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SOAS Graduation 2014

Mrs Graça Machel


Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to be here with you today, at your graduation from one of the finest universities in the world focusing on Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

In my capacity as President of SOAS, University of London, it is my pleasure to welcome you and our graduands’ families, friends and supporters to this occasion of celebration.

As some of you may know, I have been a social and political activist over many decades, and have advocated for women’s and children’s rights. I am convinced that joining the SOAS family will enrich me personally, and enlighten my work and that of networks I am associated with.

It has been proved that education sows the seeds of transformation, deepens our understanding of one another and the world. It also helps us to build bridges across cultures and nations. Madiba, once said “education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” But for me this can be summarised in one word: empowerment.

SOAS offers a rare opportunity for students and academic staff to experience, on a daily basis, interaction and exposure to what I dare call a microcosm of the world.

You will hardly find another place that brings together knowledge from Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and where rich diversity of cultures and backgrounds, learning, discovery and critical thinking are nurtured and enhanced.

You have been blessed with an exceptional education. I urge you to use it wisely and apply the learnings you gained here, to your personal life, at your work place, in your communities, and in your countries to make a difference.

For almost 100 years, SOAS has made a tremendous impact on the lives of those who have walked through its doors, and many have achieved positions of power and influence in their respective countries and regions.

It is a huge concern that regions of SOAS’ focus, namely Asia, Africa and the Middle East, have been confronted with growing conflicts fuelled by political, religious, ethnic intolerance, inequality, and competition over resources.

Perhaps this is the biggest challenge of your generation.

It is my hope that you, young people, will rise to this challenge with creativity, resolve and generosity. Do use your knowledge to break the cycle of violence and create a movement where as humans we value, respect, and accept difference and diversity as our common strength. This way we nurture and live in peaceful and cohesive societies, where social justice prevails.

As humans we are able to influence our personal transformation, as well as the transformation of the world we want, we are only limited by our own imagination.

Before I conclude, I would like to leave with you some advice.

  1. Inform yourself at all times. Expand your knowledge constantly to sharpen the tools you need to serve.
  2. Create your own definition of success. Money and power are often seen as measures of success, yet for me, success is to:
    • have peace of mind, attained through the knowledge that that I made my best effort, to do the best of which I am capable of, and
    • to do everything within my power to reach out, and work with others to provide a life of dignity for all.
  3. Be prepared to have setbacks and sometimes make mistakes since we all inevitably do so. What is important is what we learn from them. After a setback, pick yourself up and keep your determination to pursue your purpose. You are much, much stronger than you think.
  4. In life you will find that doors will open and close at different times. You will also come across people that will give you precious lessons. Treasure these moments and these mentors.
  5. As you graduate into a new stage in your life, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. Always, always trust your instinct, it will serve you well.
  6. Be prepared to make sacrifices for what you believe in. The end result will exceed your dreams.
  7. Take care of your family and friends, they will sustain you through difficult times and celebrate with you your successes.

Congratulations to each and every one of our graduands! You will always be part of SOAS and SOAS will always be part of you.

Thank you.