greatness. In the words of reknowned novelist J.K. Rowling, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case, you fail by default.” So toast to the mistakes you made that made you know better, and the efforts and sacrifices that enabled you to get here.
But more importantly remember that the degree you are going to be holding is simply your learner’s permit for the drive through life. You don’t have to be smarter than the next person. All you have to do is be willing to work harder than the next person. So let’s go out there, and on top of the power to read and write, let’s realize we have the power to transform the world, the power to foster change and development, and the power to expunge the culture of conformity. I challenge us to be exceptional, to give this generation something unique, something it has always desired. That power lies within you. Within me. Cheers.