MA SID Commencement Speaker: Joe Wilson, MA SID/MS'18

May 13, 2018

Joe Wilson, MA SID/MS'18

Dean David Weil, Professor Joan Dassin, head of the Sustainable International Development Program, all faculty of the Heller School, fellow graduates, ladies and gentlemen: good morning!

I am grateful for the opportunity to be a commencement speaker this morning. Today is an exciting moment for us, especially when those many nights staying up late or spending long hours in the library has finally come to an end. Congratulations to the SID class of 2018! 

Each one of us has a story that drives our passion to become development practitioners. Whether it is experiencing abject poverty, gender inequality or other forms of social injustices, these issues serve as significant turning points in the career we choose. 

Briefly, let me share with you my story. I am with you today because of my dear mother, a courageous woman, who chose love over hate and hope over fear. I was rejected and abandoned by my father because my mother refused to commit abortion when she was instructed. I was raised in the face of extreme poverty during the 14-year-long civil conflict in Liberia. Those are difficult moments to recount, especially as a 7-year-old kid watching my younger brother starve to death. However, with the help of God, my mother and grandmother, as well as a few others, we defied the odds. My graduation today is a victory for my mother and all the women who helped raised me! Those difficult life experiences prepared me long ago to join the fight against poverty, disease and to pursue social justice, equal opportunity and peace. 

Studying at Heller has not only prepared us as development practitioners but shown us the true meaning of diversity. The culture of teamwork affirms the famous African saying, "If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together." There is power in diversity—let us use it wisely! This also means that we must keenly acknowledge the strengths and potentials of the women in our communities. Be it in Asia, Africa or here in the great United States of America; the glass ceilings must be broken! The movie “Black Panther” teaches us that Wakanda survives not only in the bravery of the fighting men but also the courage of the women. As development practitioners, we must champion the need to make smart investments in the lives of women, especially in areas of science, technology, engineering and math.

As we leave the Heller School, we carry its philosophy: "Knowledge Advancing Social Justice." Our global community today is overwhelmed with many development challenges, from economic to political and social. Let us remain steadfast and unwavering in ensuring social justice, equal opportunity and peace exist for everyone, irrespective of who they are and from where they come.

Finally, to my compatriots from Africa and the Global South, we are in a new age that calls for rethinking development. It is our responsibility to engineer a new discourse in the global space of international development. Are you not sick and tired of the story that Africa, Asia or Latin America is rich in resources yet its people are poor? Is it not high time that we Africans sit on the other side of the table as partners, and not as recipients of development aid? How long must we continue to ask people do things for us when we have the resources to do for ourselves? As we get back to our various countries, I hope these questions remain relevant. 

Thank you to the Heller School for welcoming me as your student! Thank you to the city of Waltham for being a very diverse community! And thanks to the United States of America for the space to acquire quality education! Thank you all!