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The Acceptance Speech that moved many to tears

Hello Mount Kenya University!
What a blessing to live and see such as glorious day?

I am very excited to be with you this morning and having traveled all the way from USA, I feel very proud to be part of this graduating class of 2014 here at MKU

  • Thank You Chancellor Victoria Wulsin, Chairman Simon Gicharu, Vice Chancellor, Prof. Waudo, MKU council, faculty, students, parents, friends and family
  • Thank you Hon John  Muyingo,  Minister of State for Higher Education, Republic of  Uganda
  • Thank you Pro-Chancellor, Professor Nyaigotti-Chacha for that wonderful review of my life journey
  • Thanks to my wife Esther and Son Jesse who are with me here today and also my daughter Joyce who could not be with us since she is undertaking her clinical rotations
  • Special thanks to my friends, Dr. Jude Onyia his wife Massa and to Terry Victor-Kariuki all  who have travelled from USA to be with us today

Let me start by saying that I feel greatly honored to be a participant of this event since I know exactly what it means to all of us who are here today. Of all the honors that have been bestowed upon me in the last few years, this one comes closest to my heart. Thank you to MKU for making me feel appreciated – especially in my own country!  Thank you Graduands for the endurance that you have demonstrated in successfully completing your studies and thus, providing me with the opportunity to come all the way from United States and celebrate this event with you. To all, I graciously accept the MKU Honorary Degree award.

Thirty Five years ago, I was sitting on similar chairs as you are today and excited about my future prospects but also scared to death about what was about to come. A number of things went through my mind and many of them were frightening: For example, there was the worry of what kind of a job I would get after graduation or who would be my future partner in life and would I live a meaningful life whereby the society would accept and walk with me as I moved forward?   The notion that most of you would have similar questions and worries today, was the driver for my coming here to accept this honorary degree, but more importantly to also have a chance to share with you some of my life experiences and hopefully, someone in your midst might find them inspiring enough to assist them in their pursuit of a better future.

Let me rewind back a little bit to my early life.  I was born in a village about 30 miles from here called Kamuchege by a single mother, by the name of Alice Nyaucha, who is here in the audience. But guess what – after completing my primary school education at Kiawairia, I was admitted at Thika High school, a school that is just a stone’s throw-away distance from here.  Coming from an economically challenged family, there was a lot of uncertainty in my life some of which directly affected some of the decisions that I made at that time. For example, although I performed very well in my academic life and being a class prefect from form 1 to VI; I still did not regard myself worthy of attending the second higher level of education which at that time was ‘A” – levels. I vividly remember when asked by our career master to fill out the “A”-level secondary school choices, I just left that provision blank and opted to apply to the then Kenya Science and Kagumo Teacher’s college as my 1st priority choices; my main objective at that time was to acquire a gainful employment as quickly as possible, start a family life and support my extended one. It took the intervention of several of my teachers, who after realizing that I was not in the list of students selected to join the “A”  level class despite my excellent performance in my ‘O”-level exams – drove all the way to Githunguri to look for me and eventually convinced me to change my mind to joining the ‘A”- levels class.

I joined Thika High school “A” level- class and eventually became a Deputy School Captain. – Once again, although other people could see great potential in me, but I lacked self-esteem. Case in point: at the end of every academic year, Thika High school used to have a day when parents and family would be invited to be briefed on the state of school affairs.  One of the major events that normally took place on that day was presentation of awards to the best performing students in each class and normally the school would have a renowned person invited to officiate the occasion. During my form six year, our guest speaker was the late Professor Joseph Mungai and previous Vice-Chancellor of University of Nairobi. In that particular year, I was the recipient of the coveted Biology Prize for the best performing student in that class, thus, when Professor Mungai, a bona fide expert in Biology proceeded to present that award, he was conspicuously overwhelmed with  joy  and specifically requested me to make  a point of visiting him upon entering medical school the following year – little did Professor Mungai know that I had not elected to join the school of medicine despite my great performance in biology; I had  instead opted to pursue a degree course in Science, hoping to major in either botany or zoology – my choice, as strange as it  might seem had been influenced by a class trip we made to Malindi Marine Park where we were hosted by the Game Warden. I was blown away by the kind of powers and responsibilities the game warden commanded – fleet of Land Rovers, numerous glass-bottomed boats, a big mansion for his family, large body of workers- you name it – he had it all – After that trip, it was perfectly clear to me that would be my dream job – and all it required was a  3 year BSc degree as opposed to the 5 years medical degree.

