Like all of you, I wanted to be successful but I knew that real and enduring success would not come easy. My dear parents taught me quite early in life that success is a process and not an event. As I experienced life, I realised they were right. I have come to see success as a journey and like most journeys, you have to take it one step at a time. And to get to your destination, you must be going in the right direction.
I feel truly honoured to be invited by this great institution, the University of Nigeria, my beloved alma mater, as the Commencement Speaker of this epoch-making 50th convocation ceremony of our institution.
Great Lions and Lionesses, I am most delighted to be here with you at your graduation and I celebrate with you as you hit this milestone. The Chairman of the Senate Ceremonials Committee, Professor Bennett Nwanguma, told me he conducted an opinion poll and came to the conclusion that you would be happy to have me speak at your convocation. And I am very happy to do so.
Recently, I have been using various platforms, including the social media, to inspire and motivate young Nigerians across the world. But today, I have come here in person to challenge, inspire and motivate you as you leave the four walls of this institution and begin a new phase in your life’s journey. This is because I want to encourage you to confront your future with courage and determination – just like the Lions and Lionesses that you are.
I have titled my speech “Success is a Process”.
First of all, your convocation is a special one because it is the 50th or golden Convocation of the University of Nigeria. Congratulations.
Not too long ago – in 1998 – to be precise – I sat in this same hall for my own convocation. Like you all, it was a proud day for me and my family. Like you all, my graduation was the end of one struggle and the beginning of yet another. So, as I celebrated my graduation, my mind wandered about – just like yours is doing today. I was worried about what lay ahead for me: How soon will I get a job? Will I ever get my dream job? What will I do if I do not get a good job? How soon will I stop depending on my parents for support?
I admit that by 1999, things were not as bad as they are today, but the problem of graduate unemployment was already here with us. So, like you, there was a nagging feeling of helplessness, but I made sure I did not feel hopeless. As I left the convocation hall, my mind was made up to give my best shot to whatever the future offered. I was simply determined to make the best out of a challenging situation.
Today, I have come back to this convocation hall to share my story, so that you can learn some lessons from my experience, and hopefully, get inspired and motivated to confront the future with greater confidence. My story is not all about success; it is also about failures and how I got up each time I failed. My story is also about challenges and disappointments, and how I refused to be discouraged by them.
Remember, not too long ago, your ultimate ambition was to get admitted into the prestigious UNN. Today, you are all proud graduates of different disciplines in Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences, Law, Science, Engineering, Medicine, etc.
So, the first thing I want to tell you today is that your success journey has already started with the successful completion of your programme. So, please accept my congratulations again. I can also tell you for free that getting educated is about the biggest preparation anyone could make for the future – you can go and verify this.
In your case, you have just earned a degree that is recognised all over the world. It is the same degree that opened doors for many Lions and Lionesses who preceded you and are impacting the world in groundbreaking ways. And, believe me, there are so many of us – male and female, old and young – who are doing great things around the world.
Like all of you, I wanted to be successful but I knew that real and enduring success would not come easy. My dear parents taught me quite early in life that success is a process and not an event. As I experienced life, I realised they were right. I have come to see success as a journey and like most journeys, you have to take it one step at a time. And to get to your destination, you must be going in the right direction. And if you ever realise that you have missed your way, what do you do? You must change your direction. Like all journeys, there will be obstacles, bumps and challenges to overcome. Also, remember that no two journeys are the same. In other words, every individual’s journey is different and unique. Thus, do not despair and do not be deterred when your friends make it to the top ahead of you. This is because they may have taken a different vehicle or route. Instead, you must stay focused, making steady progress and believing in yourself and in your ability to also get there. And should you get there before the others, remember to stay humble, and to always spare a thought and lend a climb-up ladder for those who are not as fortunate. Do not boast or gloat about your success. Instead, you should try to help others find their way to the top.
As a young graduate, I had dreams, but I also knew dreams do not always come true. But this did not stop me from dreaming. I also acknowledged that failure was a possibility, but the fear of failure never stopped me from trying and believing. I would always remember the words of Vince Lombardi, an accomplished American Football Coach, “it’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get up”.
