Last week, I was invited by my alma mater, Makerere University, to speak to journalism and communication students in their freshman year. Here is an abridged version of my talk. Some other students may find it useful.
Nearly 22 years ago today, when some of your parents hadn’t even met, I sat in a similar class trying to figure out my future. I was in my early teens when Uganda liberalized the media sector moving away from radio dominated by death announcements to the top-40 music formats we enjoy today. Like many people my generation, I wanted to be a celebrity and I decided that Mass Communication was the easiest route to take.
As a student here, I spent a month undergoing training at CBS FM but I realized radio wasn’t for me. I turned to writing, publishing my first article as a letter to the editor. The appearance of my name in a national newspaper inspired me to become the writer that I am today. I know many of you have similar dreams, feel free to adjust along the way.
I am very grateful for the invitation by the Department of Journalism and Communication (the successor to the Department of Mass Communication). It is an honor and privilege that they found me worthy of your time. Thank you.
You’re lucky and even privileged to become a student on this pristine hill. Congratulations. Your course will take four years but I want you to imagine what you were doing four years ago. You were in senior two, perhaps worried only about your grub and Makerere University a distant future in your dreams. Now you are here living the dream.
Very soon, you will be out of this campus and on your own in this unforgiving world. I am not here to scare you but if you wait for four years to plan, you will be setting up yourself to fail. Start planning now what you want to be. Try all the options and see what works for you.
You have been enrolled into one of the best courses ever because of the skills you will be able to get. Writing, editing, video and audio production, news reading, photography, web design and publication, social media, public relations and a host of other stuff. I don’t think there is any other course like this. Your degree will be important but, in a world, where everyone has one, skills will determine your future.
I want you to think about Christiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, the best footballers today. They have coaches but the coach only gives them 10%. They figure out the rest on their own. They are usually the first to arrive at the training ground and last to leave — practicing free kicks, penalties, dribbling and such other stuff. They are talented but they know that talent isn’t everything.
Your lecturers will only give you 10% or less. You must be willing to put in the hours and be disciplined about it. Unlike in your secondary school, nobody here is going to come to your digs with a stick. The lecturers will teach whoever turns up and move on with their lives.
You must read as much as you can. CNN used to say that you are what you know. A journalism and communication student must know what is taking place in the world. You must learn how to write because in the career you have chosen, writing is essential. I don’t know of any good writer who doesn’t read.
You are lucky that you all have smartphones. If you don’t have, you are probably in the wrong class. I don’t mean an iPhone Pro-Max. Just a phone that can connect to the internet. That way you will know what is going on in the world at any time. But don’t forget that the Africana section in the library still exists where you can read newspapers and even international magazines for free.
Although I said that you are lucky to be here, don’t forget to network with others including your friends who may not be here. Set up groups where you can learn from each other. Networking is key. You need it now; you will even need it more in the years to come.
Don’t forget to have fun while here but HIV/AIDS still kills. Many people will want to sleep with you. Use a condom always. Delay pregnancy. You are 19 or 20 years old, there is no need to rush to become pregnant or impregnate somebody. At least give it another four years.
Alcohol has become a danger to many young people. If you are to drink, do so in moderation. If you are always drunk, you will not be able to study. And you never know when you will need this degree.
Thank you and may your dreams come true.
The writer is a communication and visibility consultant. firstname.lastname@example.org
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