2006 Class Speaker Francis Tapiwa Chapuredima

How is everybody doing? Before I even start, I need to do something. As you know, I’m from Zimbabwe and we love drumming big in Zimbabwe. I know I was selected to be class speaker and somebody’s saying, “Hey, we didn’t select you to be the class drummer.” I know. But the reason why we drum back home is for a reason. I know I’m confirming the stereotype about Africa here. You hear the word Africa and you think about people jumping and drumming and animals running around. But we drum because it gives us energy. It gives us the real spirit within us. I need to evoke the African man in me before I start talking to you guys. And I also need to wake up some of my classmates who rarely get up this early. So I have to drum. And I don’t intend to turn this into a rainmaking ceremony so it’s going to be a short drumming session. So please bear with me. Are we ready?

….

So when I started working on this Commencement speech, I was not too worried about what I was going to say. Because after talking to a bunch of people and listening to previous speakers on tape, I realized I didn’t need to come up with a Commencement thesis. All I had to do was to be myself, and I’m going to be myself.

The next problem, though, is me. As you can hear I have a very thick accent and I was concerned about being heard and understood clearly. I’ve been here four years but I haven’t done much to try to speak like the rest of you. I guess I’ve been busy trying to stay warm – we live in Maine.

I guess you guys are responding, so actually it’s working. We’re going to do well.

Class of 2006. You guys are something. But you know what? Hang on for a second. Let me talk to the professors first.

Professors, you all look very accomplished and published in your multicolored regalia, proof of the hard work you had in grad school to get your Ph.D.s. Well done. Unfortunately, your multicolored uniforms make us feel inferior in our black gowns. And I guess when you woke up this morning you were, like, “Let’s go and show these bachelors of arts graduates that they ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

Okay, you guys have made your point. But after four years we’d hope by now, working hard through your great classes, we have earned your respect. Instead, on our last day on campus you decide to make us feel inferior. I see a lot of familiar faces among you, but I’m not going to name names. But we love you guys.

On a serious note, I do want to thank you. Because we all agree that we would not have made it without your assistance. So thank you very much, professors.

There is a Shona proverb – Shona is my native language – which says: “Kusatenda Uroyi.” I’m sorry for the sign-language person for the Shona – I don’t know how she’s going to do that. Kusatenda Uroyi literally translated into English it means “Being unthankful is as evil as witchcraft.” I know in America witchcraft is a different concept. You can actually go to school and be ordained to be a witch. So it’s cool. But back where I come from, you don’t want to be a witch. So I refuse to be a witch. Kusatenda Uroyi.

I want to thank some important people. I do want to make special mention of Jette and Alan Parker, who founded the Oak Foundation. Without their assistance you might not have had this class speaker. And I do want to thank them because their generosity transformed my life and the lives of many other students.

I also want to thank our parents, relatives, friends, Colby alums, trustees, and the staff. Thank you for your help.

Okay (clap, clap) Class of 2006. Can I have your attention now? I’m assuming I hadn’t lost it. You know, I’ll start with a confession. I understand we have a Catholic deacon and a rabbi behind us. I’m also Catholic, if you didn’t know, so if the Catholic faith won’t forgive me for my sins, I’m going to switch to Judaism.

When I first walked into my room in East Quad, I walked in with two pieces of luggage. A few days later, the rest of you drove in in trailers and trucks. I walked around campus and saw even more U-Hauls, and everybody was moving in. And I realized from that first day that America was a land of plenty.

I would be rude to assume that you’re all rich. But compared to the average student where I come from, guys, most of you are kings. I wouldn’t have done justice if I don’t remind you that you probably have a role to play in trying to reach out to the needy, and I’m glad to have met dozens of you who are already doing that.

Here’s my second confession. I come from a small rural village in Zimbabwe. And imagine — everybody’s like me. I don’t know how to say this without sounding politically incorrect, but everybody is black in my village. And I come to Colby — and as you can tell, it’s a different environment. I had this problem of failing to recognize people. I remember, if my freshmen year roommates, Joe and Steve, walked out of the room, I wouldn’t recognize them. I just lost them among the crowds. But you know, I’m glad that four years down the line I know the difference amongst all of you, and I’ll bet you I could meet every one of you and tell you your name. I might not be very right, but I’m pretty close.

