Year 2020 is finally behind us (cue the cheers). By all accounts, it was a most unusual year – devastating for many, inconvenient for most. Yet now we have a chance for a fresh start, a new year filled with hope and possibilities. The pandemic is certainly not over, but the change of the calendar provides us with an opportunity to turn the page and, hopefully, begin to return to the way we were.
When I think about the future, I am drawn back to lessons learned from my role model – my late father. From him, I learned the meaning of respect, humility, and courage. In his work ethic, I discovered an unrelenting focus on finishing whatever he started. My dad always found a way to rise above pettiness and rancor, something that we need now more than ever. He demonstrated that you can play a meaningful role in life from wherever you are. He encouraged us to rise above the ordinariness of life to strive for success, and then to pursue significance.
My dad also had the uncommon ability to connect with people and make friends, but more importantly, he possessed the talent to keep them close. His secret was that he understood the power of words. For more than 50 years, he demonstrated the ability to make words rise from paper; to change lives, motivate the downtrodden, transform organizations, and benefit the Kingdom of God. He was a linguistical craftsman who could smell a splendid style from a respectable distance. If Ronald Reagan was the great communicator, my dad was the greatest communicator. He touched people he met along the way in a tone and tenor that were neither too stilted to scare the audience, nor too banal to dull their thinking or insult their intelligence.
That is a skill that has seemed sorely lacking over the past few years. Too often, our words have tended to be less inspirational and more confrontational. We have spent far more time shouting and arguing than listening and seeking a greater understanding of each other. Were he still with us today, my dad would remind us of the efficacy of telling it like it is; provoking thought, enthusiasm, hope, and maybe even unity. He spoke the truth with power, and felt the indignation of those who were stung by the words of truth. But he never wavered and he refused to put his life in reverse.
I lost my father in 2020, but his words and his example will stay with me forever. He had a sense of constructive impatience, something that all of us should embrace as we embark on this new year. He lived believing that nothing less than salvation was at stake and that God’s multiple blessings are contagious, eternal, and never-ending.
In our final conversation on the day he passed, he bid me “a ma rira” (I will see you later). Dad, I know we shall see each other again, and so I say to you—I will follow your example and urge others to do likewise. I will see you later and make you proud.
• Dr. Benjamin Ola Akande is the current and the 9th President of Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. He is the former Assistant Vice Chancellor of International Programs-Africa, Director of the Africa Initiative, and Associate Director of the Global Health Center at Washington University in St. Louis. Dr. Akande also chaired Washington University’s International Travel Oversight Committee (ITOC). Dr. Akande is a respected economist, scholar, and global consultant to Fortune 500 corporations and institutions in the higher education space in the areas of strategy, leadership development, corporate responsibility, and market positioning.