Be Somebody!

The National Graduate Orientation Programme is over. And 1,300 graduates have now entered the workforce. I didn’t get to congratulate them. So I’ve decided to write about what I would have talked about had I been given the opportunity to meet them.

First, I would have talked about employment. Then I would have talked about the role of the opposition.

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Be somebody! Sound familiar?

Be somebody! Remember this hand signal? Clenched fist, thumb upright?

Yes, of course you do. It’s from the career counseling tour in 2002, seven years ago. Yes, seven years ago – I can’t believe that that’s how long it’s already been – when Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup visited every high school in the country to talk to our students about what they wanted to do in life. I was a part of the multi-sectoral task force that accompanied Lyonpo Sangay in 2002.

You were in school that year, all of you. Most of you would have been in class 8 or 9. So you probably would have attended the career counseling workshop. Chances are you don’t remember my presentation. But then again, chances are you may remember something I said. And what did I say? Be somebody!

Now you’ve graduated – one thousand, two hundred and sixty four of you. You have graduated with degrees in business, commerce, IT, management, science, engineering, medicine, philosophy, architecture, and a range of specializations in the arts. Well done. Congratulations!

It hasn’t been easy, I know. I’ve met some of you. And you’ve told me so. You’ve had to work hard and study long hours. And most of you have had to struggle in foreign lands – in India and beyond. Some of you have had to borrow money to finance your studies.

But you graduated. And now you are ready to serve your king, your country and your people. You are ready to be somebody!

During the orientation programme, a lot of people have talked to you about employment, and described the many job opportunities that you have. They are right. You see, our country has barely six hundred thousand people. That’s not enough people. In fact, one of the biggest challenges we continue to face is a shortage of workers in almost every field. We simply don’t have enough people to grow our own food, build our homes, teach our children, care for our sick, do business, and to protect our country.

Yes, there’s a lot of work to do. And that’s why I’m particularly happy to see that we have so many young graduates this year. You represent the new Bhutanese workforce – a workforce that is knowledgeable; a workforce that is productive; a workforce that will unleash the true potential of Bhutan.

But many people have also cautioned you about unemployment. This is unfortunate. Like I said, we have too few people. So we really shouldn’t have any unemployment. Yet, there is. And, as a matter of fact, it is growing.

Why is this happening? Mainly because of two inter-related reasons: one, we do not accept the jobs that exist; and two, our economy is weak. Put another way: Our economy is weak, so it generates only a few jobs. But when even these jobs remain vacant, our economy becomes weaker. And a weaker economy offers even less jobs. It’s a vicious cycle, one that we can reverse, one that we must reverse.

To reverse this trend, we must strengthen our economy. We have no other alternative. And that responsibility falls primarily on our government. But we have important roles too. As opposition leader, for instance, I must work with the government to support real and sustainable growth in our economy. This, I will pledge do.

And you, as graduates, can help strengthen the economy – can be part of the solution – by taking employment very seriously. Look for jobs, not just in the civil service, but especially in the private sector. Work hard. And make sure that you are productive. Make sure that you contribute to building our economy.

Seven years ago, during the career counseling tour, I asked you what “Be somebody!” meant to you. This is how most of you replied: a “somebody” is a person who is useful to self, to family and to country; a “somebody” is a person who is gainfully employed.

Be somebody!