Emmanuel Allicious Macpherson Sam, last week made not only Sierra Leone proud but the whole of black Africa. Emmanuel became the first black student to give commencement speech during the graduation ceremony at the North Eastern School of Law in Boston Massachusetts.
That privilege to mount the podium at that auspicious occasion is only reserved for students whose speeches are voted to be the best presented by graduating students.
Emmanuel before proceeding to the USA, did his undergraduate course in Law at the Fourah Bay College University of Sierra Leone graduating with a First Class Division 1 Degree. In fact, when he graduated in 2013, he emerged as the best Law student in his year.
He then proceeded to the USA to pursue his Masters where he has now earned an LLM. He is very much determined to come back to Sierra Leone to serve his country and contribute meaningfully towards national development.
Below is the speech by this Barrister.
Provost Bean, Dean Paul, LL.M. Director Cassidy, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, Fellow Graduates: Thank you all for being here on this auspicious occasion.
To my fellow graduates, I want to say: Yes, we made it!
Today is a day to reflect on the success of completing a task that was so challenging, especially for those of us who got our first law degree outside the U.S.
What a sigh of relief!
We owe this success not only to our own hard work but also to Northeastern’s values and principles, its rich history of diversity, and to the experience of the Northeastern co-op. I’m sure you’ll agree that choosing Northeastern was a brilliant decision.
But before going into that, I want to tell you a story, a story that has made me the person I am today.
I am from Sierra Leone, a small country in West Africa. It is a country rich in natural resources, but it remains one of the poorest countries in the world.
The people there have traveled a rough path, with many challenges, including civil war, economic hardship, and the decimation caused by the Ebola virus.
Growing up in Sierra Leone, I had a childhood circumscribed by the chaos of a decade-long civil conflict. I never understood what civil conflict was — not until one bright morning, when I was just eight years old. I suddenly heard the sound of gunshots and the crackle of burning houses, and I understood we were caught between life and death.
The rebels had come to town! We heard knocks on our door ordering us to open up.
When we opened the door, the rebels came in and shot my brother. When our uncle attempted to give him first aid, the rebels shot him, in the head.
“No one should cry!” we were told; they even told my mom and older siblings to sing and hug one another, as if in a jubilant mood.
As an eight-year-old child, I saw the pain, the anguish and above all the fear in my mom’s eyes. She wanted to cry for the death of her son and for her elder brother, but if she did, she would be next.
Trying to escape the fighting, my family and I were displaced countless times, ending up in refugees camps. We often faced stark choices: join the fighting forces or lose your limbs; become a “rebel wife” or face torture. Although I lost my brother, who was my role model, and all our earthly possessions, I am grateful that I survived to tell the story.
During the war, we lost all hope. Everything in the country was shut down: there were no schools, no businesses, there was nowhere to run or hide. That was the darkest part of our history as a nation; all hopes were gone, and dreams were lost.
The experience of the war, which finally ended in 2002, changed my life forever. But it did not kill my dreams; rather, it transformed them into the desire to give voice to the voiceless, to fight for women’s rights, children’s rights and the empowerment of young people, the desire to learn more about the root causes of conflicts and more about viable strategies for building a peaceful and just society.
I became a founding member of The Children’s Forum Network, the country’s first organization for children. The organization gave hope to us children, whose physical and psychological scars were unimaginable. We advocated for ourselves, for our own rights.
My transition to the United States was not easy. Settling in a country where I had not got my law degree turned out to be one of the biggest challenges in my life. To me, a practical solution was to go back to school.
I learned that Northeastern was named the best practical law school in the U.S. and one of the best human rights schools in the country. I looked at the global makeup of the staff, the alumni, student body, and faculty, and I said to myself, this will prove invaluable for my career objectives.
And definitely, Northeastern has delivered on all their promises. The learning environment at Northeastern has been supportive, flexible and relevant for us all.
Fellow graduates, the world await us! We can now use the skills and knowledge we have obtained from the privilege of studying at Northeastern with a sense of pride, motivation and determination.
The world needs us in the arena; there are problems that need to be solved, injustices that need to be ended, to make the world a better place.
As for me, fighting for social justice will always be part of my journey. I want to create change in the lives of voiceless women, of war-ravaged children, and marginalized young people on every continent, whose social, economic and political exclusion is, I have now come to believe, one of the major reasons for conflict in the world.
We should always persevere. There may be obstacles in our way, but my story is a testimony that perseverance leads to success. If I had not persevered, I would not be here celebrating with you.
Sometimes your dream may seem overly ambitious, but don’t stop ‘walking’ towards it, until you lay your hands on it. I have made it here today because I never stopped walking towards my dream.
My mum and dad taught me not to fear change but to embrace it. Let us believe that our future can be better than our present and that we have the power to make it what we want.
And finally fellow graduates, don’t forget that every successful individual’s achievement depends on a community, on working together. Here at Northeastern we have worked together as a team.
Let’s take that mentality with us wherever we go. As we transition into the bigger world, let’s not forget that the discipline gained and the character built from setting and achieving a goal can be even more valuable than the actual attainment of that goal.
We have been empowered by Northeastern; we should return the favor by empowering other people with the skills we have gained. Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others.
To everyone who touched our lives, we say thank you:
• To our parents who stood by us no matter what.
• To our professors who tried to instill in us a passion for learning.
• To administrators who worked to make our experience amazing.
• To advisors who helped us decide what path to take.
• To friends who were there for pizza parties,
We thank you.
I thank you all for listening.