Why are you here?

I am sure that you might have heard already by now that I am not afraid of clowns. Thus, when you see me around campus, feel free to greet me. Jokes aside, on a serious note, I enjoy meeting new people and growing my network so lets interact and expand our networks. I have the unique privilege of learning from two schools. That is Maxwell and Newhouse. The experience is sublime. Before you go on reading this piece, give yourself a resounding round of applause because you have earned it. Hopefully you are not in a lecture. I do not want to get blamed for you getting on the wrong side of your wonderful lecturer. You my friend has earned the right to journey on a new world of knowledge and countless possibilities at the Maxwell School.

Changing the world does not happen all at once. It isn’t a big bang. It is an evolution made up of a sum of a billion tiny sparks. Some of those sparks will have to come from you.


My fellow young leaders, this is your mission. This is your obligation. I want you to keep reaching higher. I want you all to keep raising your bars. Certainly not the ones found downtown. Let the next generation know that there is no greater investment than in the good education. If you do this, I am confident that you will uphold that duty and write your own chapter into the legacy of your great country. Let me tell you something: I cannot wait to see the great things which you will do when you graduate.


There is a world out there yearning for new and vibrant leaders and ideas. You can spend your whole life worrying about imaginary impediments and bottlenecks to your success when in actual fact what should matter to you is what is happening here and now. The decisions which you shall make from this moment will be based on love or fear. So many of us choose paths out of fear disguised as practicality. Since what we really want seems so out of reach and ridiculously impossible, we never dare to ask the universe for it. I am the living proof that you can ask the universe for it and can get it. Last year when I came here for a fellowship, I told myself that I would be back within a year. I am writing this piece in Maxwell 400A.


If it does not happen right away for you, please, take heart. Do not despair because it might be because, the universe is still conspiring in trying to fulfil my order.


Right in my first week, I met a number of young ambitious people full of wisdom beyond their years. At every opportunity my friends, seek out the networks which will take you to the next level. Be open to good influences.


I can tell you from experience that the effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is. Before coming here, I sat so many times in solitude in my office after hours asking myself where I would have been if I didn’t take my career path? I asked myself so many questions in search for my identity. You my fellow young leaders are so ahead of the game, you already know who you are – Leaders.


That piece that we are after, lies somewhere beyond personality. Your need for acceptance can make you invisible in this world. Do not let anything stop the light which shines through you in your truest form. Risk all your glory being seen. Pick up the light through the Maxwell and dare to be seen.


At Newhouse during the bootcamp, Professor Harper through his Design Thinking taught me to see challenges as beneficial to the extent that I could learn how to deal with different issues in the most productive ways. He taught me to aggressively let the universe know what I wanted and work towards it while letting go of how it came to pass. I am sure that you will come up with your own style of dealing with challenges in your chosen field at the end of the day. That is part of the fun.


Like most of you, I was concerned about going out in the world and doing something bigger than myself until I heard the Dean of Maxwell Proffessor Van Slyke speak. He helped me understand that actually there is nothing bigger than myself. If I learnt one thing from him, it is that self-doubt is one of the most destructive forces. It makes you defensive instead of active. Self-doubt is consuming and cruel – and my hope today is that we can all collectively agree to ban it. Please know, from here on out, you are enough, and dare to dream!


I never ever in my wildest dreams expected to be an activist, I just stumbled upon it during my stay in my flat. I know my landlord will not get to read this. Whenever my neighbours need an issue addressed by our landlord, “Tell Aaron to tell her,” is the common line. In the words of Larry Kremmer, one of the great HIV Activists, “You have to fight for what you believe in. You my fellow leaders are facing a lot of fights ahead of you. I am happy to say that the Maxwell seems ready to arm you fully to fight with vigour against climate change, poverty, HIV/AIDS and social justice issues.


James Baldwin once wrote: Not everything that can be faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. To the American students, at the different levels of our influence, you need to resolutely resolve that in the upcoming elections, you shall rise above all forms of pettiness and partisanship by encouraging all those around you to exercise their civic duty by going out there to vote.


Leaders, each one of us is here today because someone faced certain challenges for us. We are who we are because someone somewhere struggled and made certain sacrifices. Now its our turn. The good news is that we are ready.


While you are here, reach out for conversations and try to find solutions to the problems affecting your community. Be open to taking chances. Welcome new ideas and new experiences. Just like any undertaking worth taking, as you are here, remember that there is no substitute for hard work and humility. If you want to get your foot in the door, it will help by you getting your fingers off your smart phones and looking at people in the eye and engaging them.


Dream bigger, both for yourself and the world around you. Your life’s course will not be determined by doing the things which you are certain you can do. Those are easy things. It will be determined by whether you try the things that are hard. You will change the world. Let that sink in. I want you to take the craziest dream that you where too embarrassed to tell anyone about. I want you to go after it. I want you to make it a reality. I don’t want you to dream. I want you to do.


When your journey seems too hard, cynics will tell you that you are being too foolish to keep believing or that you can’t do something. Don’t give up and just settle. You might need to say to yourself a phrase which President Obama has found useful in the past 7 years, YES WE CAN…Congratulations Maxwell Mafia..Coffee on me when you see me. I am such a good friend.