For South Africa’s Class of 2015, its attention that’s well earned. The past three years of university life have been marked by protest after protest, police violence, increasing frustration with university managements, and the heavy question of tuition.
There’s also been the issue of decolonisation and transformation, ideals that serve as the rallying call for the Fallist movement. The roller-coaster ride of the past three academic years in South Africa demonstrate three different but equally important realities:
- First, that African universities deserve to be celebrated as spaces of innovation and subversion, where ideas and movements that counter the dominant forces can be born and can grow.
- Second that these institutions of higher learning are under threat, because they create and encourage a space for debate and critical thinking. African universities, students and lecturers are too often targeted as agents of dissent; and
- Lastly that as mundane and regular as graduation may seem, it is important to recognise the achievement of graduating with a degree or equivalent qualification.
The graduates of 2018 represent a sliver of the population, but also the potential trajectory that society can take. After years of studying, seminars and late nights, Africa’s best and brightest head out into the adult world in a continent and world that is turbulent, to say the least. Twenty-four years after the end of apartheid, young South Africans – the born-free generation, are frustrated at the lack of transformation.
Racial, social and economic inequalities still deface the country’s landscape, and with youth unemployment sitting at 26.7%, the euphoria of graduation is undercut by the increasingly tangible reality of joblessness. Many of the graduates this year were on the front lines during the 2016 and 2015 #FeesMustFall protests. They were shot at, tear-gassed, and arrested. They went through months of protests and disruptions, only for their pleas to go unheeded.
It is a much revered ritual in educational institutions everywhere. At the end of every school year, graduating students, whether they’re little kids in grade school or young adults in college, walk solemnly towards the stage elegantly garbed in their robes and tassels. One cannot underestimate the significance of such a moment as every student’s journey towards graduation is filled with all sorts of trials and challenges.
However, graduation is not so much an ending but a new beginning. For grade school students, graduation is the beginning of their adolescent adventures as they let go of their parents’ embrace and test their wings in high school. For high school students, graduation is the beginning of their journey to self-discovery as they unravel what it is that they really want out of life in college. For college students, graduation is the beginning of their “real” lives as they fly out from the warmth and comfort of the university. Graduation is as much a significant for parents as it is for the graduates, their children’s achievements are theirs as well.
It is thus fitting, for families to honour this momentous occasion appropriately. There is no need for a grand celebration but a quiet get-together with family and friends to give honour to the graduate’s accomplishment is highly recommended.
To all those who will be walking that stage in front of family, friends and peers to be capped by the chancellor this graduation season we say congratulations. And as the great late Nelson Mandela once said-Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.