Graduation Speech delivered by Bamidele Salako at the Inaugural Graduation Ceremony of the Grooming for Greatness Fellowship on Saturday, September 17th, 2016

Ladies and gentlemen,

On behalf of the inaugural graduating class of the Grooming for Greatness Fellowship, I want to say a big thank you to everyone, mentors, family, friends, colleagues and associates who have honoured the invitation to be part of and to witness the successful conclusion of the pilot edition of one of the most transformative events that’s happening on the African Continent.

When I learned that my fellows had conferred the special honour of delivering this speech on me, I thought how cruel they must be and what great injustice to have left me the onerous task of recounting a success story whose prologue is just being written – an experience which no set of words, even if crafted and spoken by the legendary Cicero, could aptly describe.

The fact that I stand before you doing this is a rousing testament to the impact of this fellowship. The pre-G4G me would have dodged this task by artifice. The post-G4G me has learned to be prepared, to dare what I dread by addressing limiting thoughts and mindsets that impede self-actualization and to be able to step up and lead when duty calls – just few of countless enduring lessons imbibed in the past year.

The gaping leadership deficit in our nation today and the attendant stark realities of daily life betray the essence of the Grooming for Greatness Fellowship which we have ingeniously acronymized to G4G. The fellowship itself epitomizes the kind of response that is required today to fashion for ourselves a continent and a nation that we can proudly call home where talents, potentials and dreams don’t just battle to survive but enjoy the right to be maximised and to thrive in a climate deliberately designed for growth.

For too long, outstanding African individuals who have become paragons of inspiration through track records of sterling personal and professional accomplishments have stood on the sidelines and bemoaned the stifling paradigms of their home countries from the gilded comforts of their self-created El-Dorados. They speak of their belief in Africa’s potential from aloof positions, decry the ills that dog the continent ever so passionately but stop just short of taking those positive little steps that can drive the change they appear to espouse.

But we in Nigeria are thankful for models of aspiration like the Founder of the Grooming for Greatness Fellowship, Mrs. Biola Alabi, who has put her money where her mouth is and has demonstrated enviable courage to embrace the selfless task of shaping the future of this country and this continent as well as rewriting the Nigerian narrative by sacrificially pouring herself, her experiences, her insights, her wisdom, and even her compassion into a new generation of leaders.

It is such demonstrated belief in us, in our dreams and in our leadership potential that has inspired us over the past year and crystallized our resolve to chase our dreams, defying the odds; to uphold our values, regardless of the opposition; to do right by everyone within our spheres of influence, no matter the cost to ourselves; and to work hard not just for prosperity but for the good of posterity.

The fellowship modelled the kind of equal and unfettered access to opportunity that Nigerian youths yearn for – that a disadvantaged background does not have to translate into a disadvantaged future. It was why a one-time low-life like I, who became so through several unsavoury background experiences, but who managed to turn his life around can have a place at this table. That’s why a one-time local farmboy like Jide who, after school, worked shifts on his father’s farm in the obscurity of rural Nigeria but who through determination, carved out a life of purpose and meaning, can be numbered in the graduating class of such a prestigious fellowship, considering the pedigree of the founder and the calibre of the fellows.

We all are grateful beyond words for the investment of time and other resources. The significance of this unique opportunity is not lost on any one of us. We are thankful to all our mentors who facilitated different sessions. We were greatly impacted in two insight-packed sessions by Mr. Adewale Audiffren who told us that the first point of leadership failure was to build a brand or business that dies when we die AND also counseled that stepping aside was no less a success than stepping forward. He taught us to define our own parameters for success early on and empowered us with invaluable insights on leading business and leading change.

Relying on his vast experience in the world of entrepreneurship, Piere-Alain Masson taught us that what confers viability on our idea is its ability to solve an existing problem, taught us never to lose our agitation and told us the answer is the market.

Tokunbo Ishmael brought unique perspectives on the indispensability of mentors and connections on our path to success, the need to feed relationships that work and the drive to shine not just within our companies but within our respective industries. Nimi Akinkugbe addressed any financial irresponsibility viruses that might have been plaguing us and led us expertly down the corridor of financial prudence and intelligence.

Rachael, oh Rachael! Rachael had us all spellbound and blew our minds away. She introduced us to us. I think I met myself for the first time. It was how we learned that leadership starts with leading self authentically. I believe every fellow leaves the academy with precisely defined and clearly articulated values that are non-negotiable. We’ve begun to lead with empathy, to inspire others to follow us and also, to maximise our connections.

It was always certain that such a carefully formulated and meticulously executed program would hold unique experiences for individual participants which my fellow fellow, as she would often refer to us, Tomi Aluko, has sufficiently captured. The experience was realer than any reality tv series could have been. The authenticity was profound. There were tears, there wear fears expressed, there were down moments when Temie was going to pack it all up at her startup and leave to take a job in America; but also, there were countless triumphs and in these we all shared. We leave as better people and so we know we can make better leaders.

I can authoritatively confirm that it is impossible to go through this fellowship and not become a pace-setter, a trail blazer and a change maker and above all a better human being. We went through G4G and G4G went through us. It’s why today we’re leaving the academy but G4G will never leave us. The values and lessons remain strongly within us. We are a family. We aren’t just G4G fellows, we are G4G and the world will know we came. Let’s Go and make a difference.

To a mentor of mentors, the founder of the Grooming for Greatness Fellowship, Mrs. Biola Alabi, because you came and responded to this call, our lives are better for it, our families, nation and continent will be better for it. Thanks for helping us sharpen our focus, for helping us refine our dreams, for helping us entrench critical values and for helping us approach the future more confidently.

Thank you.

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