Congratulations to the University of the Gambia graduates and best wishes for your next adventure. May all your dreams come true and contributes positively to the nation-building. We heard inspiring commencement speeches as well from President Adama Barrow serving as Chancellor of the University.

In times of controversy and political turmoil, President Barrow’s messages of patriotism rang true: get out and own the world. Whether through direct participation in politics, activism, and the fulfillment of your civic duty, do not be a spectator, be a protagonist. Own your future.

Moreover, as the changing face of society, you protect your relationships. Expand the circle of those from whom you learn. Accept the mantle of leadership.

Furthermore, manage your time, prioritizing the things you love. You achieve something, do something useful with it.

I also urged you, graduates, not to act on “impulses” and brandish “truth as lies and lies as truth” and share your thoughts as inspiration for your future: Take joint action in the interests of a bilateral, global world. Keep asking yourself: am I doing something because it is right or simply because it is possible?

Do not forget that freedom is never something that can be taken for granted. Surprise yourself with what is possible. Remember that openness always involves risks. Letting go of the old is part of the new beginning.

Furthermore, with the education, skills, and tools you acquired, tear down the walls of ignorance and narrow-mindedness, Nothing has to stay as it is. Education is not only for the privileged but also for those who have ambitions, rich or poor. It should be a tool for changing society. “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

The paradox of education is that the more you know, the less confidence you become of how much you know. Instead of freeing you, often, the right education acquaints you with your bondage.

That is why, in the long run, education humbles, sobers – and so effectively lifts men and women from foolish impetuousness, imperiousness, greed, and wanton desire.

Contrary to popular views, the goal of education is not a certification, wealth acquisition, or social elevation. As history has shown, the very enlightened and virtuous of every generation – the prescient seers such as Einstein and Da Vinci – had a particular disdain for primitive accumulation, mere political correctness, and the vain thirst for validation. They lived solitary, but deeply reflective lives – always questing for meaning.

Education is not knowledge. Education is not about filling a tabula rasa with a miscellany of facts and truths. Education is not learning a skill, knowing many languages, or any training. It is not about paper certificates, trophies, and suchlike symbolic acclamations. Right education is about the QUALITATIVE -rather than QUANTITATIVE – a transformation of the person.

You can go to school, read the most scholarly books, pursue the most prestigious courses in the most prestigious schools, bag the most coveted awards, but still fail the test of the right education – just as wax dipped in water fails the soaking test.

We know for sure that no matter the length of time a stone spends in the water, it never turns into a fish or crocodile. To educate a patent thief is as ridiculous as painting a pig’s lips – because education on an uneducated head is much more grievous and more potentially catastrophic – Hitler, Trump, Museveni as case studies.

When I was joining Harvard John F. Kennedy School of Government, a few years back, my aging uncle gave me a trite piece of advice that might be considered ignorant by the so-called educated elite. He said – ‘read mathematics and chemistry in the morning when you are still fresh.’ Mathematics and chemistry are not taught in any Government school – at least not as mathematics and chemistry but (Arithmetic I studied). My uncle did not go to Western school. Nevertheless, is he ignorant – in the strict sense of the word? Although he is Hafiz of the Quran.

We like to use the word ignorant on our village folk – the older generation that predated the current system of education, and the younger generation that refused or neglected to take advantage of our liberal education system. That is because they cannot speak English, write, or experiment with various chemicals in the laboratory.

We forget that they speak their mother tongue correctly, cook delicious and healthy meals that the millennials can only admire, and read their Bibles, and the Quran is regularly aspiring to grow in virtue. What more education do they need?

It has often been said that knowing the English Language is not a sign of intelligence. It is. Speaking and writing proficiently in English and any other language – is a sure sign of intelligence.

In his Universal Grammar theory, Noam Chomsky opines that there is a universal grammar in the brain, and that is why all human languages, however, removed from each other in time and space – adhere to universal syntactic principles. I have listened to my uncle to speak.

Moreover, many other otherwise ignorant Fulani speak – and always those syntactic principles – the jewels of human intelligence – are adhered to.

My maternal grandfather is a Muqaddam elder of the Tijaniyya brotherhood. He has been in the service of God. My mother tells me that in their childhood, my grandfather used to host Islamic clerics in his home. One of the so hosted Islamic clerics is the veteran Imam Cherno Hamadi Ousman Bah. Cherno Hamadi and I would cross paths in my elementary schooling and bond hence.

From these Islamic clerics, my uncle learned to preach. I recently listened to one of his sermons and analyses it – believe it or not, and it naturally makes use of classical rhetoric. It features the exordium, narration, ethos, pathos, and appeals to reason. He is very persuasive and strikes me as extremely wise though he did not get a formal education.

It is preposterous and silly to call such people ignorant. They are educated in a way that we are not. They have learned to temper their appetites and live frugally, to nurture their children and amuse their grandkids. They are happy and content in their old age. No personal graduation photos adorn their sitting rooms; no trophies bedeck their office – but who needs such kind of external validation when they are thoroughly educated on who they are?

Moreover, above all, Nothing can be taken for granted. Everything is possible. The walls in peoples’ minds are to be blamed for conflict, discrimination, stagnation, or regression. Every change begins in mind. It would help if you were prepared to keep bringing things to an end in order to feel the magic of new beginnings and to make the most out of opportunities.

By Alagi Yorro Jallow

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