World Food Prize winner shows, tells graduates that anything is possible

World Food Prize winner shows, tells graduates that anything is possible

October 13, 2019 16 By Stanley Isaacs


>>France A. Cordova: Ladies
and gentlemen the hall we sit in today was dedicated
70 years ago this month. On this historic stage more than 385,000 graduates have
received a Purdue diploma. This weekend 6,000 more from the
class of 2010 will join them. Graduates you may think
you have little in common with the students of 1940
but what you and every class of Purdue graduates share is
the tireless support of parents, relatives, teachers
and friends those who helped you reach this day. So, please take a
moment right now to show them how much
you appreciate them. [ Applause ] In a few moments you’ll march
up one side of this stage as students and stride
down the other as scholars. From this stage many of you will
tackle your first assignment as a caregiver. Some of you will
begin careers working for the National Weather
Service or in Hotel and Tourism Management. Others will go on to pursue
advanced degrees and some of you will touch the
future as teachers. Purdue graduates have
led Fortune 500 companies and launched cable TV networks. They’ve served as
mayors, governors, members of Congress
and cabinet officers. Some have made it big on the
Hollywood stage while others like Boiler Maker and Super
Bowl MVP Drew Brees have made us proud with their
performance on the field. And then there’s the stage that
knows no bounds, outer space. Two Boiler Makers launched
themselves from the Elliott Hall of Music ultimately onto
the surface of the moon. They’re joined by many other
astronauts and space engineers and scientists who hale
Purdue as their alma mater. One will be aboard
the last space shuttle to fly schedule for
next November. When I told that recently
to an acquaintance he said “Don’t all space shuttles
have boiler makers on them?” From astronauts to athletes,
nurses to nutritionists, Purdue alumni have made
their presence felt around this world
and high above it. Our speaker this
evening is no exception. Dr. Gebisa Ejeta walked
on this stage twice as a graduate earning a master’s
degree in plant breeding and a Ph.D. in genetics in
the 1970s and he has gone into the fields and farms of native Africa devoting
his career to fighting hunger and earning agriculture’s
most esteemed honor. Dr. Ejeta’s work is focused
on the production of sorghum, a major food crop for more
than a half a billion people on the African continent. His breakthrough research
developing sorghum varieties resistant to drought and parasitic weeds has
increased yields dramatically in many African nations. In October of last
year he was recognized by the World Food Prize
Foundation as the 31st winner of what is known as the
Nobel Prize for agriculture. One month later Dr. Ejeta was
honored by his native Ethiopia when the president to that
country awarded him the National Hero Award. The first ever bestowed for
work in science and technology. After receiving the
honor, Gebisa announced that his $250,000 in World
Food Prize winnings would go to establish an educational
foundation for Ethiopian and other African children. Dr. Ejeta is proof that
one person can make a real difference in our world. His labors to solve
the grand challenge of global hunger represent
the best in Purdue research and remind us that anything is
possible with the right amount of knowledge, skill and heart. Graduates, families and
friends please welcome to the stage Purdue Alumnus,
distinguished professor of agronomy and 2009 World Food
Prize winner Dr. Gebisa Ejeta. [ Applause ]>>Dr. Gebisa Ejeta: President
Cordova, members of the Board of Trustees, distinguished
guests, fellow faculty, members of the class of
2010, ladies and gentlemen. I’m honored to have been
invited to speak to you today. It’s a great honor to be asked
to be a commencement speaker at any college or university
but when the honor is bestowed by one’s own alma mater and
a university that I perhaps with a tinge of bias consider
one of the finest institutions of learning in the
land, the enormity of the honor reaches
greater proportion. Let me start by sharing with
you a personal testimonial on the value of education
and the pursuit of knowledge, the business that you’ve been
at for several years now and one that I hope you will
be in for the rest of your lives as
lifetime learners. As you may have learned
already I was born in a remote Ethiopian
village with no school. I seemed destined for the life
of most others in my village. As a child you herd the cattle, when you’re old enough
you get behind the plow and till the land, then you get
married have a family and carry on that endless cycle
with the next generation. It was my visionary mother who
dreamed bigger dreams for me and though illiterate herself
she recognized the value of education as my passport
out of that way of life and she was determined
to make it happen for me. I walked 20 kilometers to the nearest elementary
school every Sunday evening and walked the same
distance back home again on Friday afternoons. Through discipline and hard
work I earned a scholarship to a boarding school
that in turn enabled me to enter Alma College
of Agriculture. I graduated in 1973 with
a degree in plant science with the highest distinction
and at the top of my class. I came to Purdue University in
1974 and earned both my master’s and Ph.D. degrees
by the end of 1978. Upon completing my graduate
program I returned to Africa and served for five
years before I came back to join the Purdue faculty
nearly 26 years ago. Education opened up a new world
that was unimaginable to me and to most people
in the small village in rural Ethiopia
where I grew up. It gave me the opportunity to
engage in science and discovery and to have the audacity
to aspire for excellence in advancing knowledge
and serving humanity. It also made it possible for
my wife, my five children and I to have had a very different
way of life from that into which I was born and we
are very grateful for that. Class of 2010, you may not want
or need to follow in my path. At the end of this
ceremony, however, all of you will have
something in common with me; we will all be proud
Purdue University alumni. As you take your next steps out
into the world, you will find that I have certain truth. First, Purdue’s exceptional
reputation extends far and wide we are not only at the
