Nobel Peace Prize winner Yunus addresses Tuskegee University graduates

5/13/2012


TUSKEGEE, Ala. (May 12, 2012) — Tuskegee University conferred degrees on more than 500 graduates during its spring commencement exercises on Saturday in the Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James Center for Aerospace Science and Health Education.

Tuskegee University President Gilbert L. Rochon welcomed hundreds of proud graduates and guests to the 127th annual exercises. Remarks were also delivered by the Rev. Wylin Dassie Wilson, associate director of the Tuskegee University National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care; retired Maj. Gen. Charles Williams, Tuskegee University Board of Trustees chairman; Kimberly Woodard, Tuskegee National Alumni Association president; and Jesica Holley, Student Government Association president 2011-2012, who also graduated.

 

Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank and
recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, addresses
graduates at commencement Saturday, May 12 in the
Gen. Daniel "Chappie" James Center.

Muhammad Yunus, the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the Grameen Bank was the keynote speaker. During introductory remarks, Rochon told the graduates and guests about Tuskegee’s legacy of service and the importance the institution’s founder, Booker T. Washington, placed on helping former slaves learn to better themselves through education. He said Yunus and Washington were similar in their efforts to help people help themselves.

“This university was based on service … Based on that heritage, I can think of no better speaker to exemplify the commitment to alleviating poverty than our speaker for today,” Rochon said.

In his address, Yunus gave the audience some background on his life and explained how and why he started the Grameen Bank in 1983. As an economics professor in Bangladesh, Yunus said he saw a great disparity in lending practices, especially for poor borrowers. He said traditional banks bypassed the poor who had little or no collateral to borrow against.

“You have a very strange institution,” Yunus explained. “You lend money to people who already have money.”

Instead of banks, poor people went to loan sharks and became part of a cycle of debt and poverty. He decided that he could loan money to the poor and help them raise themselves out of the cycle. He began with a $27 personal loan to local craftsmen. He said his philosophy for running the bank was simple-he just did the opposite of whatever traditional banks did.

 “They go to men; I go to women. They go to the city center; I go to the village.” Yunus said. “…If you have absolutely nothing, you have our highest priority. We go to you first.”

Today, there are thousands of Grameen branches, including four in New York, and the bank lends more than $1.5 billion every year. The loans have a 97 percent rate of repayment; a rate higher than many traditional lending institutions.

Yunus said the purpose of Grameen and the more than 50 businesses that have been created out of the institution was not to make money, but to help solve problems. He warned against the pursuit of money and urged graduates to seek a way to make their lives useful in solving the world’s problems.

“Use those problems. Take those problems and create a social business,” Yunus said.

He told the graduates that their educations and access to technology made their generation more privileged and powerful than previous generations. He encouraged them to make use of their power and start with a small act to improve the lives of others.

“You have the power to make the world you want,” Yunus concluded.

After the address, Rochon honored Yunus by awarding him a Doctor of Humane Letters degree. Yunus said he was honored to become a part of the university’s alumni ranks.

“I am very happy about that; I am very proud of that,” Yunus said to the applauding crowd.


Tuskegee University President Gilbert L. Rochon gives a student her degree at commencement exercises on Saturday.


More than 500 students graduated from Tuskegee University on Saturday.


Graduates take their alumni oath following the conferring of degrees at commencement exercises.


© 2012 Tuskegee University


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