Nearly 35 years ago I came to this country to teach at a small college down the road in New Haven. Less than a year later, the first university to which I was invited to give a public lecture was this one. Professor Gene Golob invited me to speak at the College of Social Studies, of which he was one of the founding spirits, and I gave a talk on “Other People’s Gods.” It was about understanding the traditional religions of West Africa. I thought it was a pretty good talk … but I was less and less sure as I waited to see if I’d be invited back to lecture here again. Well, just thirty-three years later, I got a message from President Roth asking me if I’d come back once more and join you today to receive an honorary degree. And my first thought was, “Finally, they’ve asked me back. Maybe, that talk wasn’t so bad after all.”
But actually it was all fated from the start. You see, I was baptized in the Wesley Methodist Cathedral in the center of Kumasi, capital of the Asante region of Ghana. And it was named, like this University, for John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. So I guess that I had an inside track to this day.
My father and grandfather were elders of that church. I grew up with a great respect for the Wesley brothers, John and Charles. In my father’s language, we have a proverb that runs:
Ösaman pa na yéto no badin.
It’s a great departed spirit after whom we name a child.
Same, of course, for a university. So, for me, as a child of Kumasi Wesleyan, today is an especial joy. And now that I’m going to be a proud member of the class of 2016, I guess I won’t need to wait 33 years for the next invitation.
So, thank you so much, for this great honor … and I’d like to leave you with one more of our wonderful Akan proverbs.
Abé se: wannya opuro dwonsö a, anka öremmere da.
The palm tree says: if it had not received the urine of the squirrel, it would never have ripened.
Pity. If I had more time, I could have told you what it means. But I guess I don’t need to. Everybody knows that Wesleyan grads are among the smartest people on the planet. May your curiosity advance with your knowledge, and may adversity only speed your ripening.