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SPEECH BY THE SOUTH AFRICAN AMBASSADOR TO FRANCE, HIS EXCELLENCY TEBOGO SEOKOLO ON THE OCCASION OF THE 2020 GRADE 12 GRADUATION CEREMONY AT THE AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL  

"This is your moment to write your own history and to make a unique contribution towards building a humane, more caring, more equal and more united world.
We pass on to you this enormous responsibility because we trust your capabilities. We believe in your ability to change our world for the better".

Paris, France

20 June 2020
 
Programme Director, Mr Aaron Hubbard
Chair of the Board of Trustees, Madame Yvonne Lalonde
Head of School, Ms Jane Thompson
Faculty, parents, relatives and friends
The most esteemed Class of 2020
 
I bring warm greetings from the Government and the people of my country, South Africa.
 
Many thanks to Mathilde Ordonnez for her kind introduction and more importantly for the work that you and your fellow students are doing in South Africa through the Kalahari Club. Your act of solidarity is greatly appreciated by the people of Kuruman in South Africa.
 
To the Class of 2020, it is a distinct honor and privilege for me to join all of you as you celebrate this important milestone in your lives.
 
Graduating from High School or College is no mean feat. It took many years of hard work, discipline, dedication and commitment for all of you to be here today.
 
Some of you have had to overcome great difficulty. Many parents, families and in some cases communities have had to bear major sacrifices for you to be here today. And despite all of this you have made it.
 
So my first message to all of you today is that you are justified to celebrate this moment. This is your moment. You have earned it. It is a milestone you will cherish for the rest of your lives.
 
We are proud of you. We celebrate with you this great moment of achievement. Together with you we are excited to see you entering the next phase of your lives.
 
You are graduating at a time when the world is facing unprecedented challenges.
 
This is a time of great uncertainty, anxiety and even fear among many; brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is destroying lives and livelihoods.
 
This is also a time when the world is, once again, called upon to reflect on the painful legacy of humanity’s past – a legacy of racial discrimination and unequal access to opportunities. We saw this from the recent global protests mobilized under the #BlackLivesMatter.
 
Both the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent global protests against racism have brought sharply to the fore, one more time, the persistent fault-lines upon which our societies are built.
 
These fault-lines manifest themselves in rampant poverty, inequality, racial discrimination, unequal and uneven access to basic services and opportunities in many parts of the world.
 
Since the days of slavery and colonialism, generations before you have made some progress in responding to these challenges. Clearly a lot more still needs to be done.
 
Accordingly, my second message to you, the Class of 2020, is that: as you graduate at this time of enormous challenges – and however daunting the challenges may appear – this is YOUR moment to make a difference.
 
This is your moment to write your own history and to make a unique contribution towards building a humane, more caring, more equal and more united world.
We pass on to you this enormous responsibility because we trust your capabilities. We believe in your ability to change our world for the better.
 
You are the generation that is better educated, more connected, more assertive and more technologically savvy.
 
Do not let the challenges we face today deter you. Go out there and make a difference!
 
Young people have always been at the forefront of events that made history.
 
You too have what it takes to be makers of history. You too can change our world for the better.
 
We will always be there to guide you and support you, and to always assure you that your dreams are valid and that they matter.
 
When my generation graduated from high school and college, it was in the late 1980s and the early 1990s.
 
Much like what we are seeing today, that was a period of great uncertainty, anxiety and even fear among some sections of our society in my country; South Africa.
 
It was a period when apartheid was crumbling. Political leaders, including Nelson Mandela were being released after many years of incarceration. Negotiations towards a democratic South Africa had begun.
 
Sadly, this was also a period of relentless state sponsored violence aimed at derailing the process of negotiations. Many lost their lives. At that moment the road to freedom and democracy appeared as a distant illusion. 
 
As young people many of us contributed in the struggle against apartheid; sacrificing our education, while some paid the ultimate sacrifice.
 
In the midst of all of this gloom and despondency what kept us going was the genuine belief in the triumph of the human spirit – in particular, the triumph of justice over injustice; a belief that unity will prevail over divisions; a trust that tolerance is better than intolerance and the knowledge that peace and reconciliation was a better option to retribution and revenge.
 
We refused to give up on the hope of a new South Africa built on reconciliation, peaceful co-existence, equality and prosperity for all.
 
The pain, the adversity, the uncertainty and the anxiety of the time did not deter us. We were ready to make our contribution towards building a new and better society. We refused to accept a return to the past!
 
Drawing lessons from our days as high school and college graduates, my third message to the class of 2020 is that look beyond the challenges we are facing now.
 
Believe that, in the end, justice will prevail over injustice. It may take time, but it will happen.
 
Continue standing for what you believe in. Refuse to accept the status quo, let alone a return to the past. Be focused. Be disciplined. Never lose sight of the ultimate prize.
 
Strive towards the time tested values of compassion for others, fairness, tolerance, equality, dignity and justice for all.
 
Embrace unity and not division. Be prepared to embrace those with whom you differ; including those who have done you wrong. Embrace diversity.
 
We must do all of these things, for it was former President Nelson Mandela who taught us that: “Reconciliation means working together to correct the legacy of past injustice.”
 
Congratulations to the Class of 2020. Continue making us proud. 
 
Thank you.
 
Tebogo SEOKOLO, South African Ambassador to France