ONE of the hurdles of telling somebody that you studied philosophy is the nagging way that some people assume that you can “read their mind”.They tend to confuse philosophy with psychology, not that the latter studies people’s minds, but at least that is what some people think. Card readers and magicians can claim to read minds but philosophy, as the love of wisdom and truth, occupies itself with more serious questions than other people’s minds. From exploring topics such as knowledge, being, language, politics, freedom and ethics, among others, philosophy provides the basis for serious thought in many disciplines.It is in this light that the recent graduation of Julius Malema with an honours degree in philosophy is a commendable and interesting achievement.The story of Malema is an interesting and inspirational one. A couple of years ago, the media feasted on claims of his struggle with his matric and how he got the symbol G for woodwork.It was even the subject of one of the songs in a Leon Schuster comedy, performed by the talented Alfred Ntombela.Many people thought they had defined, wrapped and packaged Malema. Word on the street was that he is irrational, uneducated and temperamental. One could not listen to him without getting a viperous tongue lashing of insults and threats, so the public tribunal assessed. However, this view is beginning to change.Not many people like him, but he is beginning to show a certain level of maturity, if one ignores the Parliament antics that his party members have adopted as their signature medium for expression, impression and suppression.Society can differ on many aspects in any political discussion but no one can take away the perseverance and hard work that it takes for a man or woman to graduate from university.What is commendable is when it is achieved by a man who many people had dismissed on academic grounds. When a leader does that, he shows by example the importance of perseverance, determination and hard work in education. This is not a campaign manifesto of any sort but one cannot deny that the transformation is also physical, with a leaner and better-toned Malema oozing more confidence than a couple of years back. Clearly, he is not just working hard, he is also working out!Coming back to the philosophy degree, it will be interesting to see how all those academic papers and that research will nourish his ethical dimension in politics. We have seen many so-called African philosopher leaders such as Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, Kwame Nkrumah, Kamuzu Banda and others getting stuck sometimes in their books and ideals, and failing to connect with reality on the ground. It is not just the number of degrees but the vision that matters. The philosopher king or ruler, according to Plato, loves truth and learning, and is free from the greed and lust that tempt others to abuse power.Whether such a description fits anybody in reality remains as fodder for another debate. At least one lesson which is undeniable is that of sheer determination and not allowing your woodwork past to relegate your platinum dreams to fantasy. There is no substitute for hard work, education and, yes, the love for wisdom. • Myke Mwale is a Dominican and an alumnus from UKZN and Saint Joseph’s Theological College, Cedara.