Per aspera ad astra

This inspirational Latin principle, embraced by diverse institutions throughout the globe, knows no territorial boundaries. 

This phrase might tickle auditory nerves of sentimental ‘alumni’ of St. Joseph’s College, arguably the country’s iconic secondary school of yesteryear. For the last nine decades, per aspera ad astra has served as the school’s memorable and treasured rallying cry. A performance triggering premium currency!

It means, ‘Shooting to the stars through adversity.’ An unsubdued call for commitment to greatness. Globally, this dynamic phrase has found a home not only in the hallowed grounds of academia, but also in the arts, the army, governmental institutions and NGOs.

The principle of per aspera ad astra has bred surrealistic jaw-dropping moments in the lives of our compatriots who have risen to the summit of excellence, like the following from my home village, Molepolole. A brilliant young man’s meteoric rise from a magistrate’s position to the exalted office of the attorney general.


A confident young man endowed with a slight air of affable charm and an unflagging will to succeed, catapulted from a political playboy to what is ostensibly the third most important position in the executive’s hierarchy. A young man with an enviable knack for inspiring Setswana idioms, recognised country-wide as a debonair artist, ingenious poet and an accomplished author. An impassioned go-getter, committed to excellence, like a whooper swan, soaring from the position of a secondary school teacher to a media and publishing mogul. All products of KS2. 

What draws me to per aspera ad astra is not so much the part on adversity, but the aspect on shooting to the stars. Owing to our humble background, modesty, a quality that is inimical to success when wrongfully applied, might compel us to think less of ourselves, thus compromising our passion to excel.

We would fall victim to limiting our capacity to triumph as we gallantly opt to be consumers of value rather than its creators. Big dreams that dare rear their heads in our minds might be quickly quashed and confined to the ‘inactive’ depths of our hippocampus.

Such attitude can only snarf us up into an unfortunate cult of losers who bite into the bait of blaming others or the system for their failures. If we’re victims of this off-base narrative, may we recalibrate our mindset. We can’t afford to have a conflictual relationship with success.

Per aspera ad astra is a spirited calling for a nuanced approach to life. To lift our heads and set the bar at seemingly unreachable heights, emboldened by our unquenchable thirst for success. To see each mountain as a conquerable heap of rocks surrounded by accessible stepping stones. To valorously craft individual visions and pursue them with admirable vigour. To appreciate that greatness is a by-product of strenuously pursued wishes.

To recognise that though Kenneth Carleton Frazier, the CEO of the world’s fifth largest pharmaceutical outfit intimated, “There is an element of serendipity in everyone’s career path,” this doesn’t mean that by a strange quirk of fate, success will always come knocking on our boat if we don’t put wind in the sails of our wishes.

The part on adversity is equally important. It cautions us to be grounded by the enduring principle of reasonableness. On our way to the stars, we can’t fly as the crow does.

Naturally bound to human life is uncertainty and varying degrees of hardship. Along the way we may be forced to navigate our way through the turbulence of unforgiving vicious storms. Circumventing massive asteroids. After all life will never be a fine bed of roses, at least this side of the apocalypse!

We may suffer temporary setbacks. Our outlook should tower over fleeting failure and engender the spirit of perseverance. To hit our targeted star with utmost precision, we may need to review our strategy and refill our quiver with improved supersonic long-range arrows. Empowered by the resolute determination to get up every time we hit the dirt, we’d lunge into the atmosphere with the air of gravity-defying-stuntmen.

A dispirited demeanour can only suppress our hunger for success, convincing us that we are not good enough.

That success is reserved for a privileged few. Steve Maraboli, an American writer, advises, “You were put on this earth to achieve your greatest self, to live out your purpose, and to do it courageously.” This doesn’t mean that we should lead a cloistered life, ringfencing our vision with the infernal me-ism spirit of self-centredness. It would be flagitious to use others as a ladder for ascending to the peak of our productivity, only to ungraciously kick them down every time we move a rung up.

While dreaming big and entertaining huge hopes might tickle our brain, our reasoning faculty should move us to reflect on a series of smaller dreams that could lead to milestones.

The cumulative effect of milestones would eventually land us the big dream. Otherwise, we might risk pummelling our souls with unending bouts of depression caused by a series of failures.

The harsh realities of life are always visited upon all those failing to acknowledge their limitations.

Our hopes must be confined to the guard rails of cautious optimism. Let’s bear in mind the wisdom shared by Benjamin Franklin, a celebrated American polymath, “He that lives upon hope will die fasting.”

Once we’ve reached the first set of stars, we would be perched on a narrow space that could compromise our stability.

 One misstep could send us hurtling down to failure. Overflowing with vim and verve, driven by an inexpungable urge to win, we must cast our eyes further up, and like skilled archers, repeatedly hurl ourselves to the stars.

The spirit of per aspera ad astra always reaps a bumper crop bonanza of rip-roaring success!

Editor's Comment
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