cradle of astronauts but also as a center of great
science and technology and perhaps more importantly
as an institution committed to service from the extension
educators across Indiana to many unsung heroes of social
workers, pharmacists and nurses who provide badly needed
services across the land. Purdue faculty and staff also
routinely assist, collaborate and synergize with
other education and research institutions
with private businesses and industrial programs and
with philanthropy agencies and civic organizations helping
build successful public/public and public/private partnership
models in this nation and in so many countries
around the world. Second, just as Purdue’s
reputation extends around the world so does
its network of alumni. You will find that more than
40 alumni networks exist around the world but
it’s more than numbers. Perhaps, Purdue has a solid
reputation for excellence that opens many career doors and professional
networking opportunities. You’ll find that your
Purdue diploma will continue to add value to your
prospects in the years to come. Third, Purdue’s impact
can be seen and felt from the earliest days of
space travel and discovery to current efforts to
feed our hungry world and achieve global
food security. I would like to believe that Purdue’s global impact
has been generated not serendipitously but by design
through leaders with the wisdom to encourage and value a culture
of research with purpose, educating and nurturing each
new generation of leaders and building a community of
students, faculty and staff with a collective commitment
to the pursuit of excellence in the advancement
of knowledge suffused with service to humanity. There are many rewards in being
an alumnus of Purdue University but with those rewards
comes responsibility. A responsibility to uphold the
legacy of this great institution and use the excellent foundation
you have received here as a springboard or perhaps
as a launching pad for a life of accomplishment,
dedication and service. I’ve dedicated my professional
career to the service of humanity through
the science I practice. How appropriate therefore that
I would be addressing you soon to be graduates of agriculture,
consumer and family sciences, farming, nursing
and health sciences. This is because in my
view while education in every field has elements
of service to humanity, these three colleges are the
quintessential embodiments for human service and sustenance
and well being of personal and family life throughout
human civilization. Since being awarded the
World Food Prize last fall, I’ve been honored and humbled
by the many, many accolades that have come my way. Nothing honors me more however
than being considered the face of hope, an advocate for
science and the cause of the poor everywhere and
particularly those in the part of the world that I come from. I’ve worked very hard
since my early school days. The aspiration to excel and
dedication to service are mine but I could not have
accomplished what I have without the environment here at
Purdue than nurture my vision and the many kind
folks who encouraged and supported me
all along the way. I’m often asked what the
World Food Prize meant to me personally. Well, several years ago I heard
a make believe story being told wherein a grandfather
took his young grandchild to a high school graduation. Upon hearing some
nice things being said about the valedictorian of the
class the grandfather wishing to inspire his grandson
whispered to him and said “I want them to
say things about you, too, when you graduate
from high school.” To which the curious grandson
loudly said “What did they say about you grandpa
when you graduated?” It is possible just
probable than of the one of the advantages of my World
Food Prize recognition is that my grandchildren may
ask me that same question. I been blessed to have had
a very fulfilling personal and professional life filled
with opportunities to do well and to contribute to
the service of humanity. I’ve come from sleeping on a
dirt floor in rural Ethiopia to residing in a
comfortable bungalow in West Lafayette, Indiana. From an isolated village
in west central Ethiopia to literally traveling around
the world on behalf of science and the cause of the
poor, from a childhood with limited opportunities for
learning to a successful career in academia at one of
the foremost institutions of higher education
in the world. I draw on this personal
legacy in declaring to you that I expect nothing less
or wish nothing less for you. There is much joy
that comes from trying to do what is right while
earning an honest living. That is a deep rooted
American tradition that is world revitalizing. I have a hunch that your
generation may do so. I have no doubt that among all
of you soon to be graduates of Purdue University there are
many who also have aspirations to excel and desires to serve. If you do that you’ll
be satisfied with your professional success. You will feel gratified with
your service to humanity and you will have
made all of us proud. As you commit to a professional
career and pick a cause with which to serve
humanity I encourage you to define the geographical
domain for your service based on your personal degree of comfort whether it is your
local community, your state, your country or other
places around the world. Regardless of where you work
or who you serve I advise you, however, to guard against
instant gratification or keeping shallow scores. Nothing good is accomplished
easily or overnight. One of the 20th Century’s
greatest American scientist George Washing Carver
once said and I quote “There is no shortcut
to achievement. Life requires thorough
preparation — veneer isn’t worth anything.” I acknowledge that economic
times are difficult right now and prospects may
not look encouraging. I would remind you that I came from a much more
doubtful beginning but through perseverance, focus,
hard work, sense of commitment, great education and the helping
hands of others, I have arrived at what maybe considered the
pinnacle of an academic career. I was born into a world of
very limited possibilities yet here I am. I made it and I know
that you will too for we have one very
important thing in common. We have received
a great education from a world class university
and we live in the land of opportunity where
anything is possible. Class of 2010, congratulations
and best wishes; now go serve the world. Thank you very much.