By Togor Passa
The 11th Commencement ceremonies of the American University of Nigeria, coming up this weekend, will mark more than the graduation of another crop of confident, entrepreneurial, and IT-savvy leaders. Parents, families, and friends will be excited about joining their loved ones in celebrating an important milestone in their academic career. For the graduating students and AUN, this year’s Commencement is a watershed–the glorious consummation of a character-building enterprise forged in fire and grit.
Who will forget that only four years ago, this weekend’s graduating seniors were the frail and fragile but ambitious lads and lasses who were escorted into AUN’s scintillating campus by parents who had a lot on their mind. Their anxious parents were worried about the safety of their children against the rising wave of the Boko Haram insurgency which was then building up momentum in the Northeast region. Who would look after their sons and daughters in Yola? How will they cope with the weather and all the sundry worries loving parents nurture for their wards in similar circumstances.
Four years later, it is all song and dance though; AUN’s global faculty, world-class infrastructures, academic mentoring and co-curricular support facilities have completely transformed the students from yesterday’s prospects into confident and sure-footed world beaters ready for admission into top global Graduate Colleges, establish their own businesses or pitch for high-demanding jobs. The AUN campus is safe and hyperactive; bubbling Yola is far more secure than most Nigerian cities, as parents found out in a short time, much to their relief. As parent after parent testified, sending their wards to AUN in Yola was about the wisest thing they did to secure their future.
Academic excellence at AUN is guaranteed by a teaching staff drawn from over 35 countries, including Diaspora Nigerians and other Africans, who have excellent track records in teaching and research. AUN’s American-style liberal arts curriculum is designed to produce graduates who can think on their feet, who can identify and find ready solutions to problems by thinking through it. As part of their education, AUN students compulsorily take part in Community Service, a holistic, and an experiential self-discovery odyssey which introduces them to the socio-economic imperatives of their Nigerian communities. They help to paint dilapidated school blocks, they rebuild broken school desks and chairs in neighborhood primary and secondary schools, teach math and English, plant trees and redraw landscapes, and mentor the pupils. In the process, they confront the real challenges facing their country and return to the classroom to think out solutions. Today, several AUN students have written Apps to address the numerous infrastructure-linked challenges they encountered, to aid numeracy and literacy, and empower neighborhood kids. It is a win-win situation for the community, the country, and for the helper and the helped. The teacher becomes the pupil and life’s lessons are shared in a friendship that extends beyond time and space. Graduating AUN students know Nigeria and the people better than their counterparts elsewhere. They also have practical solutions to these problems having thought through them and fine-tuned their solutions in numerous classroom researches, studies and lived experience.
It is worth mentioning that the entrepreneurship and leadership mentorship received by the graduating AUN seniors in theory and practice will clearly set them apart from their peers. The Entrepreneurship Field Experience which runs every semester teaches students from any background how teamwork can create value for a company and they learn soft skills in managing people and relating with customers. Through the mentorship of highly experienced faculty, AUN student entrepreneurs go through the entire process of ideation, evaluation, business concept refinement, and launching of the businesses. The University supports each of the approved two campus businesses with a $5,000 seed capital and they are expected to elect their own leaders and generate profits; all proceeds are returned to the University to support other future businesses.
It is the same with leadership training at AUN, where students have the opportunity to take part in the yearly Model United Nations (Model UN) in New York, an educational simulation where students can learn about diplomacy, international relations, and the United Nations. Through the Study Abroad Program, AUN students can experience the same quality education and campus exposure in any of the collaborating universities abroad. They can also take part in the Hult Prize Competition, a very stimulating global campus competition, with the University’s representatives winning second place at the West Africa regional finals in this year’s edition. So far, AUN remains the only Nigerian university which organizes an annual Career and Graduate Fair where its graduating seniors and prospects interface with Human Resource recruiters from blue-chip companies for prospective job or internship placements.
This year’s Commencement speaker will be the Hon Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje, chairperson of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Hon. Elendu-Ukeje is a third-term Representative from Bende, Abia State, and leading voice in the campaign for better welfare for Nigerian soldiers, their families and war veterans. She has also sponsored a bill to establish a national commission against the proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (NATCOM Bill 2013).
Youthful entrepreneur, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, the co-founder of Andela and former Managing Director of Flutterwave, was the speaker for 2018. The graduate of the University of Waterloo, Canada, who had received several awards and honors including the John C Holland Award for Youth Leadership (2010) and Nigeria’s top 20 under-20, among others, in his speech, challenged the year’s graduating class to be innovative, creative, selfless and hardworking while leveraging the best technology, thinking, training and talent to build the future. He said individual answers to the following questions will help each graduating seniors arrive at meaningful projects.
‘Our parents will not figure it out. Our leaders will not figure it out. They are too short term-minded and will likely not live to see this future.
They cannot even imagine it. Moreover, so we cannot wait for them to read if our species will survive. Hence, it is we- who have had the preparation of a world-class education over the last 20 years, who have to take responsibility for the world we live in over the next 20 years. We must pick up the mantle of leading our country and our continent into the future. Today, not tomorrow. Today, also, we cannot afford to fail’.
Ms. Togor Passa wrote in from Yola, Adamawa State, and can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org; and @itstogore