Being a keynote address delivered by Dr. Babajide Agunbiade at the Fall Commencement Ceremony of the Higher Place Christian University (HPCU), Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America, on October 10, 2020.
Hello, class of 2020!
Greetings, parents and congratulations to HPCU’s graduating class of 2020! You are incredibly lucky to be graduating from this bastion of excellence. And I thank you for that wonderful welcome. Thank you, President Abraham, for that beautiful introduction. I feel flattered. I thank the board, management, and staff of this great University. I welcome everyone here and the thousands streaming online.
I am grateful to the Chancellor and Board of HPCU for offering me an appointment as Pro-Chancellor of this University beginning January 2021. This is an offer I will give significant consideration. I hope that, regardless, I can continue to contribute to this great University.
Let me also remind everyone that this is a Christian University. As such, the Chancellor has asked for a biblical undertone in my address.
Ten months into the COVID-19 pandemic, around ten percent of the total global population of 7.8 billion has been infected by the virus, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Last week, estimates based on Johns Hopkins University data put the total cases globally at just over 36 million (around 0.5% of the global population). Other estimates tell us that this virus may have infected about 10% of the global population. It varies depending on the country; it varies from urban to rural, it varies between different groups. But what it does mean is that the vast majority of the world remains at risk.
I also want to use this opportunity to remind you to vote if you want to change this country’s course and pandemic, Vote! As President Obama said this week, “The 2020 election isn’t a few weeks away; it’s already here. Millions of Americans are already voting; make sure you stand up and join them. It’s going to be close. It could come down to a handful of voters just like you. So I’m asking you to bring this thing home. Leave no doubt. Vote early.” I call on everyone in this auditorium to make sure they vote their conscience.
You are graduating at a challenging time. There are a devastating pandemic and despair worldwide, and there’s never been a more appropriate time to ask ourselves these questions: What is my purpose on earth? Why am I here?
A personal experience will suffice. At age 14, I went to the local library of the elementary school University of Ibadan in Nigeria, looking for any good book to read. The library assistant on that day offered me a book on Thomas Edison. Up to that moment, I had never heard about Thomas Edison. My hero and inspiration then was a French soccer player known as Michel Platini who was generally regarded as one of the greatest footballers of all time. When I started reading about Thomas Alva Edison, an inventor, an intellectual, and astute businessman who lived between 1847 and 1931, I discovered that my fascination knew no bounds. Edison has been described, arguably, as America’s greatest inventor. Let us reflect on that for a second!
Like anyone of us, Edison had challenges. As a kid, he developed bouts of scarlet fever and turned completely deaf in one ear and barely heard in the other. Despite this, he became the world’s greatest inventor, holding over one thousand patents in his name in the US alone, as well as over five hundred patents in other countries. He invented and developed many electric power generation devices, mass communications devices, sound recording, motion pictures, and early electric light bulb versions. Thomas Edison has had a widespread impact on the modern industrialized world. He was one of the first inventors to apply the principles of organized science and teamwork to the process of invention, working with many researchers and his employees. He also established the first industrial research laboratory in the world.
During those trips to the library as a teenager, I would later discover that Edison had developed the economically viable, carbon-filament light bulb and founded General Electric. General Electric controlled three-quarters of the US electrical business in the late 1800s. In the 1980s, when I read about Edison, General Electric revenue exceeded most African countries’ GDP. During those decades, GE was the largest company in the world.
For the six months that followed, I went to the library as often as I could to literarily seek inspiration and drink deep from Thomas Edison’s inventive spring.
In those months, in a University town called Ibadan in Oyo State, South-Western Nigeria, I read voraciously about Thomas Edison every time I visited the library. I was naturally struck by the strong desire to be an engineer, like Edison, and work at the company he founded when I grew up. Before I stumbled on Edison, my dream was to be a barrister at law. Still, following my well-founded inspiration, my existential quest and journey to Edison and General Electric took me in a different trajectory. As I registered for core science subjects, I was so determined that I was one of the top two science students in my entire high school by the end of high school.
