Likeleli Monyamane’s UFS 2017 Graduation Ceremony Commencement Speech


Good morning, ladies and gentlemen and distinguished guests, and a very special good morning to the graduates, who are our guests of honour today. I feel quite privileged to have the honour of addressing you today, and I couldn’t help but think about how my icon, Ms Oprah Winfrey spoke on this very stage just a few years ago.

Today I would like to share a few stories about my journey as a young professional and a young leader, I want to share the lessons that I have learned since I left University and I hope in it, you will find inspiration to carve out your own unique experiences and that in about ten years, you will also share how you intentionally created a life that you are proud of:

As you heard when Prof Lange read out my bio, I am a Chartered Accountant. Which is really a really awesome achievement! But it also means that for the most part of my life, choices were made for me by other people which were not my own.

When I was studying here at the University of the Free State, I didn’t have a choice about the subjects that I took. I followed a curriculum that had already been well-thought out for me by the academics who designed it.

From 1st year up to 4th year. And then I had to serve three years of articles, which I did at Pricewaterhouse Coopers, based on a training plan that the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants had set out for me. This plan was so comprehensive that it laid out the number of hours I had to work, the professional and technical competencies I had to acquire to make sure that I became a Chartered Accountant of a certain standard, and I really had no choice but to do it if I wanted to qualify.

I know that most of you can relate to living a life pre-chosen for you by parents, teachers, lecturers and relatives. I know it frustrates some of you, but I also want you to know that it is the easy part of life.

Move to the 24th minute to view Likeleli’s speech

The hard part comes after this, after you get your degree and when you have to start making choices for yourself. You can choose to cruise through life without intention, you can choose to work for a certain company because your parents worked there. You can choose to show up at work, and just tick the minimum boxes that you have to tick to make it, or you can choose to define the rest of your journey for yourself, and you can choose to define the person you will evolve into being in this journey.

I realized in my first year of articles that I could choose to just be a number cruncher who sat in front of the computer all day, I could choose to be aspire to be a wealthy CFO who worked herself to death during the year just so that I can afford the finer things in life, or I could choose to use my skills, talents and resources to contribute to solving some of the challenges that our country and our continent are faced with today.

I decided to do the latter. Doing this required me change my mindset from thinking that my degree and my qualification were destinations to be reached, and to realize that they were tools I could use to effect the change I want to see in my community, country and continent.

So today as you sit here, waiting in anticipation for your degrees to be conferred upon you, I urge you to realize, that getting this degree is not the destination. Up until now, your journey has been defined by someone else, it’s now up to you to find your individual answer to the question: Now What? Now that you have this degree, this knowledge, and the social standing that comes with it, what are you going to do with it?

In choosing the kind of professional I wanted to be, I asked myself the following questions:

  • What do I want my life to stand for?
  • How do I want to feel about myself when I turn 35?
  • What do I want people to say about me?

Based on my responses I sought out opportunities to serve, because I realized that if I didn’t learn how to serve while I didn’t have my professional qualification, I would most likely not be keen to serve once I had it.

I then joined the Free State chapter of the Association for the advancement of Black Accountants (ABASA) and I served in ABASA for six years. I went from being a normal member tutoring matric students from the township, serving as the Treasurer, I also the launched the ABASA Leadership Program in the province as well as on the UFS campus providing mentorship to Thuthuka students and eventually I was elected as the first female Chairperson of the Free State Chapter.

If I had to describe my time at ABASA in a few words, I would use John Maxwell’s phrase, “The first step to leadership is servanthood”.

It was in serving in this organization that I learned about myself and developed my leadership skills. I grew from being a shy and timid young girl, to being a young leader who was not afraid to take risks.

I found my voice and also learned that finding your voice comes with a responsibility to speak up for those who are not positioned to speak for themselves.

My passion to serve extended to the workplace, where I served in the employment equity forum as the Vice-Chairperson, and I carried out most of these roles before I qualified as a CA. And in turn, I got the benefit of having the experience shape me into the person that I want to be.

Once you decide on what you want to achieve with your degree or qualification, you have to curate your own learning experiences that will shape you into being the person that you want to be.

You could choose to volunteer with a specific organization, or in a specific community, you could choose to study further, you could choose to work in a company that would provide you with an opportunity to develop certain skills. Its up to you. But you must make the choice, you must be intentional in choosing the building blocks of your life.

I attended a women’s conference at my church once, and I will never forget the words that one speaker, Lisa Bevere, said there, which are “Success is not for status but for service”, and so since I qualified I try to pursue opportunities of success that also provide me with a platform to serve.

When I went to Geneva, Switzerland as part of the World Economic Forum Global Shapers representing Lesotho, I had an AHA moment. I realized that in any given day, there are people sitting around important tables, discussing important issues and shaping policies and agendas of our generation.

It dawned on me that had it not been for my education, I probably wouldn’t have had access to these tables. I have been involved as a council member of this university for close to three years now, and at every meeting I am reminded of this. That more and more young people need to use their education as a tool to position them to influence decisions and policies so that this country and the African continent as a whole can be steered into a better direction.

As Nelson Mandela said, Education is indeed a powerful weapon, we can use to change the world.

Therefore, when you leave here today with your qualification in hand, I urge you to walk tall, because indeed you have achieved something great. You have worked hard to get here and we are proud of you. I also want you to walk with the realization that you hold a tool in your hand, and you can use that tool for social, political and economic change in your country. You can use it to shape decisions and to influence the change that this country and this continent so desperately need. You can use your education for the good and for the benefit of others.