WE MUST PRIVATELY AND OPENLY BE CRITICAL OF OUR FELLOW ALUMNI WHO BETRAY THE MOTTO “LIGHT IN DARKNESS”
Keynote Speech delivered by
Cllr. Tiawan S. Gongloe
On the “Theme: Reflecting on the Mandate of the University of Liberia in Preparing National Leaders”
February 24, 2021
Mr. President and members of the university administration and faculty
Mr. President of the University of Liberia Students Union and students of the University
Officials of Government
Mr. Acting President and officer of the University of Liberia Alumni Association (ULAA)
Members of the diplomatic and counselor corps
Local and International Non-governmental organizations
Members of the fourth estate
Other distinguished ladies and gentlemen
Before, proceeding any further, may I beseech you to stand with me for one moment of silence to the memory of those alumni who, over the last hundred years have transitioned from life to death, especially those who were made to forcibly transition during the Liberian civil conflict such as alumni Victor Ward, Albert Senwah, Tonia Richardson and others who were butchered by members of Independent National Patriotic Front on the Fendall Campus of the University of Liberia and Wuo Gabi Tappia, Mbolay Dorbor, amongst others who were brutally murdered by members of the Armed Forces of Liberia and President of the University of Liberia, who either died or killed during the armed conflict especially Dr. Stephen Yekehson who was killed by members of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia. Thank you and you may be seated.
Over a week ago, I was called by my fellow alumni and classmate, Bendu Kromah and asked whether I would accept to serve as the keynote speaker at the hundredth Home coming Day. Without even a second to think about her request, I told Bendu, how can I say no to such an honor. I told Bendu, besides the fact that I consider this request an honor; it is a call to duty to perform a service for my organization and my alma mater. Then I concluded by saying to her, Bendu, I am a messenger and I am always looking for an opportunity to deliver a message at anytime and anywhere. Therefore, even if the occasion were to be held tomorrow, I would be there. Subsequent to alumnus Bendu Kromah’s call, I received a letter from the Acting President of the UL Alumni Association, Martin Wleh Pennie. In that letter, I was asked to focus my speech today on the theme: “Reflecting on the Mandate of the University of Liberia in Preparing National Leaders”.
What was the mandate of the University of Liberia at the founding of its precursor the Liberia College in 1862 in the preparation of the leaders of Liberia? According to the website of the University of Liberia, shortly after the independence of Liberia, it was clear that the country needed to have a means of educating its citizens for public and private services. The finances for establishing the Liberia College did not come from the Government of Liberia. The original sources of funding this great venture for the training of Liberia’s leaders in the public and private sectors came from the New York Colonization Society and the Trustees of Donation for Education in Liberia (TDEL).
The panel discussion that ended a few minutes ago, this morning, was, in my mind, meant to stimulate suggestions and recommendations for changing the history of private support for the University of Liberia. While one of the two organizations that financed Liberia College in 1862, the Trustees of Donation for Education in Liberia still supports the University of Liberia to this day, I consider it a shameful part of the University’s history that Liberians, especially well-endowed members of the Alumni Association have not taken full responsibility for providing private support to our Alma Mater.
I appreciate the continuing good will of the Trustees of Donation to Liberia for Education in Liberia and I even had the opportunity of attending one of its meetings held in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2005 along with then UL President Dr. Alhassan Conteh and Vice President Luvenia Ash-Thompson; but I strongly believe that for the University of Liberia to keep depending on an organization that assisted Liberia as a young independent nation is not a situation that we, Liberians, should be proud of.
This situation of continuing dependency on private donations from abroad for a period nearly as long as this country has existed creates an impression that our independence as a nation is a mere declaration and not a reality. We must break away from this situation of continuous dependency. No human being or nation can be truly independent if it depends on others for its basic needs, like the need to educate one’s own children or the children of a nation.
At this 100th Anniversary of Homecoming Day, we alumni of the University of Liberia must commit ourselves individually and collectively to give back to the University of Liberia. We must make a firm determination to be the largest source of all donations to the University of Liberia. The capacity of the University of Liberia as the oldest institution in Liberia for the training of Liberian leaders will remain weak, if a large percentage of its funding continues to come from the government and foreign donors, such as the Trustees of Donations for education in Liberia.
We need to learn from the example set by the First President of the Republic of Liberia who was also the first president of Liberia College, the precursor to the University of Liberia. He, for me, is the greatest past president of Liberia by every standard. He was nationalistic, patriotic, committed to the success of Liberia and a humble leader as shown by the fact after serving as President of Liberia, he agreed to serve as President of Liberia College and thereby brought his leadership experience and skill in order to make the idea of establishing a higher institution of learning for the future leaders of Liberia become a reality. Above all Joseph Jenkins Roberts was a generous leader. He set an example that no other president of Liberia has ever followed. He willed his coffee farm then located at the Mamba Point to the Methodist Church for the education of the children of Liberia.