As you may know, I graduated from this University in 1998 with a Bachelor of Science (Second Class Upper) Honours degree in Political Science. That’s 25 years ago. Wow. It’s funny how time flies. My days here at UNN were very happy days, and the friends I made here have remained my friends until this day. Some of the lessons I learnt here, especially hard work, resilience, focus and integrity, have also been instrumental to my growth and development as a person and as a business man.
After graduation, the mandatory National Youth Service program took me to Abuja, where I served at the National Assembly as my place of primary assignment. I had very high hopes about being retained at the National Assembly or being offered a job at any other agency of the Federal Government, but this did not happen. As a result, I stayed unemployed for a period of time. During this period, I tried my hands on a couple of things in an attempt to make ends meet.
Considering the very high cost of living in Abuja, being unemployed can be a nightmare. I was disappointed by my inability to get a job, but I was not discouraged. I had ageing parents and younger ones whom I wanted to support so badly – just like you all do. Instead of being broken, I stayed focused and determined to make a success of life. I was looking for opportunities and openings that I could explore. Just like changing direction when you meet a roadblock in your journey to success.
Thus, I opted to become self-employed. In 2001, I teamed up with a childhood friend to create my first business in the form of a relaxation garden in one of the districts of Abuja. Just when I thought I was about to break even, my premises were demolished by the authorities of the Federal Capital Territory. This was a major setback, as I found myself back to square one. Like I told you, there will be disappointments and setbacks in your journey to the top. Again, I was disappointed, but I wasn’t discouraged. Following the forced closure of my first business outfit, I picked myself up, learnt my lessons, dusted myself up and moved on. After this setback, I was stronger, wiser and more experienced. I also had made some new friends, who were to prove helpful and valuable in the years ahead. More importantly, I had also found a niche for myself in the entertainment industry. Thus, in 2006 I teamed up with some friends to establish another business and this marked my formal entry into the entertainment and hospitality industry. Three years later, in 2009, I established the Cubana Group of businesses and today, by the special grace of God, the Cubana Group is now a globally recognised brand, synonymous with luxury and pleasure in the world of entertainment, hospitality and real estate, as well as manufacturing and distribution of a range of fast moving consumer goods (FMCG), which includes alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.
People often ask me one question: “what are the secrets of your success?” And I always have a simple answer: “hard work, focus, determination, integrity, and that special grace which only God almighty can give”. I have also benefited from the goodwill and advice of some great friends. And if you want to be successful – just like me – you must make these your watchwords. I encourage you to also make friends and build bridges. Trust me, if you adopt these principles, the sky will be your limit.
In closing, I acknowledge that while I have decided to toe the line of business, some of us here today would pursue our careers and dreams as lawyers, doctors, engineers, politicians, teachers, just to mention a few. I admonish you to keep same principles as I have highlighted during the course of my speech and I leave you with these words from a renowned American author, Zag Zigler, he once said, and I quote,“If you can dream it, then you can achieve it. You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want”.
The Vice-Chancellor, I would like to conclude this exercise by making some donations as my humble contribution to the development of my alma mater:
First, I will endow some convocation prizes valued at N10 million, starting from this 2019/2020 set. This will be shared as follows:
The Cubana Prize for the best graduating student of the University – N1 million.
The Cubana prize for the best graduating student of the Department of Political Science – N1 million.
The Cubana prize for the best graduating student in each of the 16 faculties of the University – N500,000.
In addition to these, I shall grant a tuition only scholarship award for 100 hundred best performing students from year one going forward. And these grantees shall be known as Cubana scholars.
Secondly, I will build a Cubana Experience Centre here at the Nsukka campus of the University. The Centre would create opportunities for training and employment for students, and all the profit generated at the Centre would be donated to the University of Nigeria.
Finally, I thank the Vice–Chancellor, the management and the Senate for this golden opportunity to motivate these fellow Lions and Lionesses at their graduation. And to the class of 2019/2020, let’s meet at the top.
Obinna Iyiegbu, an entrepreneur, writes from Abuja.
This is the text of the commencement speech delivered at the 50th Convocation Ceremony of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, held on the 24th od March.
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