Chairman of Grain de Sel Togo Inc, Brad K Hounkpati’s address at the American National College Atlanta GA, Class of 2018. Here is his message full of hope!
“Good morning, President, Board of Trustees, Faculty, Staff, distinguished guests, family and devoted parents, friends and most importantly, the graduates, class of 2018.
I am truly honored and humbled to stand here and share few words with you on your very special day of graduation.
When I was asked to speak today, I did accept but did not really know what to share with you. So, I did my homework by reviewing many commencement and graduation speeches. Like others, I know that you may not remember even a word from my speech, but I am grateful I was given this unique opportunity.
So, what do I want to share with you?
A story of a young man who has come a long way, changing the impossible to the possible.
Well, coming from Togo, as former farmer and student, I would like to tell you part of my story, inspired by my mother and why that was important for me.
My mother wanted to have 5 children and why? I don’t know. I’m her first born. After me, she had 3 other sons, and she was expecting to have one girl. But few months later, my first brother passed away, so did the second and the third. Sticking to her goal, she conceived twin-boys and one boy, and they all died after few years. After taking a break, she continued her journey and today, she is mother of five: 3 boys and 2 girls. Despite the pain, sad moments, and discouragement she did eventually get what she wanted.
I know it was quite impossible, but she did achieve her goal!
Despite my mother’s challenges, she didn’t give up. Having spent these moments with her, I grew up with a spirit of dedication and perseverance. Given what we went through, I wanted to be 1) independent and 2) serve in the nonprofit sector, helping others and my community. Paraphrasing Kalu Ndukwe Kalu, I believe that: “… things we do for others remain as our legacy”. –
As an independent high school student, I used to grow sugar cane and other crops for a living and supporting my studies while helping my heroine, my mother, and my community. My plantation had suffered from sugarcane beetle infestation for years. As matter of fact, these black beetles fed on the roots of my crops, causing important damage and losses.
Unfortunately, I did not know anything about how to control these insects and there was no extension service available in my area – at the time. Again, getting all I wanted from my plantation appeared to be impossible.
Unhappy, I decided to become an agricultural engineer so that I could help others with insect pest control issues. After 4 years of study, I was offered a research assistant position at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Benin and my job was to study the same group of insects that were damaging my plantation few years back.
Funny or coincidence?
After nearly 2 years of research my advisor and I were proud to have discovered a new species of beetle, named after him. But beside such a happy finding, there was a serious challenge: no Beetle Taxonomist in the region to help us with the identification of all insects we collected. So, specimens were sent to Belgium and it took us 9 months to get the identification report back, which was needed for the defense of my Master thesis.
As a reminder, insect taxonomists are those scientist or biologists who describe, classify and identify insect biodiversity.
Because insect taxonomy expertise is lacking in the region, I took it upon myself to become one, but again there was no institution in the region for my training. My dream was about to be fall apart. It looked like it was going to be impossible.
A few months after my defense, a colleague of mine asked me to help him with a project – which would cost me all the money I had, but I did accept to assist him anyway. As we were about to finish his work, I found job vacancy from US Peace Corps/Togo: looking for someone who knew about agriculture, entomology, insect pest management and reforestation.
I turned in my application and I was later hired. During the course of my job at Peace Corps, we always talked about my insect taxonomy project and it seemed to be impossible in Africa. One day, Dr. Gabriel Tucker, my Program Associate Director advised me to apply for Fulbright Scholarship for a PhD in my dream field of insect taxonomy.
Hum, that presented another challenge: English language barrier because I speak many other languages, but not English. Thanks to Public Affairs Section of US Embassy in Togo, I was able to take an ESL (English as Second Language) class and pass my TOEFL and GRE tests. I took these tests 3 times before getting competitive scores in order to be admitted to US University. I was happy that I was awarded the Fulbright Scholarship to come to the University of Georgia for my PhD.
Once in the US, I faced many new challenges: language, culture, homesickness, etc. Throughout these difficult moments, I have developed my own coping strategies which now serve not only other Fulbright fellows and international students, but also were the guiding principles leading to the creation of my nonprofit organization: Grain de Sel Togo, Inc: a scholarship program, to help needy students in sub Saharan African and to some extent, participants of exchange program of US Department of the State. Today, Grain de Sel Togo, Inc. is the first initiative of its kind from an Africa Fulbright Alumnus. It is currently operating in the US, France and Togo.
In few months, I will defense my PhD dissertation in insect taxonomy, specializing on Lady bugs.
From the story I just shared with you, I learned that:
• it does not matter: how many obstacles, and challenges you face, try to strategize and use these difficulties as opportunities to learn, to discover, and to build and you will thank yourself for your determination.
• It does not matter how many times you fail, keep on trying and don’t give up until you succeed.
• It does not matter how long it could take you to reach your goal, just keep pushing.
• If you pursue your dreams, with conviction, you will not only achieve them, but you will also get all you want out your life.
• Impossible is just a word, it’s not a certainty. It is often whatever we think it is.
If I may offer some advices today, I would say:
• Be always grateful!
• Don’t give up when things become harder and seem to be impossible. That is often a sign that you are almost there.
• Be open and never be too shy to reach out to others and your elders!
• If possible, put smile on people’s face by giving back in every way you can.
• Don’t forget, Impossible Is Just a Word.
I hope you will find some strength and courage through these few words.
Congratulations, graduates/class of 2018.”
4th August 2018, Chamblee, Georgia