Senior Class President Offers Advice to Westminster Graduates

In keeping with commencement tradition at Westminster, Senior Class President Joseph Opoku ’18 delivered remarks to members of his the Class of 2018 at the commencement ceremony.  

Here is his message to his classmates (watch the address here):

Board of Trustees, President Lamkin, Faculty & Staff, Parents, Honored guests and fellow graduates – Welcome.

Thank you all for traveling from afar to be with us today. Your presence is deeply appreciated! I am sure many of you have come long distances to celebrate the culmination of what has been a rollercoaster journey for many of us. 

Four years ago, I also embarked on a somewhat similar journey. 6000 miles, 3 continents, and 3 plane rides later, I also arrived in a small mid-western town – Fulton, Missouri to begin my own path.

For many of us, it was a stressful time, having been thrust into unfamiliar territory for the first time of our lives – New school, country, city, roommate and the list of unknowns were endless. I was completely unaware of what I was getting myself into. Naïve and scared certainly, but I was also determined and optimistic to thrive in this place.

Driving on Westminster Avenue would be the first of many memories to be forged here. From Nights of killing time at Killebrew’s, Underground and the Post Office Bar to Sunday mornings spent getting updates from your friends on your previous night’s rendezvous and shenanigans. From the bad grades from Dr. Gibson and Dr. Bandari that made you question, two weeks prior to the end of the semester, why you never learned your lesson to take that class Pass/Fail.

Throughout all those experiences, one thing I have learned (which I believe resonates with my classmates) is that life is not always rosy and glamorous but can be nasty and challenging sometimes.

Of course, that is not all emblematic of a Westminster education.

To some it has been about trying new things; like taking that class which informed your major, having difficult conversations and exploring numerous avenues to be a leader on campus.

To others, it was about that study abroad or the unique Take-a-Friend home program that allowed you to explore the Taj Mahal in India, beautiful beaches in The Maldives, or even the iconic Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri. These have all gotten us to where we are today.

Growing up in Ghana, I had not in my wildest dreams thought about someday traveling to America, talk less of embarking on a journey to become the first in my family to earn a college degree (in a few minutes, of course).

We all have unique stories that have shaped us into who we are today. In the Blue Jay Nation, these stories have culminated into experiences that have prepared us for the uncertainties of our world.

In the words of pan-Africanist and civil rights leader, W.E.B Du Bois, “What a world this will be when human possibilities are freed, when we discover each other, when the stranger is no longer the potential criminal and the certain inferior!”

At Westminster, we have studied under the rigor of a liberal arts system with people from different backgrounds, like my freshman roommate Nathan Wilson from Weston, Missouri – a town of 1700 people. Who would have thought that a place was smaller than Fulton?

Westminster is a truly global community where we have learned to empathize with people who have different views than ours. We have discovered each other and made friends out of complete strangers.

Our mission statement calls on each one of us to be “life-long learners and leaders of character, committed to the values of integrity, fairness, respect, and responsibility; and to pursue lives of success, significance, and service”

These are not mere words to be thrown around but ones that ought to be internalized and practiced.

We live in a very turbulent time in global affairs where these values are important now more than ever.

As we walk through the columns today, we need to extend these values to others by dedicating ourselves to the fight against injustice.

As people who truly understand the essence of diversity, we need to stand up and not take a neutral stance in situations of injustice.

Our generation must work towards ending violence against women, police brutality, racism, prejudice towards Muslims, hate towards immigrants and the many challenges that continue to plague our societies.

We need to bring down the walls that divide us and build bridges that extend the love and sense of community here at Westminster to the world.

No matter what corner in the world we are from, let us stay true to the ties that bind us.

As members of the Class of 2018, we need to continually explore the question: How will I act daily to live a life which demonstrates my genuine care for others?

In closing, I will end with a quote from Dr. King “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Thanks to everyone for the love you have shown me over the last four years. You all have made this college better than we met it.

As we undertake the next phase of unknowns, be reminded of your time in this fine mid-western college and may the experiences serve you well.

Good luck.

Asante Sana.

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