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Decades ago, civil war ravaged Liberia as child soldiers roamed the streets with deadly weapons. A pregnant woman in Monrovia, fearing the two-day walk to the nearest clinic, planted her feet at the trunk of a banana tree and gave birth to a son. 

She named him Alplato, which means “afraid of war” in Bassa. That son, Alplato Chukpue-Padmore, addressed the crowd at the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences commencement ceremony on Friday, Dec. 13. 

Chukpue-Padmore’s story demonstrated to his fellow graduates the theme of his educational career:  “Your humble beginning is not the definition of your ending,” he said. He graduated with a master’s of public administration degree, a feat that seemed impossible just five years ago.

Chukpue-Padmore left his home country at age 20, at the peak of the Ebola crisis. Though he was a college junior, his grades forced him to start over as a freshman in the U.S. After his first semester, he lost financial support from home due to the Ebola crisis.

“I had one option,” said Chukpue-Padmore. “Pack my bag and go back to Liberia.”  But instead, opted to believe in himself and work even harder. 

From his difficult road, Chukpue-Padmore derived three important tips to share with his fellow graduates. First, he advised them to be okay with failing. Despite having a 4.0 GPA during his undergraduate study and serving as president or vice president of multiple student organizations, he had 41 unsuccessful job interviews after graduation. “You will fail,” he said, “but when you fail, fail big.”

Chukpue-Padmore’s second piece of advice was to remain humble. “Put aside your Ph.D.s and masters degrees. Disregard your honors,” he said. “Humility will take you places your degree will never even venture.”  

Finally, Chukpue-Padmore implored the audience to trust God. After finishing his master’s degree, he plans to pursue a doctoral degree in environmental policy.

Watch the full speech below: