Speech by Ms. Immaculata Onyinye Onuigbo, Class of 2017 Valedictorian, 9th Commencement Ceremony on May 13, 2017
The Gold in Us
His Excellency Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, AUN Board Members present, President Le Gene Quesenberry, invited dignitaries, Deans of AUN Schools, faculty and staff members, graduating Class of 2017, AUN alumni and continuing students, media outlets present, beloved parents and family members, distinguished ladies and gentlemen; good morning to you all and welcome to AUN.
Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America and a renowned author, once said, “There are no gains without pains.” I believe we can all relate to this statement; be it the pains of studying very far from your home and your loved ones; dealing with scary courses like Physics or Cost Accounting; senior research projects; trying to understand why Turnitin would go as far as highlighting your name on your term paper; or, especially for those of us that are not Northerners; the “OMG are you serious?” reaction we usually get when trying to convince people back at home that AUN is actually very safe. All these struggles and challenges have served as a catalyst to shape us into the better versions of ourselves that we have become over the years spent here at AUN.
Looking back at our freshman year, most of us might have had dreams of studying abroad, some were so shy especially during class presentations, some probably had no clue of what major to choose, and so kept changing majors. But look where we are today, we have persevered through all the odds, made something beautiful out of the struggle, and are today gathered with families, friends and faculty members, about to be conferred our respective degrees. We are like raw gold that has been refined by the rigors of AUN.
Today, as we reflect on who we have become, we must appreciate all those who have impacted positively on us all through the journey so far and made our stay here at AUN worthwhile. Many thanks to all of the administrators, faculty and staff throughout the university, who have provided support and encouragement along the way and helped make our stay most comfortable. We say keep up the good job you are doing. No ocean of words can fully express our gratitude to you for your services.
Unlike many other students seated here, I never imagined I would be lucky enough to attend a grand school such as AUN. This is because I come from a family of modest average income. My journey started from a small town called Ngwo, in Enugu-North LGA of Enugu State. I can remember that day in my Primary 6 like it was just yesterday. One of our teachers, Mrs. Chibuoke had just died and this made us very sad. On the same day her body was laid to rest, two representatives from the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation, whom I later got to know to be Ms. Rose Ugorji and Mr. Darren Venn, came to my primary school to select the best boy and the best girl for a scholarship award examination. What made this opportunity particularly special for me was because while I was in Primary 5, a couple of well-wishers had advised that I skipped Primary 6 because to them, I would be just fine going straight to secondary school. Thank God, if I am permitted to say, that I was able to convince myself then that there was absolutely no need to rush. As God would have it, I emerged successful and was chosen alongside a good friend of mine, Franklin Aziujali, from Enugu State. It was at this point in my life that I met Madam Jacqueline W. Farris (Director General of the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation) and Chief Dubem Onyia, who is a member of the board of trustees of the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation and who coincidentally also, hails from my village. They both have strongly influenced my life positively and never got tired of supporting and mentoring me and I thank them very much.
Winning the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation Merit Scholarship was truly the turning point of my life as it exposed me to so many new and different experiences, especially because, prior to the scholarship, I honestly only knew Adamawa/Yola from Social Studies class and from reciting “the 36 States and Capitals.” But on starting my secondary school education here at AUN Academy, I really came to understand and appreciate what truly makes Nigeria beautiful, and that is our richly diverse cultures.
At first, I was homesick and cried so many times because I missed my family so dearly. I thank God for the wonderful schoolmates, and great teachers I had in secondary school. In loving memory, I also want to thank the late Ms. Krista McKee, whose belief in me made me believe more in myself. I can remember her words to me during my secondary school graduation. She told me, “Dear Immaculata, you are a beautiful and brilliant young woman. May God provide you with all you need to live to your full potential. I know you are invincible.” These words have helped me grow into a woman she would have been very proud of.
