The imperatives of staying the course, By Atiku Abubakar

I am very pleased and excited to be here today to celebrate with you the immense achievement of these young people before us and their families.  I understand that this is the 13th graduating set of the SS3 students of this school.  I am sure that we have in our midst today very proud and relieved families. I truly rejoice with them and congratulate them and their wards on this outstanding achievement. 

Let me give special thanks to the founders of this great school, especially the late First Lady, Mrs Maryam Babangida, and the Babangida family for the vision, commitment and hard work that have gone into building this school to what it has become today.  I am told that that the late First Lady’s foresight, relentless drive, uncommon determination and her well known commitment to excellence, are responsible for the immense progress that this school has made over the years.  It is obvious that the class, grace and elegance with which she carried herself have been moulded into this magnificent school. El-Amin International School is a legacy of inestimable value and the generations of Nigerians that would have been educated here in the years to come will be grateful for the opportunity, and they would become key human resources for this country’s development.
Ladies and gentlemen, when we successfully arrive at the destination of a journey we give thanks to God and we feel a sense of relief.  For these youngsters though, this may just be a step in a long but important journey to academic fulfilment and rewarding careers. So let me address the boys and girls in whose honour we have gathered here today.  Your school has asked me to speak to you today on the imperatives of staying the course.  I understand that to mean why you must remain focused on your goal and objectives in life until you have achieved the success that you desire.
Your graduation from this great institution marks the beginning of a more challenging phase in your life’s journey.  But you must look forward to that journey with excitement rather than anxiety.  Whether you are going on life’s journey by road, by rail, by sea or by air you are likely to experience difficult challenges.  Some of these challenges might try to take you off course.    Stay the course, for that is the guarantee of your reaching your destination wherever that might be.  What are some of those challenges that you might face?  Broadly they fall into these, among other categories.
–          Obstacles or bumps along the way. 
–          Distractions
–          Naysayers who say you cannot do it
–          Failures that you may experience along the way
–          Doubts that set in as a result of these and because of possible delays in getting expected results.
–          The Lure of instant gratification
Let me explain some of these. Obstacles are inevitable in human affairs.  Rarely do we go through life’s journey without encountering obstacles and bumps.  Some are very serious while others are not.  As you embark on the next phase of your life’s journey you are likely to encounter obstacles or bumps along the way.  Just treat them as such – mere challenges that try to take you off course.  These may include inadequate infrastructure or reading materials, shortage of good teachers, poor performance in a particular examination, difficulties raising money, difficulties finding a desired job on graduation, among other things. They task your ingenuity, creativity, problem solving skills, endurance and perseverance.
And there are numerous things that can form distractions as you strive to realize your life’s goals. So many things and people compete for our attention and not all of them are consistent with the realization of the goals we set for ourselves.  They may be friends and acquaintances, excessive partying, eating and drinking, too much or too little sleep, excessive use of the internet or smart phone or addictive substances.  Those that try to take you off course are distractions. You have to deal with them in ways that ensure they never constitute severe impediments that take you off course.  Never lose sight of your goals; and stay the course.
As you strive to realize your goals, there would be those who tell you that you cannot make it.  Some might even say that you will not amount to anything.  Some of these people may even be close to you or actually love you.  But they may think that you cannot achieve your goals either because they are using themselves to judge you or they do not understand your real strengths and capacities.  Prove them wrong.  If others doubt your capacity, it is the more reason why you have to double your efforts and make them believers through your achievement.  Others do not control your destiny; it is in your own hands.  As long as you remember that and let it guide your plans and actions, you will stay the course.
You may also experience some failures along the path of life. You must never consider failure as a death sentence or an end to your striving.  Failure is never the end of the road; rather it is a call to a redoubling of efforts to realize your goal.  It is the test of your true mettle.  Falling down is not the problem; not getting up is.  So you must always dust yourself up and stay the course.
Sometimes we give up not because we failed but because success was slow in coming.  You must learn to be patient.  You must also avoid the lure of instant gratification.  Results do not always come quick. Put in the years of hard work first, and reap the benefits later.
Because we experience failures sometimes and because others doubt our capacity or our resolve, and because we experience other obstacles in life’s journey we sometimes entertain doubts about our ability to realize our goals.  While some doubt is necessary to make us think things through to ensure we are on the right track, you must not allow doubts to paralyze you. Forge ahead and stay the course for your destination is at the end of the journey rather than the place where doubts set in.  Stay the course.
So, my young friends, stay the course in spite of the challenges. In fact, stay the course precisely because of the challenges.   Challenges make us stronger; they build our character; they bring out the leader in us; they give meaning to our strivings; and they ensure that we have a sense of accomplishment when victory comes.
Never give up. You are really only beginning your lives. You are still very young. Up to now you have been protected by your parents and guardians and teachers.  Nearly all of you will be proceeding to universities and other institutions of higher learning, and from there into careers of your choice. You will find that you will have to mature quickly in order to meet the challenges of higher learning and/or the world of work.  And challenges must surely come as you strive to succeed in life.  Things that come too easy should be viewed with caution.  The more difficult the challenge is, the sweeter the victory will be. So stay the course.
But staying the course is not a religious creed.  You have to plan. You have to question. You have to think clearly about your goal.  You do so with a clear head.  You must have a vision of where you want to go in life.  Then you work out a strategy to get there.  That is when you tell yourself to stay the course even when things do not seem to work out the way you expected.  If you fall, dust yourself up and continue going.  When naysayers say you cannot do it, that you cannot succeed, just keep going because you thought it through at the beginning, and your destiny is not in the hands of naysayers or detractors.
To be sure, luck has a role to play in human affairs – being at the right place at the right time.  But you do not sit and wait for luck to smile on you.  You have to work hard to put yourself in a position to take advantage of opportunities that will surely come your way.   That is a way to ensure you become lucky. In any case, stay the course.
Do not forget your roots; they give you the necessary grounding and cultural nourishment. Do not forget your parents and guardians; they made it all possible up to this point and they will continue to support you.  And do not treat them as mere ATM machines. More than anything else, they are your family and your key emotional, protective and social support system as well.
We live in a world of change, of progress.  It has been called a global village because the revolution in communication and transportation has brought the far reaches of the world ever closer to each other.  It is the world of supercomputers, the cell phone, the internet, nanotechnology, 3D printing, DNA sequencing and other cutting edge technological wonders.  Find your path in this world or the one you will help create and follow it with enthusiasm, commitment, fidelity and dedication. That way you will help change the world for the better. And you will be happy that you did; by staying the course! 
Once more congratulations on your achievement and good luck in your future strivings.  Do not forget to say a very big thank you to your parents and guardians today.
Thank you for listening and God bless.
Atiku Abubakar, GCON, former Vice President, Federal Republic of Nigeria, delivered this speech on Saturday at the Graduation Ceremony of El-Amin International School, Minna and Launching of the School’s Year Book – KS2012

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