“Would it have mattered to the continent that you have lived?”

Graduation speech by student speaker, Letšabisa Motšoene ’22 (Lesotho)

“Would it have mattered to the continent that you have lived”, this is a question that our co-founder Acha Leke once posed when he came to campus as a Distinguished Guest Speaker. To answer this, I have to go back to the start of my ALA journey.

When I think of August 2022, I remember how excited I was for the journey before me because who does not want to be a leader? “Good people, welcome welcome to ALA. Who is the new student? Welcome, welcome!”, all my emotions were reversed because Mr. Nkembo’s eloquent English accent intimidated me. I wanted to return to my father’s car because coming here with my English which sounds like I am speaking Sesotho was a big mistake. 

I did not know why I was here.

During orientation week, I had a conversation with Jemima about her interning at a law firm. I was shocked but I tried to go through the week. Little did I know, Mickie and Raj were going to speak about their passion for AI and the environment respectively during the Purpose session. What shocked me even further was that their passion was backed up by action, they had done projects related to the things they care about. Moreover, when the University Guidance department came to firmly tell us to be open, trust them, and engage in honest self-reflection, my fears were affirmed. I went to my room to engage in this honest self-reflection and the prompt was, ‘Will you survive being around these immensely talented people who have been in junior parliament and have founded NGOs?’ I kept thinking about this over and over again but-

I did not know why I was here.

Dean Hatim made sure to remind us that, “[we] deserve to here and here deserves [us] to be” every chance he got. The CEO Dean sounded wise but, it deserves me to be what? What made some people be was maybe explaining quadratics to their math classmates or painting in the quad on Sunday afternoons but I did not know why I was here.

Would it have mattered to the continent that you have lived is a question I have grappled with for a long time since Mr. Acha said it. My initial thought was that I do not matter because I came into this school having no plan so I cannot even help the continent in any way or form. In addition, I understood that the fact that I have not found my purpose makes me less resilient because I could easily give up due to feeling like I am not connected to something bigger than me. A few weeks later I realized that I had found my sense of being in how I related with people and not necessarily starting a business per se, and this made me feel like I actually matter. I thought to myself, “Letsabisa matters to the continent because she is kind and people around her care for her and they make her laugh. She has also learned some African Studies theories like coloniality which means she knows about the continent. I know you because I love you. That should be enough”. Some days into thinking about this question, I reflected on the reason behind why I matter and it felt more like I mattered to my friends and family, not the continent. I have thought of ways I could ask myself Mr. Acha’s question in simple and digestible terms. However, in so doing I began to confuse mattering with being capable of doing the great or hard things. Devastated, I had to define what kind of people matter to the continent keeping Mr. Acha’s words exactly how he shared them.

Would it have mattered ro the continent that you had lived?

At this point, I would like to invite everyone in the auditorium to come  with me on this journey. People I thought of that matter to the continent according to me include the likes of Winnie Mandela, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Chinua Achebe, and Chimamanda. These are the people who, in my view, were about dismantling systems and long-standing beliefs. What all of them have in common is a cause, a cause that they fought for relentlessly even when fighting meant prison as in the case of Nelson Mandela and Tsitsi Dangarembga. What is beautiful about all the people I mentioned is that they did not all go to a particular university. They did not have it all figured out at the age of nineteen, and they did not start successful. What more of you? What more of you who have even founded NGOs at 17? What more of you who have been nurtured under fire by ALA’s rigorous curriculum? What more of you who came out alive when integration by parts tried to disintegrate us? What more of you who have been in an Entrepreneurial Leadership (EL) class and you know how to use PICS to find a cause?

I encourage everyone to find a cause because according to my thought processes, to matter to the continent is to find a cause and pursue it relentlessly. More than anything, it will give our lives meaning and direction as we figure out why we shall be wherever we end up. Unlike me who started ALA with a, “I don’t know why I am here”, you will know why you are wherever you choose to be. 

Would it have mattered to the continent that you had lived?

If you are wondering what then happens after you find a cause then the answer is that you have to be Bob The BUILDer. Courageously use the BUILD model every step of the way.

