By Bonface Gitaua
I stand here today in a graduation gown thankful for the years in this university. I am honored by the presence of my family here not only today but throughout those years. I cannot forget some strangers I met as a freshman whom I didn’t know would become part of my life’s story. I am indebted to them for filling up the holes in my soul and spirit that I couldn’t have on my own.
I see happiness and enthusiasm in all of you that I didn’t know I would share on my graduation day. Truthfully, some years ago I never thought I would have any joy in graduating. Back then I had become a mere body driven by reflex actions for my soul had escaped me. I was trapped in an ever ending loop of regret.
I remember walking through the gates of this institution with so much fervor for the future. The future was so close I could almost touch it as I walked. My first class, Physics 1, however proved a little hard to swallow. I had not selected engineering as my first choice. I wanted to tell stories through journalism. I wanted to be a journalist with no borders. I wanted to tell the stories that had not been told about Africa and beyond. I wanted to write about the streets of Afghanistan, describe the hills of Rwanda, and tell about the white beaches of Zanzibar.
But I was told that those are pipe dreams for those who don’t do well in school. I was told that writing, music and artistic pursuits are for those compensating for their average status in school. I believed them. There was no reason not to. It is hard to doubt your parent who has lived and seen more than you have. It is also hard to doubt your class teacher who has seen it all in the 20 years of teaching. To a 19-year-old, their opinion was the only one that mattered.
Fellow graduates, it didn’t take long for my zeal for classes to slowly fade. It started out small; coming to class a few minutes late, sitting a few rows behind while I used to sit at the front and missing a class every week. It seemed innocent then. I consoled myself that the semester had 15 weeks and I would catch up eventually.
The mind is an interesting organ ladies and gentlemen. It always needs to be engaged. I learnt that in a rude way. Missing one class meant my mind was not engaged for a while. Those few hours were enough for me to grow curious about marijuana. It did well in helping kill idle time. Missing one class turned to two classes and then three. I then figured that if I was not grasping the content while in class, there was little need of attending it.
I got curious about a few more things just to have variety to choose from. I discovered that alcohol was much quicker in reacting and lasted longer. And therein I found my solace from all the noise. My love for words was still there. But I always remembered that I was told that only mediocrity dreamt of making a career from writing. Every week my soul died a little more and the future became obscure.
Soon the university administration caught up with me. It was inevitable that they would. I was in second year and had failed in more than five units. The senate meeting to suspend me for a year was very short indeed; I couldn’t even remember any of the units I had that semester. I didn’t plead or object.
Twelve months is a lot of time ladies and gentlemen, especially when you have a guilty conscience. It is even worse when you have 24 hours every day of the 12 months to think about your decisions. I was dejected and bordering depression. But comrades, I want you to understand that I was not miserable because I had been suspended from the university but rather because I had lost years which I would have spent growing in my craft. One November morning, I decided that I would let time pass me no longer.
I explained to my parents that I would not go back to study engineering. I told them to take a leap of faith and believe that when career meets passion, the world bows. Fellow graduates, I learnt that it I hard to argue with an honest and vulnerable person. I think my parents learnt that too. My vulnerability and honesty cut to the core of their sympathy and empathy.
I started as a freshman again and this time it was different. I can bravely say that life may have begun on the day I stepped into my first journalism class. It was as if my aspiration and fate had become in sync.
Ladies and gentlemen as I conclude, if you are finding fulfillment today as you graduate then I applaud you for finding your interest early on and pursuing it. Today you celebrate an accomplishment. But if you are afraid of the sun rising tomorrow, then maybe today should be the first day of discovering who you are.