YELP Class of 2018 Valedictorian Speech

It falls on a generation to be great, these were the wise words of the late Nelson Mandela. Looking back at the past few months together, I am convinced that we are that generation. We may seem like a drop in ocean but believe me, we can and should be the Wangari Mathaai's hummingbird. LéO Institute has given us an opportunity to bridge the gap between generations, let's use these wings and fly.

Brothers and Sisters, good evening! On 25th of December, I sat in my house in total silence, something that’s now becoming the norm, reflecting on the previous year and planning the year ahead. Then the thought of being the valedictorian class of 2018 crossed my mind. This thought would nag my mind through my journey to the village on the 29th of December. But nothing not even this would have prepared me for the official announcement. Charlene made the announcement at around 3:00PM and believe when I say, I didn’t work again my heart raced. I am humbled by your faith in me. Brothers and sisters, I stand before you today as the valedictorian class of 2018 not because I was better or more accomplished or smarter than the fellows but because there could only be one valedictorian. To say I am grateful, honored and humbled to be your representative is to put it lightly! Thank you may seem a small phrase but believe me when I say that you all have a special place in my heart you always will.

Brothers and sisters, I say ours was love at first sight. We began this journey in April 2018. I had just concluded one of the biggest and most successful campaigns in Kenya – the Save Our Forests Campaign. But despite being so successful, it left me broken, hurt and angry at the level of greed and selfishness. I was previously a very patriotic young girl, I never understood why people left their countries, why they opted to give birth in foreign countries but by the time I was done with the campaign, my dual citizenship was an attractive option. 

And then we all converged at Mukono, and I was blown away. I remember sitting next to Karsan on our way to the venue, listening to him and wondering who he was and where he came from because it could not have been Tanzania. Shirley sat on my right while Innocent a trailblazer of our time – one who is publishing a book, sat on my left. I sandwiched between two young, brilliant phenomenal women, with the orderly Ralph not too far. I shared in Shirley’s anger at failed leadership but just like her, I had been transformed by the end of the session. I remember admiring Osinde’s & the phenomenal Bev’s calmness as they contributed, Aaron’s depth and passion. I remember forming a genuine friendship with Canary in our first conversation around the fireplace, luckily, he captured the fireplace on video.

Yet this first seminar also exposed me to a weakness I never knew I had. Someone told me that Kenyans are an acquired taste. We are too aggressive and being a true Kenyan, I can easily dominate even a conversation and so when Awel insisted on picking someone else but me, I caught feelings. It was also Maria who made me realise that Nairobi is a big city one that a foreigner would easily get lost in, this she did by simply asking me to imagine moving to Lagos, the wisdom in this woman! It made sense.

I say ours was love at first sight because we played games and drunk within the first night – who were these people? Some of us were hosted at Tricia’s house later that night for drinks and games. Here I got to bond some more with the phenomenal and kind hearted Fiona and the quiet but deep Kevin. This moment was deep and personal, I treasure it! When my good friend whom I truly treasure, Captain, was taking me back to the hotel, I requested that we get food and we stopped to buy street but there a scuffle between two drunks, let me tell you the speed at which Captain lifted me from the ground away from the scuffle should can only be a scene on a fictional movie!

Brothers and sisters, while the first seminar exposed our heads/brains it was the second seminar that exposed our hearts. Though we come from different parts of Africa, we have a common thread that makes us one. What sets us apart my brothers and sisters is not just our brilliant brains, but our hearts and I pray that we never lose this.

The second seminar was quite interesting. There’s a lot confusion prior to our trip from Nairobi and I remember telling Kwezi, ‘I hope it will be worth it’. As always, it was the fellows who made me bear a 14 hour bus ride to Kampala because the fellowship isn’t the faculty but the fellows. I say it was interesting because it pushed us to introspection. This was also the one time that our class was tested. First, our sweet Bev fell ill – the love, attention and care she received convinced me that Africa’s future is in safe hands. Then the tragedy. This shook all of us to the core and it could have broken us but even in that moment of despair and pain our big hearts and our strengths/abilities came to light. I have never been more proud to belong among a people as I was that day!