Up to present, more than hundred years after his death, the children of Liberia continue to benefit from the generosity of President Joseph Jenkins Roberts through the JJ Roberts Educational Foundation that the United Methodist Church has managed so well. At this juncture, I want to congratulate the United Methodist Church for being a good executor of the will of President Joseph Jenkins Roberts.
If all of our past presidents had donated or willed a portion of their properties to the University of Liberia, our Alma Mater would have been in a better position today, financially. I appeal to former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and current President George M. Weah to follow the great example set by the first President of Liberia, by willing a portion of their life-holdings to the University of Liberia. I urge all former students and graduates of the University of Liberia as well as friends of the University of Liberia to donate or make provisions in their wills for the support of the University of Liberia.
Another source of raising money for a university is the naming of buildings, halls, classrooms, departments in honor of donors or persons of interest to donors. Let me give a few examples of what I am suggesting. At the American University in Cairo, Egypt, the Administration Courtyard is named the LINK PLAZA after the donors, Mr. and Mrs. Troland S. Link, the Courtyard Fountain of the same university is named Abdel Aziz El Masry Fountain, named after the donor, Abdel Aziz Farid El Masry and even a meeting rooms at that university are named after donors, such as Meeting Room (P021) named “The Elting, Laflin and Treat Families Room” after the donors Mr. and Mrs. John Elting Treat. At the same university, a roof-top entertainment space is named Paul and Charlotte Corddry Terrace after the donors Paul I and Charlotte P. Corddry and lastly the President of the University’s office terrace is called Arnold Terrace named after Mr. David D. Arnold and Mrs. Sherry Lee Arnold.
This is what many universities do around the world. Spaces, structures and objects are named after donors or persons that donors want to honor. For example, if the alumni association or even the University of Liberia administration wants to name a building, a department, hall or hallway in honor of Mary Antoinette Brown, the first female President of the University of Liberia, then a group of donors must raise money to support that effort.
On this note, I appeal to families of those whose parents were honored by the University of Liberia by placing their names on departments, halls and buildings, to make generous donations for the upkeep of those departments, halls, and buildings by either giving money, buildings, farms, parcels of town and farmlands to the University of Liberia. For example, the William V. S. Tubman family could donate the Totota Farm of President William V. S. Tubman or his house in Congo Town to the University of Liberia for the upkeep of the William V.S. Tubman Teachers’ College. Similarly, the Tolbert family could donate Tolbert’s farm in Belefana for the upkeep of the William R. Tolbert College of Agriculture and Forestry. These are just few suggestions for finding sources of funding for the University of Liberia.
In reflecting on the mandate of the University of Liberia in training Liberia’s leaders in the public and private sectors, we cannot end this keynote address without looking at the type of leaders that the university embarked on producing. The type of leaders that the university committed itself to produce is reflected in the motto of the University of Liberia, “Lux in tenebris”, a Latin phrase which means light in darkness.
We, college educated Liberians trained by the University of Liberia, were meant to be light in darkness both in the public and private sectors. Yet when we take stock of ourselves, I do not think that we can be proud that we have all lived up to the dream of becoming lights in darkness. If all of the students trained by this university had given concrete meaning to the dream reflected by the motto of the University of Liberia, our country would not have been as backward as it is today.
Some of our fellow alumni were lights when they were here at the university as students; but, upon their graduation they immediately switched off and became dark. We must privately and openly be critical of our fellow alumni who betray the motto “light in darkness” in order to promote the good name of our university and to prevent our country from collapsing again. Nobody trained by the University of Liberia can ever count himself or herself among the poor. A University of Liberia graduate can use his or her creativity developed by this university to find an honest means of survival. Those alumni of our dear university who betray lux in tenebris by amassing wealth through dishonorable means are driven by the greed for wealth and not the mere desire to survive. We must keep our distance from such alumni and even expose them for the good name of our Alma Mater and the good of our country. Otherwise, we risk being termed birds of the same feathers. As Albert Einstein once said, “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”
On this 100th anniversary of Homecoming Day, I call upon fellow alumni in Liberia and around the world that we must make a solemn commitment from this day on to commit ourselves to supporting our Alma Mater, the University of Liberia and conduct ourselves in our communities and our offices in manners reflective of the true meaning of Lux in tenebris. We have no other choice.
Before taking my seat, I call upon each the University of Liberia alumnus to donate at least one hundred United States dollars (US$100.00) to the University of Liberia every year, beginning today. I am beginning the process of US$100 on behalf of my wife, Alumnus Sonie Kolako Gongloe and US$100 on my own behalf as an alumnus, summing up to US$200 for this year.
May the Almighty God give us the strength to be lux in tenebris!