Kigali, 10 February 2017
Good evening and I want to welcome you, and also express my great pleasure to be with you tonight to celebrate the first decade of the vibrant partnership between Oklahoma Christian University and Rwanda.
Thank you all for coming, especially those who travelled long distances to be here.
I thank President John deSteiguer for his commitment. The hard work that he and his staff put into these important programmes is deeply appreciated.
I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Mike O’Neal, the former President of OCU, a friend, and more or less a citizen of Rwanda.
He played the key role in initiating and driving our partnership more than a decade ago, as he has just been explaining.
So we thank you, Mike and Nancy, for the years of dedicated service to our nation.
They first visited Rwanda in 2004 with OCU trustee Richard Lawson and his wife Pat, and that’s where the relationship started. By the way, I want to ask right from the outset that you pass our best wishes and greetings to the Lawsons.
They saw what we were trying to accomplish in Rwanda and also how Oklahoma Christian could make a real difference.
Most importantly, they understood that our approach was fundamentally values-based, much like OCU’s educational philosophy.
It was therefore a meeting of both minds and hearts and under Mike’s leadership, the Oklahoma Christian community took immediate action.
In 2006, the Presidential Scholars Program was born and the first ten Rwandans arrived on campus in Oklahoma.
Today, OCU offers an MBA right here in Kigali, as you have heard from the speakers, and hundreds of young Rwandans have benefitted from an Oklahoma Christian education. Many are now working here at home, contributing to our country’s development.
In addition, an incredibly diverse range of beneficial initiatives have blossomed over the years, undertaken together with the many new friends who have gotten to know Rwanda because of their connection to OCU.
The relationship with Oklahoma Christian is, without doubt, among the most productive and meaningful that we enjoy with institutions of higher learning around the world.
In our view, that strength comes back to the shared character traits and positive mindsets that we recognised in each other from the outset, and which we seek to instil in our young people.
Let me remind you of just one example. The first Rwandans who came to Oklahoma Christian didn’t just live in dormitories. They stayed with host families and became part of a home.
Over time we saw that these families had come to love our children as their own; and thank you, all of you, in the Oklahoma family. They helped our students to be the best they could be.
I would like to commend the OCU alumni for two things in particular.
First, for working hard to get good results, even where it might have been a struggle to catch up academically and linguistically.
It is important to understand how important this is in our country’s context. Success is never just about the individual who achieves it.
When each of us performs at our best, we create new possibilities for others that may not otherwise exist.
Secondly, it is admirable to see the alumni coming together to give back to our country. The Alumni Association and the Scholarship Fund are very important steps in this direction.
I wish to of course, as we have been informed earlier, mention that Jeannette and I are very proud alumni of OCU. So we will contribute.
I can only say to all of you: Keep it up and continue to build on these efforts in various ways going forward.
The story of Rwanda and Oklahoma Christian University is a valuable lesson to all of us about the power of human relationships and shared values to drive change and sustain ambition.
One of the traits we share, again, is tenacity in the face of adversity. Our respective experiences have shown us that you can come from Rwanda or Oklahoma, or anyplace else, and strive to be among the best.
That is why it is also important for us to continue on this journey together for many more years to come.
I wish to once again thank you, the leaders of Oklahoma Christian University, and the members of that family, which has become our own. We will do our best, within our means, to ensure that this relationship continues to be a very productive one.
Thank you, God bless you, and enjoy the remainder of the evening.