My dear brothers and sisters, when I thought about us graduating today, I remembered one of my favorite documentaries- The African Cats. Mother cheetah was releasing her three Cubs in to the wild. While the seminars were important, it is what we do from today going forward that will determine if at all we learnt anything in the past one year.

My dear brothers and sisters, as I said earlier, the faculty was not the fellowship, we were the fellowship. The faculty played a crucial role of bringing us together, building a firm foundation upon which we will build our houses on. A platform that allowed us to freely express ourselves with no restrictions.  Awel, I kept fighting back tears yesterday as I watched the story of Leo Institute. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for paying the price, enduring the pain for us, today we have just left the incubation, you will soon harvest the fruits of your Labour. Kwezi, thank you for putting up our whims and giving this your all. Charlene, I looked at your frustrated face yesterday at our poor time keeping and admired your strength. We apologise for this but you know we love you and are so proud of your new milestone, it can only get better!

My brothers and sisters, during our debrief in the last seminar, I wondered out loud where we will be in five years. I have seen the hope in the eyes of Benefique a longing in his heart and fire in his belly for a better Congo. I have encountered Opio’s unique brain, a brain that we must make use of. My dear brothers and sisters I am convinced that we will soon be CEOs of banks, chairs of African Union, the best legal minds of our time, the top entrepreneurs, respected journalists in Africa and beyond, greatest doctors and scientists who will revolutionize Africa and of members of parliament and ultimately presidents!
But my brothers and sisters, when all these things come to pass and I know they will because I have seen it in our eyes & heard it in our voices, shall we remain true to the texts we’ve been reading. When I am finally member of parliament, shall I listen to Nelson’s feedback? Shall you all hold me accountable? Shall we remember to challenge Dr. Prosper to get out of his comfort zone and discover a cure for something? Shall we remain true to each other? Shall we create time to attend Malath’s wedding in May? Shall we be available to attend Christian’s graduation? Shall we fly in to help Canary in his presidential campaign? Shall we remember to call Nkatya when we visit Zambia? Shall we be available for Ken’s baby naming ceremonies?

Will we answer Awel’s calls and shall we be available to him when he calls upon us? Shall we be at least half as committed as Hashim and William are when called upon to assist guiding future classes? Shall we join in building our cathedral? Martin Luther King called it Self Purification.

My dear brothers and sisters, as I watched the journey of LéO, I was in awe to learn that Awel had a friend who believed in him to give him $40,000/- and the question I asked myself was first, am I faithful enough for someone to trust me with that kind of investment and will I be willing to invest in someone else or will I say that I am self made – that they too should work just as hard I did to make their own money. We are here because Awel was and still is faithful and because someone trusted him.

We are a powerful force to reckon with. My father tells me that I will eat my youth when I am old. He also tells me that it is the friendships that I form and nurture now, that I will ride on in a few years. I am reminded of my mother’s merry go round, we call them chamas. My mother and her friends came together, contributed money and bought household items, they came together raised money and took their daughters and sons to school, I am proud product of my mother’s friendships. From tomorrow, we will be free Cubs roaming around the wild but unlike the cheetahs Cubs, we can be intentional on maintaining this bond. Technology allows me to call Jackie and ask her how her new job is. Let’s be intentional!

Finally, it falls on a generation to be great, these were the wise words of the late Nelson Mandela. Looking back at the past few months together, I am convinced that we are that generation. I pray that those who will see after today will know that we have been through the LéO Institute and will want to be like us. We may seem like a drop in ocean but believe me, we can and should be the Wangari Mathaai’s hummingbird. LéO Institute has given us an opportunity to bridge the gap between generations, let’s use these wings and fly.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for!

Here’s to forever!

Thank you.

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Wanjuhi Anne Njoroge
Author: Wanjuhi Anne Njoroge
Wanjuhi Njoroge is a 29 year old go-getting serial entrepreneur, founder & President of Nelig Group LTD and RootEd Africa. She is also a YELP fellow, 2018

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