Here is my valedictorian speech given during Riara University's first graduation
On January 7th, 2013 on my 31st birthday I received a strange gift from my sister.
It was a deposit slip for part payment of fees for a one-year evening diploma course to a brand new University which I hadn’t heard of before. I had 1 week to make up my mind, or she could offer it to someone else.
I decided to research a bit before making a decision, and I’d start first of the website. When the webpage loaded it took me all of 5 seconds to make a decision. Yes, I definitely wanted to attend Riara University. It all came down to 2 words, proudly proclaimed on the university’s logo
At my age, I’d been fortunate to have already attended two universities: Strathmore down the road where I learnt computing and University of Nairobi where I studied law. But never before had I felt such a strong emotional connection to a place of learning like I felt with Riara. And it was all down to those two words.
Innovation – introducing something new for the first time, generating ideas and creating new things – is what I was craving. And here was a University promising to nurture - to help, to develop - my desire to be an innovator.
I stand before you today as validation that Riara University has continued to keep its’ promise of nurturing innovation. Even now the university is helping me try something new for the first time and in doing so helping me to become an even better version of me. I am grateful for the confidence bestowed on me by the administration to address you today.
While this is an incredible opportunity, it is something I came to expect during my time in Riara. My dean in the School of Business, Prof. Abel Kinoti was one of my greatest inspirations. If there was a new project, a new competition, a new anything he thought I could participate it he made sure to send it to me. He would then follow it up with such strong words of encouragement that I usually found myself saying yes before I knew what it was I was saying yes to.
One of the projects, Prof. Kinoti encouraged me to take part in was Enactus – a business plan competition for university students. Our team composed of me and a dozen first-year students, and many times I was mistaken as their lecturer. But that did not prevent what turned out to be a hugely beneficial experience for all of us. We forged great bonds as we developed innovative business ideas for communities in Kibera and Kawangware. We had a ton of fun and even beat some established universities during the competition. Thank you to the Enactus team and all my fellow students for making my time at Riara so rich and memorable.
Working with communities and industry was something Riara particularly excelled in. I got to experience this first hand in 2014, a year after I had completed my studies. I approached the University through Juju Gachukia to sponsor an event by Toastmasters – a non-profit public speaking organization I was volunteering for. Not only did the university sponsor us, but they sent several representatives which ensured the event was a grand success. I appreciate the fact that Riara has continued to support and nurture me even after my course work was over.
I came to Riara as a business owner comfortable in the steady year to year growth of my business. Only to realize that my dreams were too small, my challenges too easy, and my vision too short. I left as a hungry entrepreneur: ready to challenge boundaries, eager to take on larger than life projects that frightened me, and faithful to let innovation lead me to success.
At Riara the most valuable lesson I learnt, one which I am privileged to share with you today, is that when you open your mind to innovation, there is no limit to what you can achieve.
Today marks an end to one episode of our story with Riara University. But it also marks the beginning of a new one; a new episode where we proudly declare ourselves as graduates; a new episode where we use our learning to solve problems in society and industry; a new episode where we hold ourselves up high with pride as Riara’s innovators.
Congratulations to all our innovators.