The theme for this year’s University of Livingstonia graduation is “Living the Dream”. A very apt theme for graduates setting out on life’s journey. Perhaps especially apt in Malawi where challenging circumstances can often cause dreams to crumble. Even Prince Harry on his recent visit to Malawi encouraged young people to “keep hold of your dreams”.
The University of Livingstonia, however, are not just encouraging young people, in general, to have their dreams. They are referencing one very particular dream. It is the dream of Scottish missionary Robert Laws, who served in Malawi 1875-1927. His dream was that one day there would be a University of Livingstonia. More than 100 years later, his spiritual successors are “living the dream”.
Robert Laws was an unusual mixture in terms of character. The dour Aberdonian with no time for small talk, he was also a man of extraordinary vision. When the first Livingstonia mission party set up camp at a spot with no modern amenities within 1,000 miles, he observed: “Livingstonia is begun, though at present a piece of canvas stretched between two trees is all that stands for the future city of that name.”
Strictly speaking, there is no city named Livingstonia but there is one named Blantyre, after Livingstone’s birthplace. And the impact of Livingstonia across the northern region of Malawi is on a city-like scale.
Likewise with the University. When the historian John McCracken published an article titled, “The University of Livingstonia” in 1974, it was a tongue-in-cheek title. No such University existed. Nor had it ever existed except in the fertile imagination of Robert Laws. Today, however, it is a reality that has come into being to help meet the challenges of the 21st century.
Indeed, it is an inspiring reality for the 606 young people who graduated today. There is no building in the city of Mzuzu big enough to accommodate everyone who wants to come. So the graduation has to be held in the football stadium. Perhaps a fitting venue for all the cheering and ululation that saluted the graduating students. They are living the dream.