We need to Believe in our abilities to pursue our causes because we are capable as highlighted by when we applied for leadership positions, and regardless of whether the emails read “Congratulations!…” or “Thank you for taking your time”. We believed that we are capable, and we still are capable of doing anything we put our minds to. We then need to Understand the systems we shall be getting into and Invent solutions addressing our causes even though Mr. Nkembo won’t be asking us to brainstorm 100 of them in one hour. What follows is to Listen for feedback from people around us and to listen to our hearts that will be our permanent EL coaches. In the end, we all need to Deliver that product/book/video/blog/song/movie or whatever your heart wishes as if we have a BMC due tomorrow at 5 pm. Disclaimer: Not even a small part of me believes that it will be an easy process or that all our pursuits will be successful but I do believe that it will be worthwhile.

When I first stood here, I shared that I was scared of ALA and I did not think I would matter among all the big brains. Now I am graduating and I don’t have all the answers. I, however, have a better question: Would it have mattered to the African continent that my classmates and I have lived? I am not sure because this is a question a person needs to answer for themselves so I will not do anyone a disservice by answering for them.

Instead, we shall play a game called ‘celebration v challenge:

Class of 2022

  • We have shown great resilience by not giving up when the Economics class average was 42% but if we cannot translate the grit into effective Economic policies for the continent one day then maybe it does not matter to the continent that we were nurtured under fire.
  • We demonstrated courage in the early weeks of year one as people like Mohamed formed the film club and Janice introduced her podcast, Janice on the Mic. However, if we cannot use the same courage to debunk myths about the continent in these spaces then maybe it does not really matter that we formed passion projects.
  • We portrayed a great deal of leading from the back(silent leadership) by being good at giving feedback for African studies pieces or by just being the people who were study coaches and tutors. Yet, if our critical thinking abilities don’t turn into literary pieces void of the effects of global coloniality then I am not sure why it mattered.
  • We have displayed bravery in times when we joined the International Relations Council or debate because we felt the need to start being part of conversations that matter. Be that as it may, if the discourse cannot be translated into policies related to conflict resolution, peacekeeping, human rights, and good governance in Africa then I have no idea why we bothered to spend our Fridays in Model African Union mock sessions.
  • We have exhibited persistence and dedication in the evenings we wanted to spend binge-watching Netflix shows but we chose to work on our writing and rhetoric vignettes, our African Studies policy briefs, and slides for our E-fest presentations all in one night. We have learned how to commit to perfecting our craft but if we don’t handle solutions to the continent’s most pressing problems with the same dedication then I am not sure that the days we spent building our perseverance muscle matter to the continent.
  • Lastly, the people who worked tirelessly to make sure that we were not late for marimba, ALApella, African dance, or even sports practice and the people who made sure we were on time for church or mosque trips off-campus have shown great coordination and responsibility. However, all of the running and panting was in vain if we cannot demonstrate the same efficiency and urgency towards the roots of Africa’s problems.

Would it have mattered to the continent that we have lived?

Allow me to conclude with a note of gratitude. Thank you to the faculty who have gone to great lengths to ensure our understanding of the subject matter, and to keep encouraging us when our grades were not what we wanted. Thank you to the staff members who continuously worked behind the scenes to give us a seamless ALA experience. Thank you specifically to supercare, facilities, and empact for fixing hall infrastructure, cleaning common areas, and ensuring we have six meals a day. Thank you to our parents who did not give up on us and on paying this school’s tuition. Thank you to our yewans for laughing with us, trusting us, and caring for us throughout our time here. Thank you to the class of 2022  for the fact that in this moment as Jane predicted in one physics class, “I do not remember the question I failed in my Electric fields test but I remember and tear up at the memories I have had with every single one of you.” Thank you to ALApella because they made me believe in Africa’s musical talent, to Thamsanqa who showed us that music can be produced by a Southern African boy at the age of 18, and to Chris who worked tirelessly to capture most of our memories on camera — because of ALA, I have a newfound appreciation for Creative Arts on the continent. Finally thank you to Rajveer, Kandeh, Turi, and Didja for selling indomie because without you; some of us would have never touched a microwave in our lives. 

I would love for all of us to go out into the world to let light our shine as Matthew 5:16 advises. I am not asking us to fetch firewood and buy matches, the light is already in all of us. We just need it to allow it to shine. I believe in all of us and my question is still, would it have mattered to the continent that all of us in this auditorium have lived?

My name is Letšabisa Motšoene and I was here to remind today’s graduates that ‘We are ALA alumni from a second ago, of course, we are diverse, humble, excellent, compassionate, curious and we have integrity.’ 

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