It’s good to realize that after these four years we’ve actually gotten to know each other. This brings me to my little blurb I wrote when I was trying to bribe you into making me your class speaker:

We have lived in dorms, taken classes, stayed up late, danced, watched a game, had dinner… you name it. All these small yet important occasions have allowed us to get to know each other and form relationships. These relationships will go beyond Colby. And for your own information, at last count seven percent of Colby alums were married to other Colby alums. So just look around you and see — who is it going to be?

The Colby experience has been great and I cherish it. It is a universal experience. It’s not only for kids who live twenty minutes from Boston. Even kids who live twenty hours by jet from Boston, like me, can actually come to Colby and be part of the experience. And it’s all because of people like you, and I really appreciate that.

It’s important to be realistic and honest. Not every one of us might have had the greatest experience at Colby, right? But I can assure you of the entering class of 2006, nobody, not even one person, transferred to Bates.

That’s a good thing.

I want to speak to that particular student who might have had to be strong in the face of temptation and still pulled through. And I’m saying, “well done.” We all need to learn to be strong in life and compromise at times. And you probably did just that. Well done.

That was a bit of serious and deep material. Let us get back to something really really light now. Remember The Heights dances? You know, to be honest, I love dancing. I told you we drum and dance back home, and I love it. But apparently the Sketchy Heights dances became a fire hazard because we were all getting crammed in, loaded into this small area, and they had to go. That was pretty sad, but it’s okay.

I have, however, developed particular interest in the Waterville Police Department. I don’t know if we have any officers, plain clothes officers, in the house. If we do have them – welcome, we love you. And thanks for letting us know that you were coming.

I have, however, a special message for the Waterville Police Department, and I hoping after this my visa is not getting revoked. But I’ll tell you one thing. In Zimbabwe the economy is doing very, very badly. Inflation is above one thousand percent, right? And if you call the police and you need help, the officers are understaffed – they don’t have enough resources. They actually call you and they say “Do you have car?” so they can come — so you can go pick them up. Then they come help you out. So things are that bad.

So I’ve been seriously thinking about having an exchange program between the Waterville Police Department and Zimbabwe police, you know, because we could use some of their energy and time back in the motherland. But I respect the police, and I love you guys.

Let me say, once again, well done friends. As you leave Colby, I’ll be very honest with you. I am not going to ask you to change the world. No, I’m not. It’s too big for you. I mean, how many people do we have in the world?

Instead this is my special request to you all. Why don’t you start changing yourselves first? Sometimes change is important and effective if it starts from within. I think we are privileged to have been educated at Colby, and hopefully we can embrace the societal responsibilities our privileged position brings us. Like I said, some people have been around volunteering, helping out, going to Africa, India, Asia, wherever you went. That’s the spirit – that’s the attitude.

Let’s all be grateful we went to Colby. And to my special fellow international students, I’m saying “Well done guys.” It has been great at Colby. But as you leave to join the rest of America in the great cities, just go get them, meet them, say hi to them, interact with them. I think we’ll do just fine.

Keep the energy. Keep meeting new people, as I’ve said. And please, keep in touch. Because I will keep in touch with probably the rest of you. Please, come visit in Zimbabwe. Anytime. Call me, e-mail me, Facebook me, and I’ll be your host.

Lastly I need to say “may the good Lord richly bless you.” And guys, it has been real. Thank you for coming.


Known campus-wide for his sense of humor, Francis Tapiwa Chapuredima is an economics major with a concentration in financial markets and minor in mathematics. He is grateful that his scholarship donors will be in the audience. “I’m hoping they will be so proud and they will see the immediate reward of their generosity,” he said. An active volunteer, Chapuredima hopes one day to return to Zimbabwe to “be part of the change that my country needs.” The roughly 465 seniors in the Class of 2006 elected Chapuredima, an Oak scholar at Colby, to give the address.

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