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Nangula Shejavali ’06 delivered farewell remarks for the class of 2006 today at the 171st Commencement. She is the recipient of the George Wharton Pepper Prize, awarded to the senior who “most closely represents the Lafayette ideal.” Shejavali, of Windhoek, Namibia, received a bachelor of arts degree, magna cum laude, with majors in international affairs and Africana studies.

Before I begin my farewell remarks, I would like to thank you all for honoring me with this award and to recognize all the other nominees and finalists for their contribution to each of our experiences.

Coming from Namibia, I was immediately struck by the adjectives with which many members of the Lafayette community have described the African continent; among these are words such as “primitive,” “damaged,” and “disintegrating.” Yet, a recent survey conducted by the BBC in 10 African countries indicated that 90 percent of the people were “positive about their lives and proud of their continent.” Commencement presents us with an opportunity to come together with friends, family, and all of the Lafayette community to reflect on our use of the past four years and identify the necessary changes that we need to make in order to shape the success of our future endeavors. Considering the various obstacles with which the African continent is faced, it would serve us well to identify the ideologies that allow Africans to remain so optimistic in the face of these adversities.

One way in which these ideologies can be tapped into is through the lessons of African proverbs, one of which I would like to share. The proverb states: “Hunt in every forest, for there is wisdom and good hunting in all of them.” Looking back on your own experience, how have you diversified your hunt? Have you sought knowledge only from those people and places that looked most appealing or did you broaden that experience to include people of different backgrounds, economic statuses, job titles, races, religions, sexual preferences, and ethnicities? In the planning of a Dance Marathon, the setting up of an Extravaganza show, the winning of a football game, or your day-to-day experiences in the residence halls, how many times did you take the opportunity to create friendships with the custodians, grounds staff, secretaries? Did you limit your friendship circle to include only those that look, think, speak and act like you or did you embrace diversity in all its forms to enrich your Lafayette Experience?

Today marks the beginning of the rest of our lives. It presents the challenge to make those connections that we may have ignored due to misinformation from which we may have framed our entire perceptions. Before us lies the challenge to see the humanity in everyone we meet and to view him or her as a source for profound learning, regardless of background.

The proverb expresses the idea that knowledge may come from the least-expected places, and the wisdom that emanates from it, and the many other timeless lessons around which the people of Africa frame their worldview, is undeniable.

Like the 90 percent in that BBC survey, venturing out in search of a greater understanding of people, cultures, and experiences can only make us all the more resilient and optimistic of the bright futures that lie before all of us, in spite of the obstacles that may come. Today I am challenging you to remove yourself from your comfort zone, and hunt in those forests that may not look so appealing, but from which great wisdom and good hunting can be found.

Thank you!

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