The Dilemma of the Cap and Gown


Ashesi University Graduation Ceremony

For many in the graduating class, after all the caps have been tossed in the air and memories captured on camera, there is a bigger hurdle to surmount. The uncertainty of whether to pursue a career of passion or go grab the highly rewarding jobs.

The morning is not as bright and sunny as most Saturdays are. The atmosphere is filled with fog and dust, which comes with the Harmattan winds, making breathing and visibility a bit difficult.

Yet on campus, the unsettling weather is not enough to dampen the high spirits and smiles on the faces of the graduating seniors. Today is a special day for them. It is an entire day of celebration, from the main ceremony to the after-parties lined up outside campus.

Graduating students and faculty are draped in the symbolic caps and gowns, underneath are dashing suits and dresses to mark the day. Parents, siblings, friends of graduates and well-wishers have descended on campus to share the glory and make memories of this day. Every little parking space is filled with fleet of vehicles.

After at least four years in this private university, over 2,000 graduates will be conferred with bachelors and master’s degrees in their respective courses of study.

For many in the graduating class, after all the caps have been tossed in the air and memories captured on camera, there is a bigger hurdle to surmount. The uncertainty of whether to pursue a career of passion or go grab the highly rewarding jobs.

Prospects looked good when these graduates were filling out their admission forms. Fast forward to today, Ghana is struggling with an electricity crisis which has led to job cuts, low investor confidence and plummeting entrepreneurial zeal over the last four years. Unemployment rate continues to grow. According to the Ghana Statistical Service, unemployment is pegged at 5.5% as at 2014.

The guest speaker of the graduation ceremony admonished the graduates from solely pursuing administrative jobs. “Do not only go chasing after white collar jobs but also think of becoming great entrepreneurs whose businesses will span generations.”

But does there exist an enabling environment for young graduates who want to become entrepreneurs?

Farouk Mohammed, 24, graduates witlegon-graduationh a second class honours in Business Management. He is skeptical about establishing a start-up he has always dreamed and developed a full blueprint for. “I had everything planned out. Open an internet and multimedia hub for many young people who want to work and trade online but with this ‘dumsor’ phenomenon, I will lose big time,” Farouk said. “So I better settle for some bank or office job for now.”

Every year, thousands of graduates head out into the real world, usually in a dilemma. On one hand, they have just been told by lecturers and graduation speakers that the world is theirs to make, own and shape. Also, they are the hope for the future and that they should follow their dreams and passions, no matter the obstacles that come their way. On the other hand, the job market has lesser spots than the graduating numbers, the business climate is harsher for start-ups and it sounds better to get a high paying job than actually following your passion or dream. How can graduates reconcile these two contrasting worlds?

Ms. Ruby Melody Agbola is a trained management professional with specialization in Strategic Management and Public Administration. She believes high rewards and money are only false needs for graduates. “It is more intrinsically fulfilling to do something you have inherent interest, competence and ability to do than to follow money,” she said. “At this stage of your life as a graduate, what you need is to find a firm that is into your passion, learn the rope and culture of the organization so you can grow with experience. Indeed, that should be the motivation of every graduate today.”

But not everyone agrees with Ms Agbola.

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NIIT Graduation Ceremony

Kofi Quansah is standing behind his mum’s Ford Explorer, parked amid the hundreds of vehicles of families celebrating the conferment of degrees on their wards. He takes out snacks and drinks from the car’s trunk to share among his friends as they reminisce their time in school.

Kofi speaks about his career with a conviction of financial value and benefits as the main premise. “My mum has spent so much money to see me through this school reading Environmental Development Studies. But there are no real paying jobs in this area,” he said. “I am working on securing a job with an oil firm which pays enough so I look after my younger siblings and parents. I want to be financially secured as soon as possible because man has got bills to pay.”

All over the world, graduation speeches are filled with upliftment and idealism, which may be incongruent with happenings on the ground. Many graduates are challenged to go into the world and fix the mess while sticking to their dreams and passions.

Ms Agbola believes graduates should learn to delay gratification. She charges them not to look at “the quick, instant rewards but to develop their strengths and weaknesses as they learn on the job.” For Ms Agbola, her wealth of experience through life has taught her that bigger rewards come after a person has mastered a trade and is indispensable in that area of work or company. “You may get the high paying job you craving for, and yet become miserable in that workplace.”

By Henry Derben

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The Dilemma of the Cap and Gown

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