Humanitarian leader, NBA legend and GU alumnus Dikembe Mutombo (SLL'91) delivers the 2010 College commencement address at Georgetown University. Good morning!
President DeGioia, let me tell you again at this time how much I appreciate being here. It is good to see you again.
Good morning Georgetown University trustees, alumni, faculty, students, friends, family, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you, Dr. Sobanet, for those kind words.
I cannot sufficiently thank you for the honorary degree you are giving to me today. I feel particularly fortunate to have received two prestigious honors from Georgetown University in the same year. This is better than winning an NBA Championship.
I will never forget how emotional I felt when I learned that I would be one of the recipients an honorary degree and that I would be asked to speak to the 2010 graduating class today. As you kindly invited me - it was not in my nature to refuse. I would like you to know I feel absolutely at home here, and not as a stranger.
Dear graduates, I can recall very distinctly the journey I took to get to where each one of you is today. I remember my first day when I arrived at this beautiful campus that we call home of the HOYAS on August 27, 1987. It was the beginning of my new life, new journey on American soil where I was able to take advantage of the wonderful opportunity that was given to me by to obtain a first-rate education. Life on campus was never boring. In fact it was often very exciting. I remember the time I almost caused a fire in our dorm. As you may know, athletes in training require frequent meals. One day, I got a bit tired of the cafeteria food and I decided to make some fried chicken. I went to Safeway where I bought chicken, flour, and some oil. I put them together the way I thought it would work and I ended up with a small kitchen fire. After this, my roommates never allowed me to cook chicken again, only breakfast. My fellow students were very friendly and wanted to make sure that I experienced life in a new climate and a new country to the fullest. On the day of the first snowfall in Washington, many people came banging on my door and my window to make sure that I would see my first snow. Unfortunately I had to disappoint them because I had already experienced snow a few years earlier when I traveled to Europe with my brother who was trying out for the national team.
Life on campus to this day represents for me a wonderful freedom. Although much hard work, determination and self-discipline is required to finish a college experience with a degree, there is so much that we take for granted.
Freedom of choice is precious, even if it is only exercised in making the decision to go to class or not, to do homework or to go to a party. Even as important is the freedom of expression.
Here in America we are used to expressing our thoughts and opinions without fear of retribution. This is not the case in many countries where students suffer and may even lose their life because of what they say or what they write.
The past four years have allowed you to come into maturity. Your freedom is so rich, but it comes with a price that has to be paid, which is hard work, determination and self-discipline. Each one of you here today was given a chance to demonstrate this freedom. Here on campus you were not surrounded by your parents day and night; you had to do your homework, go to class and sometimes you went to a party that should not have gone to, but because you made enough right choices, now you will receive a diploma from this institution. I am proud of you and proud to join you today in the group that has been called the Hoya Saxons.
I refer to one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: "The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically... intelligence plus character - that is the goal of the true education." As many of you know, I place a tremendous value on education. You see, where I come from, education is not free. In the Congo, the annual school fee per child is $65, and the average annual income is $140 to support an entire family. You might also know that less than 1% of the world's people have the opportunity to attend a four-year college.
Dr. King's quote translates to the values that my father Samuel Mutombo, a retired teacher and school superintendent, and my late mom Biamba Marie Mutombo, a homemaker and Sunday School teacher, instilled in me and my siblings. I can easily recall my experiences here at Georgetown University when I came to this campus with little English and spent 5 hours per day taking English classes and another 4 classes to keep up my 12 credits for my academic scholarship. It was not long after meeting Coach John Thompson at McDonough gym when I realized that my life would take a different and unexpected direction that would eventually bring me to the place where I am today. I did not know it at the time, but it did help me to achieve a dream of playing basketball in the NBA for more than 18 years.
Dear friends, the journey for me was not easy, being thousands of miles away from my parents, siblings and homeland, however, the work ethic that was instilled in me from childhood pushed me to accomplish my goal and reach my dream, which was to graduate from this prestigious university.
Dear graduates, you have just crossed the finish line that I also crossed 19 years ago and you are about to take another journey, which is finding a job, a place to live and putting food on the table. I am sure that your parents are also relieved and looking forward to helping you on your new journey.
This journey will take place during some hard economic times that our country has not experienced since the Great Depression, but my friends the world is getting smaller every day and some of the other challenges you will face in the world are war, climate change, and serious diseases like malaria which is killing 1.5 million children per year. HIV is a global health problem that continues to destroy the fabric of our society.
In Africa, some 25 million people have died from this pandemic and another 33 million are living with the virus. Only 4 million people have access to treatment. It was just published last week in the New York Times that the treatment costs have been cut in half to some of the hardest hit countries. The country of Uganda, which had shown such great progress in combating this virus, is now becoming a place where only 40% of the people with the disease are being treated and where they continue to see more than 100,000 new cases every year.
The clock is ticking as Africa waits. Dear graduates, this is why my Foundation and I have joined the fight to combat the spread of deadly diseases by building a new hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo which has served over 40,000 patients. Only 50% of patients can pay for their care and the challenge to sustain the hospital over the long term is huge.
As you move on your own life's journey, do not forget those who continue to suffer around the world especially on the continent of Africa where I am from. Please make a commitment that you will share the vision of the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation to help people so that they can help themselves. Join us now in the fight to eradicate disease and poverty around the world.
The bible says, to whom much is given, much is required, so when you leave here today with the degree in your hand what are you going to do to make a difference in this world? You do not have to be famous, to build pyramids or be Nobel prize winners, you can make a difference in your everyday life, with your family and your community.
Mother Teresa said, "In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love." Before I close this morning I would like to thank my lovely wife Rose Mutombo, my children, Reagan, Nancy, Carrie, J.J., Ryan, my father Samuel Mutombo, my mother-in-law Mrs. Lusamba Nkumba, the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation and a host of family members and special guests who are all here today.