17 August 2012

Liberia: Closing Ceremony of the 2012 Summer Start Program, USAID Excellence in Higher Education for Liberian Development Project

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Remarks by Chargé d'Affaires a.i., Ambassador Michael Arietti

Good morning,

Let me first say how pleased I am to be with you today. One of the greatest needs in Liberia is well-trained young people to carry the country forward. The Summer Start program is a great example of how the Government of Liberia and the private sector can work together to create greater educational opportunities for committed young Liberians. The US Government and people of the United States are pleased to support this program.

All of you in this room, simply by being here, have shown your desire to be a part of building Liberia's future. We are counting on you to be successful students, and future successful professionals.

Through the USAID EHELD project, we are supporting Cuttington University and the University of Liberia to create Centers of Excellence in Agriculture and Engineering.

These Centers of Excellence in Agriculture and Engineering will support progress. They will produce graduates who will build much needed infrastructure and who will modernize agriculture. The project is working with the universities to improve curricula and quality of teaching so that Liberian graduates will be equipped with modern knowledge and skills.

These Centers of Excellence will only succeed if there is a supply of committed, enthusiastic and able students prepared to study hard and strive for success after graduation. This is why each of you is so important.

As professionals in these fields you will serve as role models. You will help improve access to education, health services, and opportunities in all levels of society. You can help to build a more prosperous Liberia.

A more prosperous Liberia will mean making things - which is the job of engineers - and growing things - which is the job of agriculturalists. To prosper, agriculture must become, not just a way of feeding farm families, but a way to create wealth and jobs. For this Liberia needs agriculturalists. Also, of course, food needs to get to the people who need it and who will buy it. This requires roads and transport - also the job of engineers. To support these efforts and to improve the quality of life, Liberia needs electricity and clean water - again, the job of engineers. We all understand that there may be untapped wealth in the petroleum sector. To release this wealth, Liberia needs engineers. We must also remember that expanded, modern agriculture requires machinery for harvesting and for food processing and that crops require water management - so, Liberia needs agricultural engineers.

You can see then that the future of Liberia is indeed in this room.

There will be many expressions of thanks today, but let me now thank you for being here, for your efforts, for your time, for choosing agriculture and engineering as careers and, as a result, for your commitment to Liberia.

However, I know there is more to this group of students than your commitment to these subjects. I know we have some of Liberia's best performers in the West African Examination Council exam here at Summer Start. This is something for all of you to be proud of and it is an indication of the success of the 'student pipeline' being developed for the University of Liberia and Cuttington University with the support of the USAID EHELD project. We also have students here who attended Summer Start last year at Cuttington University. Some of you have returned to participate again and to mentor fellow students. Some of you are senior students who have participated in our programs during the last two years, attending careers fairs and giving presentations and, during Summer Start, assisting with teaching, perhaps as a route to becoming the faculty of the future. To you, for your commitment to your fellow Liberian students, thank you.

Over the four weeks of Summer Start, you have experienced many aspects of university life. You have had expert guidance, you have learned some new life skills, and you have had careers talks, inspirational speakers and field trips. You have worked as teams and have learned problem solving and project management skills. You have mixed with international scholars and you have learned to live together as a group. This is thanks to the wide range of people who are here to support you.

We commend the team from the University of Michigan for their work here. We respect and admire your commitment to your task and to the future of Liberia. I would like to thank you deeply and, more importantly, I know your students thank you, as well.

We also commend the Peace Corps volunteers. Yours is an important addition to the Summer Start project this year. Peace Corps already impacts the lives of so many Liberians and now they are volunteering their time on these summer programs. To these Peace Corps Volunteers, thank you.

We have heard of the faculty from University of Liberia and from Cuttington who have worked hard with you and gotten to know you. And we have heard of the co-ordination carried out by the two Summer Start Directors. To Liberian professionals and academics who have gone that extra mile to help the youth of this country, thank you.

The Summer Start program has also been a pioneer in a different way. The Summer Start students are the first to occupy the new dormitories at the Fendell campus. This is a big step forward for the University of Liberia and is, I hope, the beginning of a campus community that will become a vibrant seat of learning.

Finally, back to the most important people here today - you students. You who are seeking to embark on careers in agriculture and engineering. I can see that you are proud and that you are excited by the future. I envy the next US Ambassador here when you graduate who will share the pride and excitement of that day. Your studies are critical to the future of Liberia. It is a long, hard path to follow and you will experience highs and lows, you will experience frustration and reward, but you will get support from the University of Liberia, from Cuttington University, and from the Centers of Excellence. And I promise that improved opportunities in education will continue to be a high US priority.

I commend you again for your commitment to your country and I wish you well in your endeavors.

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