In the late 1950s, a young man looked down on the plains of Kenya and thought there must be more to life. It’s not that there was anything wrong with his life – herding goats – but there were so many things that needed fixing in his country.
The young man wrote to universities across America, pleading for a place that would allow him to further his education so that one day he could return to Kenya to put things right.
The University of Hawaii – not a bad location, I guess – offered him the place that he needed. In 1959, he became the first African to study there. He graduated in 1962 with a degree in Economics and later achieved a Masters degree from Harvard University.
Whilst in Honolulu, however, he had met and married a white American. In itself, this must have been quite something back then. Laws banning marriage between white and black Americans dated back to 1691. One university in the state of South Carolina banned inter-racial dating, unbelievably, until the year 2000.
The young couple had a baby boy before the father returned to Kenya to take up a role as a senior economist at the Ministry of Finance. The boy – whose name, translated into English, means “blessed” – only met his father again once, ten years later during a brief holiday.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the boy struggled, growing up mixed-race in a city with very few black people. He got in with the wrong crowd, dabbled with class A drugs and then pulled himself round, eventually attending Columbia University in New York and later Harvard Law School.
Rather than take the normal route of getting a high-powered, highly paid job with a law firm, the young man devoted his energy to helping the poorest people of Chicago. When he first dated his now-wife Michelle, she remembers his car because you could see the road through holes in the floor of the car.
Perhaps a sense of public service was just in his blood. By 2008, the young man had become the first non-white President of the United States of America. Barack Obama, son of a goat herder from Kenya, became leader of the free world.
Obama’s story tells of a man, an imperfect man, with emotional intelligence and senses of responsibility and compassion. The world needs you to take up his mantle and provide leadership. The reading at the start of this assembly mentioned the challenges of trade, war and poverty that we face. The problem is, that speech was written 60 years ago and now we face those problems again.
On 12th December, this country has an opportunity to decide who is best-placed to take on those challenges. Here at Fulneck, you will be able to vote too, in our Mock Election. Mr Chilvers and Mr Middlemiss have already started to sound out candidates but nothing is decided and those candidates will need advisers and supporters. They will also need the help of election organisers.
In the end, on the 12th December, you will decide which party has the best policies to take our country forward. Some of the policies you will immediately like, others you will instinctively dislike – that’s politics.
Thought for the day, taken from one of Churchill’s most famous wartime speeches:
“This is no time for ease and comfort. It is time for dare and endure.”
In the end, your generation will provide the leadership that brings peace, sustainability and prosperity for all. Your training for that task has already started. If the son of a goat herder can do it, why can’t you?