To cut a long story short, after my first year in college I realized that my real passion was not in biological sciences but in organic chemistry.  I excelled in this subject and received a scholarship for it in graduate studies at Case Western Reserve University (interestingly enough this is the same university that your esteemed Chancellor, Victoria Wulsin  attended – in-fact she was a class ahead of me). After graduating from Case Western, I joined Schering-Plough pharmaceutical company where my group invented Victrelis, the first Hepatitis C protease medicine to treat the deadly Hepatitis C virus that infected ~ 150 million people world wide. The discovery of Victrelis took 16 years of intensive research to accomplish and was plagued with numerous failures, however, the struggle to achieve this invention was the greatest thing that ever happened in my life – the medicine has now treated thousands of patients who would have otherwise died from this deadly disease. I derive a lot of satisfaction when I read letters from patients expressing their gratitude to our researchers when the latter say that there are grateful for our discovery of Victrelis otherwise they would have died of this infection.

Graduands, this is my story – and every one of you out there today is in the process of writing their story.

You are embarking on an exciting journey; however, this excitement also brings with it a lot of anxiety.  Through this mix of anxiety and excitement, there are three things that have worked out well for me which I would like to share with you today.

Point Number 1: Try to be yourself – Do not let other people define your destiny – define your own destiny. Identify a career or an area within your field of study that you are very passionate about and go for it and give it all your energy. Professionally, it really doesn’t matter what field you get into – it may be in health sciences, engineering, business, education just to mention a few - the point is whatever it is, go for it and demonstrate the best performance. So many times we wait for other people to define who we are and what we should be and never get a chance to do it ourselves.  This is an unfortunate state of affair since the Creator crafted us thoughtfully and beautifully each endowed with unique virtues which we need to exploit to the make maximum.

Point Number 2:   Do not spend too much time worrying about failure.  This has been an important aspect of life to me and my colleagues since we work in a research field where more than 95% of what we do fail.  In discovering new medicines such as Victrelis it was 1 out of 5,000 molecules that we interrogated that made it to the market- this is a very low success rate. In many other fields the success rate might be higher but it will still be there. Today, I would like to reinstate to all of you the fact that failure will always be part of your lives and for that reason the best way to treat failure is to think of it as merely a dress rehearsal to success. Graduands don’t be discouraged in your life to a point that you cannot complete a task in hand for the fear of failure – actually, to make everyone feel better, let me inform you that many great people have failed at one time or the other in their lives – case in point - Albert Einstein who is considered as the smartest person that ever lived, failed in his first set of college entrance exam. He however repeated it, passed and went to become the greatest scientist of 20th century.
Let us all learn from those who were there before us that failure is not a condemnation in life: it is bound to happen at one time or the other in our lives but if we confront it in the right way, we will inevitably convert it into success.  Friends, in life don’t give up – if you fall, wake up shake off the dust and keep on moving

Point Number 3: Focus - When Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, the two richest men in the world, were asked to single out the most important factor that led to their success in life, they both unanimously pointed out to focus. You should give maximum attention to things that matter most to you in life - things that you want to succeed in. Identify a few things that you have a great passion for and perform them repeatedly with focus. As the writer Malcolm Gladwell beautifully puts it in his book “the outlier”, “if you want to succeed, you should do one thing a million times rather than doing I millions things just one time”. That is how athletes and other professionals become successful in their endeavors.

My fellow graduands, Mount Kenya University has done a great job in scaling education to greater heights – you are part of that effort and you are well equipped to tackle the major issues that face Kenya and the world at large – go out there and make a difference, The worst thing any one of us can do is to enter this world, consume and deplete what exists and depart without making a difference.  I suggest to all of you to take a good inventory of the blessings that the Almighty God has bestowed on you and exploit them to make a difference in the world. If you are an accountant, be the best accountant there can ever be, if you are a nurse, be the best heath care giver we have ever had and so on and on for the other professionals.

I wish you all a great success in whatever you do and may God bless you and may you live an abundant life.

Thank you