The Menno Simon College/CMU’s Administration;
Graduates Class of 2017;
Graduate’s parents, relatives, guardians & friends
Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon;
July 5, 2017 (SSNA) — First, I would like to express how profoundly honored I am to be given the Menno Simon College 2017 Distinguished Alumni Award. This Award has a special meaning for me as a graduate of this institution. It also has a special meaning for me as a former South Sudanese child soldier who spent my childhood in the bushes carrying around an AK47 that was taller than me. As a former child soldier, I have come a very long way both in life and career. In life, I had endured untold history and suffering. I had escaped injustice in search for better opportunity. Lack of opportunity in South Sudan has resulted in what international humanitarian organizations call a “lost generation” that lacks educational opportunities, access to basic health care services and prospects for productive employment in the small and weak economies.
In brief, I became an unaccompanied minor in 1987 with the rest of my colleagues. There were more than 16,000 boys & girls in one refugee camp. Our ages ranged from 8 to 11 years old. As of today, fewer than 5,000 have been resettled in North America. We walked from Sudan to Ethiopia for months. Our numbers became less than 5,000 in North America because some starved to death, some died from preventable and treatable diseases, some were eaten by wild animals, some were killed in the war zone, some drowned in the rivers, and some resettled in different part of the world, some are now fighting in a deadly civil war. On the way, we depended on what we carried on our heads: water & food. I began school in 1988 in a refugee camp in Ethiopia under a tree. We used the soil as an exercise book, our teachers used charcoals as a chalkboard and a carton as a blackboard, and when we were lucky enough to receive an exercise book from UNICEF, we shared it with two other students for all subjects. Through struggling, I got an opportunity to come to Canada in 2001. In 2002, I had upgraded my African education, and in 2003 enrolled at The University of Winnipeg, where I became one of the first South Sudanese child soldiers to graduate from a Canadian University.
For the graduates, we chose our majors for different reasons. Of course, I would speak about myself. I graduated with an IDS degree. I was led to this decision through my life experiences. As an unaccompanied minor, I had grown up as a refugee where the source of livelihood were local NGOs and international organizations. In years of refuge, I had been into multiple countries; Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and finally Canada. In 2003, I had decided to come to university; although my major was unknown at the time. Through research, I came across IDS program and in those days’ calendars used to be free; I took one and opened it to see courses then I got attracted to IDS courses such as Crisis, Humanitarian, Aid and Development, An Analysis of Development Aid Policies, Program Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, Economic Development and Rural Development etc. I applied and got accepted and then registered in introductory to IDS as required before I took the courses I previously mentioned. In my second year, I had developed an interest and then declared major in IDS although I was debating between IDS and an Economics degree.
During my studies at MSC, I had come with the mentality of an unaccompanied minor where teachers were our guardians or caretakers. Each time I approached an instructor I had that thought at the back of my mind. It happens that I was not wrong given that the professors and staff were quite open, honest and understandable. I would like to attest that MSC was a stepping stone for me socially and academically.
Socially, professors and staff were more than teachers. There were greater balances between the academic and social support provided for student success. Administrative style reflects a bottom-up approach that helped individuals like myself to access professors and staff anytime when I wanted as long as they are on the campus. When I approached professors and staff for the first time they sounded like they already know me. There is nothing more important than to feel welcomed and accepted especially in the case of immigrant and refugee students that come from different cultures.
Academically, there were flexible ways of teaching and supporting students to achieve their goals as we are now celebrating your academic achievement. I believe you were all supported in one way or another. It could be deferred exams, incomplete term works, an extension of research papers and appeals for retroactive withdrawal etc.
As graduates, your education is like a torch loaded with new batteries to light a way pointing towards searching necessary opportunities to change the lives of needy people in our communities. As you step out from here, do not underestimate your abilities to change the world. MSC’s values are your values. One of the values I had observed is that MSC’s is a place for inclusive learning which attracts diverse students from diverse communities around the world. This is a place for sharing and learning together to promote social justice and social cohesion.
My journey of change making after graduating with an IDS degree began in 2007. My first job was with Services Canada (federal government) where I had worked briefly before joining The University of Winnipeg. In Services Canada, I had made a significant difference internally and externally. Internally, I had reviewed existing programs and incorporated relevant programs and policies related to newcomer communities in Manitoba. Externally, I had reached out to many local communities in the City and Province to educate communities about available resources in Services Canada as well as listening to their challenges then report back to the leadership.
In the University of Winnipeg, the Former President, Dr. Lloyd Axworhty wanted to see the numbers of underrepresented populations (indigenous and immigrant or refugees) increased in post-secondary education. I had the privilege to reach out to local communities to make sure that message had reached communities’ leaders in a timely manner. The outcome of that special project was very successful and as I speak with you some of those students (immigrants and refugees) that got the opportunity are now leaders in their respective communities and countries of origin making a difference! I am in contact with some of them that are working as senior individuals in their local governments and some are working with national and international NGOS. They are making a very significant difference and I would encourage each and every one of you to join the race and become the winner of making a difference wherever you are! As you earned your degree today, there is nothing you could wait for! Become the voice of the voiceless. When you get an opportunity make sure to put humanity above anything because making a difference is a measure through helping people. Devoting your acquired skills into changing humanity for the better is a direct way of appreciating your professors and staff for being part of your inspiring journey of education. Their teaching and mentorship have nurtured you; as you will become leaders of tomorrow wherever you are!
Distinguished Guests, Graduates, Ladies, and Gentlemen,
Academic Advising is a process of guiding students through an informed decision-making for students to realize their potential goal and how to achieve it. Students are faced with challenges of academic and non-academic issues that interfered with their studies. These issues required guidance from professors and advisors to keep students focused on their academic goals. Academic advisors’ goals are students’ successes. As you are celebrating your academic achievement today, your advisors are also celebrating because your education was achieved through collective efforts.
Academic Advisors are problem solvers to help students’ focus on their academic journey. In every meeting, we build trust, explore opportunities and create a sense of belonging which allows students to discover and achieve. In every meeting we discussed and coached students as a preparation for them to take up the challenges of the 21st century at different levels; locally, nationally, regionally and internationally.
Some of you will work with local communities and some will work at different levels. Wherever you are, please embrace that environment and make a difference. Making a difference has no specific time, day and place. It is whenever and wherever you are afforded the opportunity to put humanity above everything! There is nothing important than helping a human being.
I am a big believer in the power of community, of which some prominent leaders and elders referred to me as a change maker. To put it into perspective, my acceptance speech for the Marsha Hanen Award for Excellence in Creating Community Awareness that I received at the fall convocation of 2014, I referred to a community as a “human bank”, where citizens live and grow, and where students who become doctors, engineers, dentists, leaders, peacemakers, accountants/bankers, businessmen/women, teachers and so on, come from. I encourage each of you to be part of your surrounding environment, locally, nationally, regionally and internationally. This will enhance your understanding and networking which will lead to making a difference!
Finally, I will do no justice to my speech without recognizing and thanking the Menno Simon College administration; faculty and staff for giving me this great opportunity to speak to our graduates and future leaders. On the same note, I would like to thank Associate Dean of MSC Dr. Neil Funk-Unrau, Selection Committee (SC) and my colleague Gina Loewen (your Academic Advisor) who nominated me for this Special Award!
Thank you for listening!
David Mabior Atem Kuir