After college, Edison’s footsteps never disappeared from my field of vision. To cut a long story short, I competed with nearly a thousand people to get my dream job as a Lead Engineer at General Electric at Houston, Texas. I worked at General Electric for close to a decade, rising to become a Principal Engineer at one of the most critical GE business units, the GE Gasification Business Group.
Ironically, on such a successful journey, I could not arrive at the fulfillment and satisfaction I had craved. Without a doubt, it was a fantastic and challenging career, but after the excitement of the first few years, I became genuinely disillusioned. Like most people, I woke up every day to go to a job I had lost passion for, working with a great team I could no longer connect with, and getting paid less than I believed I was worth. It dawned on me that Edison found and aligned with his life’s purpose; he knew who he was, what he wanted and pursued it. I discovered, or so it seemed, that I had spent several years of my life trying to follow in another man’s footsteps. It was time to find my purpose and pursue it.
FINDING MY PURPOSE: WHEN YOU FIND YOUR PURPOSE YOU HAVE DOMINION
God created human beings to have dominion. In the book of Genesis chapter 1: verses 26-28 – God said:
Let us make man in our Image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in His Image, in the Image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them: Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
When God created humans, He gave us a simple task: be fruitful, multiply, and have dominion (authority over a field or profession). He did not say sing at the church all day. He did not say order Amazon packages every day; He did not say go to the club every weekend and pop bottles. Instead, He expects us to be fruitful, multiply, and have dominion. You have found your purpose in life when you have authority over your field or profession. I found out I could not entirely follow in Edison’s footsteps and claim to have dominion. Edison had control over his chosen field – he was the man that dominated the early electric component development.
Moving on, I searched for the least explored engineering field in the world, and found that it was Subsea Engineering, the most challenging engineering specialization in the world and had the least number of experts; it also had no Subject Matter Specialist in Africa, at least at that time. I wanted to be that expert with a commanding control over that field. With this epiphany, I started afresh, exploring a new field of Subsea Engineering. Yes, Edison taught me that the greatest tragedy in life is not death but a life without purpose. He lived his purpose and had offered everything before his life came to a glorious end — much as Paul said in 2 Timothy 4, 6-7,
“As for me, my life has already been poured out as a life offering. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.”
EVERYONE CAN BE SUCCESSFUL. SUCCESS IS BUILT INTO YOU. DOMINION IS INGRAINED IN YOU
To have dominion, one must know oneself and provide answers to some five weighty questions of human existence. The five questions are so important that they control the entire universe. Everything that every human being does is motivated by these questions. The poorest man sleeping under the bridge is trying to answer these five questions; the wealthiest men living in the big city struggle with these same questions. Every race, every creed, every ethnic group, every culture is fighting over these five questions. The questions wake you up every morning, and you think about these questions before you go to sleep every night. These questions influence and redirect the affairs of religious and military leaders; they control politicians and heads of government.
These five questions are: Who am I (What is my identity)? Where am I from (what is my source)? Why am I here (What is my purpose)? What can I do (what is my Potential)? And Where am I going (What is my destination)? The average human does not know why they are here. They wake up every morning going to a job they are not comfortable with, working with people with whom they do not share common aspirations, earning much less than they are worth, and dying too young from frustration. The average human on earth has no idea what their ability is. Over 90% of all human beings will live without accounting for 10% of their ability.
Those were the five questions that changed my life, working at General Electric. Those were the five questions I could not answer. Nothing is worse than being alive and not knowing why, waking up every day, wining and dining, breathing oxygen and not knowing why. You are already a success when you can answer those questions. Once you know who you are, you know what your purpose is.
From experience, every manufacturer wants his piece of creation to succeed. When God created man, he said in “Genesis 1-27,
“So God created man in his image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”
YOU ARE A PRODUCT OF GOD AND CREATED IN HIS OWN IMAGE
Every individual is motivated by success, and the amazing thing is that success is designed by God to be predictable; the antithesis is also true: failure is predictable. The predictability of success stems from the indisputable fact that life is designed for your success. Everything in creation is an enabler of such ultimate design. Being successful today, impacting people globally, is attributable to my resolve to tap into what God has already built inside me.
