“As the sun shines today, so will the sun shine in your lives!” That was the sincere prayer and wishes from the visibly excited Professor Octave Cossi Houdegbe, the Chancellor and President of Houdegbe North American University, Cotonou, in the Republic of Benin, to his graduating students.
It was truly a sunny day last Saturday after a torrential downpour which lasted till Friday evening. People were apprehensive and actually thought the rains will make Saturday’s convocation impossible. In spite of the rains, all hands were on deck, as workers and vehicles hurried round to sand-fill the flooded campus including the only road leading to the University which was partially submerged in floods.
One can then appreciate the joJy of the President who saw the sunshine on the day of the convocation as a special day of blessings for the departing graduants. True to its mission of building bridges across political, linguistic and cultural divides the convocation ceremonies on Saturday the 16th of July 2011 opened with first, the national anthem of the United States of America, that of Nigeria and then finally, the Republic of Benin national anthem. This is symbolic as the admission of students into the university is opened to all nationalities without discrimination. In majority, are students from Nigeria who run in thousands in a school where the student-population stands at over Six thousand
A university like Houdegbe North American University Cotonou is, at this time relevant as a uniting factor for economic co-operation and growth, not only in the West African sub-region, but also in the entire African continent. The successful unification of the African region is hinged on the exchange of socio-economic, cultural and educational actions. These are the aspirations of the first fully bilingual University in West Africa, the Houdegbe North American University, Cotonou. Apart from the pursuance of knowledge and making the university a centre of academic excellence, the Houdegbe North America University also recognizes and awards HONORIS CAUSA to honor men and women who have made indelible marks in the socio-economic, political and cultural development cutting across all countries, especially the West African sub-region and the African continent.
This is the state of affairs, and it was all joyful celebrations on that bright sunshine Saturday the 16th of July when the University graduated students from the School of Business Administration, Departments of Economics, Computer and Mathematics, Schools of International Relations and political Science. Others are the faculty of Law, the faculty of Languages and the Institute of Translators, the School of Medicine and the School of Pharmacy and Allied Medical profession.
In a well articulated and moving speech delivered by the Chancellor-President of the University, Professor Ocatve Houdegbe, who spoke both in the French and the English languages, urged all none-French- speaking students to be masters of the French language for the four years they will be stayingin the university. To achieve this end, he charged all the French lecturers of the university to do all things possible in order that the feat would be achieved, if the university has to assume its proper position as the only bilingual university in the West African sub-region. The colourful occasion which took place in a partially open space, witness thousands of guests from all over the World, especially the West African sub-region, spilling over to the extra-large canopies set besides the main open venue.
The most touching aspect of his speech was when the Chancellor urged the students to be virtuous, fusing moral disciple with intellectuality. Like Socrates and Plato had taught their students, wisdom and intellectuality alone cannot make a man without virtue and moral discipline. To them, the man with wisdom (the philosopher) and virtue should rule without being corrupt.
Moral discipline means so much to Houdegbe North American University as about sixteen students suspected to be cultists and other students caught in various criminal activities including rape, were rusticated recently from the University. The graduating students, according to the Chancellor, are going into the world, and in doing so, they have to be men and women of great integrity and virtue, urging them to uphold the good name of the University. He revealed that the University has working relationships with other Universities in he USA and Europe, especially Hampshire University where students from Houdegbe North American University can continue with higher degrees, if they so wish. This was received amidst great cheers and ovation by the graduating students who were all decked with multicolor various academic gowns. So were their lecturers and other officials dressed.
True to the African way of life, the celebrations were unlimited. Parents, friends, and well-wishers have come from far and near to watch their children graduating, which to many people, is a remarkable achievement in their children’s lives. The parents and friends in their twenties and fifties were seen under various trees and corners with coolers of food and drinks in great feast, eating, drinking and merrying. The fact that their children are graduating after four years of great toiling, building up academic laurels is enough to celebrate.
Traditional music and trumpets rented the air while in various groups; dancers were in a world of their own. They are the graduates on who perpetual light of God will shine all through their lives.
Pat Asakome, a Broadcaster, a University lecturer, an author and an analyst in Public Affairs, writes from Lagos, Nigeria