Remarks at Book Donation: Chinhoyi High School
Remarks by Ambassador Charles A. Ray
Book Donation: Chinhoyi High School
June 7, 2012
Good morning. I’d like to thank Mr. Muyaka, Chinhoyi High School’s Careers Advisor and Librarian, for helping to organize this event and the Headmaster for inviting me here today and giving me this opportunity to speak with you. I look forward to any chance to visit schools and spend time with students. There are few things I find as exciting, invigorating and inspiring than surrounding myself with the enthusiasm and idealism of Zimbabwe’s youth. So I mean it when I say that it’s a pleasure to be here with you today.
As students, I hope I am safe in assuming that you are all avid readers. Perhaps some of you are even avid writers. Reading is one of the great achievements and pleasures of life. Never take for granted the education you’re receiving and the fact that you are able to read many different types of books – in too many parts of the world, and in some parts of Zimbabwe and the United States, illiteracy remains a big problem.
The ability to read is central to our growth, development, and empowerment as people. Reading can give birth to new hope and new ideas.
Reading can not only inspire our dreams, but can give us the tools and information necessary for making those dreams come true.
Reading gives us access to other cultures, environments, and countries. I grew up in a small town in East Texas at a time when the only prospect for furthering one’s education was to leave home. Had I stayed in my small home town, the highest profession I could have aspired to was being a teacher. While that is one of the most noble professions available, I wanted to expand my world more. So I began to read voraciously everything I could get my hands on. Books led me far away from the prejudice of the segregated South and of my small town, to distant corners of the globe and different historical times. Books opened up possibilities I never otherwise would have considered and showed me just how large and diverse our world is. And, most importantly, it motivated me to keep reading and to continue learning.
You might note that I did not say “textbooks.” Textbooks, school books, reference books—those are all essential in helping you study and do well in your studies. I understand their importance. But what I’m talking about—what truly expanded my knowledge and helped me see beyond my small community— are books outside of your school syllabus.
Novels, non-fiction, history, and good quality magazines. You should stretch beyond textbooks and cultivate a broad knowledge of today’s world that expands your worldview. Whether it’s a novel set in a different country and time period, a biography of a great leader or a book of poetry—always be reading.
For me, the love for reading led naturally to a love for writing, something I have now been doing since I was a child and that has become a great passion of mine. My writing is both a fun escape and a way to focus my thoughts and efforts. As we go through life, these are important things for us to balance. Life should be enjoyed yet we should also leave this world a better place. It is too easy to let the days slip by – especially as one gets older – but there is so much we can do to make things better for the next generation. That is in part why, in addition to the fiction I have written, I wrote three books on leadership and civic responsibility in the hope that they might have some positive impact on readers.
Last year, my Embassy published a book of my essays especially for young people. It is entitled “Where You Come From Matters Less Than Where You Are Going.” I’ve brought 40 copies with me that I am going to leave with you.
Now you may wonder—why the long title? Well, it comes from something that my grandmother used to say when I was growing up and I think it serves as a great lesson to us all. In fact, I learned a great deal from my grandmother. The wisdom she shared with me and the values she imparted to me helped form me into the person I am today. As such, it seemed fitting that the title should come from her.
This title is more than a saying, though. It is something that I have found to be a basic truth in life—and it is the encouragement I want to leave you with today. You see, if people were to have predicted the trajectory of my life based simply on where I was from, they would have likely been way off the mark. The small Texas town I grew up in had about 700 people, mostly farmers. My family didn’t have much money and I didn’t attend privileged schools. As I’ve mentioned, I grew up in a time of racial segregation and discrimination.
I did not come from the background one expects for a future ambassador. Yet, for the second time in my career, I am serving as the representative for the President of the United States in a foreign country.
Now, this is not something that happened overnight.
A lot happened along the way— 20 years as a U.S. army soldier, fighting in the Vietnam War, marriage, children, and finally taking our foreign service exam to become a diplomat. Yet if there’s one thing that remained the same through it all, it was my devotion to lifelong learning. No matter my age or stage in life, I have never stopped seeing myself as a student. I know there is so much more for me to learn, know, and understand, and I am eager everyday to grow in this way. The more I understand the world and people around me, the better equipped I am to make a positive impact on it—and them.
For you young people, the current and future leaders of Zimbabwe, as you begin to cultivate the habit of reading and develop a passion for lifelong learning, I hope that you will be encouraged, exhorted, and inspired to press on in the goals that you have for both yourself and your country. In order to do this, though, you will need to be effective communicators – reading will lead to greater success in writing, as I have mentioned, and also in speaking. Public speaking is a skill that needs to be practiced. We all begin modestly, and with practice, we learn to stand confidently and to present ourselves proudly.
After I finish speaking, some of Harare’s best poets will perform for you.
I want you to take note of their confidence, purpose, clear intention to communicate an idea. Think to yourselves how you can learn from them, and from the messages I’ve presented here today, so that you grow into stronger, more confident young people with the skills to succeed in life.
I hope that you always remember the things that matter most in life:
- It is not what you do, but how you go about doing it;
- It is not who you say you are, but who you are when no one else is watching;
- And it is not where you come from, but where you are going.
Thank you very much for having me here today, I would be pleased to answer your questions.