It is essential to know that God is more committed to your success than you are. As with GE products and such other globally recognized brands, success is good for their makers. Failure is also bad for the manufacturer. It destroys its Image, which is why any human failure tarnishes the Image of God. A life-changing lesson I learned while at GE was that once a product is made and GE puts its logo on it, that logo represents GE’s Image. The company went to a great extent to protect that Image – at all costs, I dare to add. It built an entire aftermarket group to protect the brand’s reputation, enabling them to inspect any equipment that had its name on it. As already stated, at GE, we built turbines, gasifiers, nuclear plants, iron, light bulbs, and thousands of other equipment and put every aspect of these pieces of equipment through extreme quality checks. After rigorous processes, we packaged them with their respective manual to guide the end-user. The word “Manu” means to ‘make’, and “al” means to ‘think’. So, ‘manual’ means the maker’s mind.
We always instructed our customers to study or ready the manual thoroughly before operating the equipment. But the question is: how many people read a manual before operating a piece of equipment? The manual is simply a book of promises and laws. In a manual, the first thing you will see is an image, and the second is the promise that the product will perform its intended function. The third is instructions that guide the user to specific experiences, such as” do not operate this equipment beyond the recommended temperature and pressure.”
Then you get to the last pages of the manual for the guarantees and warranties, which expressly indicate what the product is built to do for the user. If such instructions are obeyed to the letter, it is guaranteed that the product would perform as designed. And if there are any defects, the manual’s warning is to submit the product ONLY to an authorized dealer. There are a lot of dealers, but there are those professionally authorized for such services. The only certified dealers in the world are the ones the manufacturer sanctions, like Jesus Christ, in terms of the entirety of human life.
For instance, when jet engines are made, the manual includes what to do to make the jet engine operate effectively: the fuel to put in, operating temperature, and pressure. The manual also includes what not to do, and the type of fuel to not include, and the engine’s operating environment. And as long as these instructions are followed, the equipment is successful. When a manufacturer designs a car, they instruct that unleaded fuel should be used. If water is used instead, the car will definitely fail. They make all these thousands of equipment and provide relevant guarantees and warranties. To be sure, GE was not doing this for their customer’s sake but its integrity and Image.
THE FIRST THING GOD PLACED ON YOU WAS HIS IMAGE
When a company like GE or Apple can go to such an extent to protect its Image, imagine how far God will go to protect His Image (YOU) and reputation. The first thing God puts on you is the most important thing to him: His Image. You are a representation of your manufacturer. You are designed to succeed, to find your area of dominion. God has to ensure that the vision He gives you succeeds because His name and Image are on the line. We all have a responsibility to represent God wherever we go. Your success is good for God. If God has told you to start school, you have the ability. If He has told you to go into real estate, you have the ability; if He has told you to go into subsea engineering, you have the ability; if He has told you to start a business, you have the ability. When he told Thomas Edison to start GE, he had the ability.
God said in 1 Samuel 12:22 –
For the LORD will not forsake his people for his great name’s sake: because it hath pleased the LORD to make you his people. Psalms 106:8 – Nevertheless, he saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make his mighty power to be known. I will rescue you for my name’s sake— yes, for my own sake! I will not let my reputation be tarnished, and I will not share my glory with idols!
Dear 2020 graduates, with dominion, you have tapped into the success that God already created in you. The reason it is important to have dominion is to represent God’s best version of you. Make God proud when you fulfill your purpose in life. You represent God as his Image on earth.
In conclusion, dear graduates, in a world full of bigotry- Image matters, character matters. Decency matters. Being a good human and representation of God matters, and IT COUNTS! As you step out into the world, I wish you luck and God’s abundant blessing.
—Dr. Babajide Agunbiade is a Subject Matter Expert in Subsea Engineering based in Houston, Texas, United States