After my secondary school graduation and by God’s special grace, I was once more fortunate enough to be awarded a full university scholarship to study Petroleum Chemistry here at AUN. To be frank, It was easier to quickly adapt here than when I first got into secondary school; thanks to the AUN New Students’ Orientation Program that was organized for us.
An African Proverb says: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to far, go together”. Ladies and gentlemen, during my time at AUN, I have also been privileged to meet people that have added great value to my life and have been with me throughout my journey at AUN. While they are too numerous to mention here, I am forever grateful for the encouragement and support of all AUN faculty members, all AUN staff members and to all of my great friends. I have grown to love and admire you all throughout my time here.
You might wonder why I narrated my personal story. It is not to vaunt or flaunt, but to tell you that a story of one is a story of all and a story of all is a story of one. If there is one message I hope to have successfully passed across by my story, it is that where one comes from in not the sole determinant of the height one can attain in life.
After today Class of 2017, we will be faced with the realities of adult life like graduate school applications, job search, marriage and so on; and probably, many of us graduating today have already started asking ourselves questions such as: ‘What is my next step in life?’ ‘How do I move on from AUN?’ ‘Who can I become?’ I may not have all the answers you may need, but one thing I am sure of however, is that as we have come this far, we can still go very far in life.
There are some graduating today that if asked where they see themselves in the next 5 years, they will be able to say exactly what they will be doing - they have it all figured out already. To me, this is a commendable quality. On the other hand, there are some that literally do not know the next steps after today are. Well guess what? It is very normal to not have it all figured out yet, to get overwhelmed when people say: “congrats you have made it!” but deep down you cannot tell where the road will lead you.
In order to suggest an answer to the big question of ‘how do we truly know what our next steps should be?’ I will like to refer to a chart – in the form of a Venn diagram – that I once saw and that illustrates how to discover one’s dream job. The diagram had four circles. In the 1st was talent (what you are good at), 2nd was passion (what you love doing), 3rd was career (what can earn you money), and at the center of the three was the 4th circle written ‘your dream job’. It really sparked my interest because, to me, this illustration had a lot to say.
We are very lucky to graduating from a school that provides students with diverse platforms to develop both academic-wise and extracurricular wise. Throughout our stay in AUN, we must have all been involved in one or two activities, be it Students Government Association, Campus Activities Board, tutorials, graphic designs, business management exercises and the like. I believe that while partaking in one or two of the aforementioned activities, we may have discovered that we have a special interest in one or more of those activities. Who knows, this could just be your talent and passion. After you have successfully identified where your talent and passion lies, as in the “DREAM JOB CHART,’ next is to look for things you need to do to strengthen your talent in order to be the best at what you do. Those things you need to do to strengthen them could be: postgraduate studies in a particular field, going for special trainings, being self-taught and so on. Trust me, if you are that good, people will definitely seek your services and you will in no time start making your cool cash; at the same time having fun while doing it.
Furthermore, I urge you all to note that what you studied in school must not be what you continue with, should you find a passion outside what you studied in school. Remember, interest drives passion and passion is what keeps us forging ahead against all challenges; and believe you me, life is filled with challenges. Passion has helped great inventors to improve our world immensely compared to what it was decades ago. If it has helped them, it can help us greatly too.
To end, I wish to thank our family members and well-wishers for all their support while at AUN. May God replenish it a thousand-folds and we implore you to never get tired of supporting, encouraging, loving us unconditionally and praying for us, even though we sometimes can be strong headed. I also wish to in a special way thank Dr. Margee Ensign - for imbibing the spirit of community service into us, and our dear Founder, His Excellency Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Turaki Adamawa - for making us all a part of his vision of a development university. Sir, you have truly brought out the gold in us.
To my fellow graduating students and in the words of one of my favorite authors Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “We cannot always bend the world into the shapes we want but we can try. We can make a concerted and real and true effort. Always just try because you never know.”
AUN has done its part by training and preparing us; now we must go into the world armed with experiences, and be good ambassadors of AUN representing Excellence, Integrity, and Service.