Two years ago today, I graduated from the University of Professional studies, Accra. There is nothing extraordinary about getting a degree in a world where doing so is as natural as breathing in oxygen. Having a degree is no longer special. Almost everyone has one these days.
But what is interesting about mine is the number of years it took me to be conferred with one. It took me eleven long years to do so. Yes, you read it right – eleven solid years. I remember breaking it down for my social media family, and I have reproduced it below.
“I completed SHS in 2007 and entered the then-Accra Polytechnic in 2008 to study for a Higher National Diploma (HND) in Science Laboratory Technology as a stepping-stone to a degree in a university. Instead of the HND, I came out with a Letter of Dismissal for Academic non-performance about three weeks to the end my three-year stay on campus.
I still remember that day when I was called to the Departmental office and handed my letter. It was not a joyous moment. In my protest letter to Reverend Quarcoo, then departmental counsellor, I stated that was going to be murderous if that decision was not reversed. It was hell. The sudden gush of a hormone beyond adrenaline poured all over me. But since that day I told myself I have a long journey, I can’t disappoint myself.
Schooling is what I had done to that point, and I remember giving my laboratory coat to a friend – telling him “I have no future in the laboratory”. I never knew that future would lead me to pursue a two-year Diploma course at UPSA – but proceed to use four years to complete it. I never knew it would take me three further years to do a top-up that should have seen me using two years. I never knew I’d do two different National Service stints (Mercy Islamic School and Graphic Communications Group Limited), all in a bid to raise monies to aid me at various stages.
I never knew I’d hawk light-bulbs at Weija; sell sanitary-pads in the Dome and Madina Markets; sell newspapers in Nima; teach in a school at Maamobi; have shorts stints at Cleaning Masters (East Legon); GLICO Life (Lapaz); Melcom (Industrial Area); Legend Health at Adenta, and a whole lot of things I can’t remember now just to ensure that I also get a degree.
At a point in time I thought I was destined to never have a degree in my life, and I came to believe in every ‘absurd’ family superstition. Why? I had done assignments for numerous people who have gone on to get their degrees. I taught many students in SHS who have moved on to get their degrees, and I have inspired a lot who had forgotten they’ve even been to university although I was always struggling to get mine…but in all of this I moved on.
So, I congratulated myself. I had to do so because our elders say “The lizard that jumped from the Iroko tree to the ground said it will praise itself if no one else does”.
One of the many questions I was posed with was whether I would do it again if need be, and I always replied with an emphatic “yes”. I would do it again with some panache, style and verve. In my nuclear family of five children, I am the first to ever wear a Senior High School uniform before the sister that comes after me followed suit. Although I was the first to get to tertiary level and I got myself sacked, I could not afford to abandon the educational journey. That, I believe, would have been disastrous; because at a point in time, someone sets the pace.
As I type this, the youngest in our family is now in his second year studying Political Science at the University of Ghana. You see? The light one sees, is the light one appreciates. A precedent has been set and it has been followed, and I am hopeful that it will be bettered. In some families, everyone is academically-educated and therefore every child who is born into that family has no other option than to follow suit.
For many families in this part of the world I find myself in, a child grows up in a family where no one has ever stepped beyond Senior High School – some with wayward siblings and a host of other descriptions we cannot list here. And the child has no other reality to hold onto than to follow suit. It is usually by grace that you see such a child looking up to someone else in the community before breaking the jinx in his or her family. The light a child sees is the light that he or she appreciates. I had to provide that light to my family, and by extension my community.
Another reason I would do it again is the restoration of some dignity to our children; something we were deficient of. In plain language, we used to write ‘Self-employed, Trader’ etc. anytime we were asked “what is your father or mother’s occupation” back in primary school; knowing very well that our parents (with all due respect) had no label to their hustle.
The generation that comes after us should be able to say boldly that my dad or mum is a Neurosurgeon, Radio Therapist, Lawyer, Bank Manager, Marketer and any other decent hustle that has a definite label. I am not clamouring for only white-collar jobs; I am clamouring for a label with true and actual work behind it; not the lies we used to tell about the self-employment of our parents, knowing very well they were not engaged in any meaningful employment.
Finally, I find myself in a prestigious company today. In my daily work, I come across a host of prominent members of society as my customers. I service the cars of Members of Parliament, Board members of giant organisations, former Ministers of State, Medical Doctors, Chief Executive Officers of prestigious companies, Justices of the Supreme Court, Media-men, people who have made airwaves meaningful on our national television etc.
I interact with a lot of people as I am the first point of contact before any other process commences in my department. It provides me with a breath of joy and opportunity to see the minds of people doing great stuff in the land to shape mine. The last time I made friends with a Medical Doctor who happened to be someone whose work I had read profoundly and yet not met.
I finally met him at my desk, and today we share ideas and thoughts together. I also got books from the driver of Albert and Comfort Ocran because I let him know I am their biggest fan, and many other things I cannot recount here. I would not have had this opportunity without braving the odds for a degree. And mine is the least of the opportunities a degree could possibly give you. Our system is designed in such a way that you will need that to contribute ‘meaningfully’ to national discussions and output. There are many intelligent and brilliant people out there, who because they do not have a degree do not get a chance to share their wonderful minds.
So, I would do it again. I would do it with rare passion, with bravery and with a sparkle in my eye. I would do it with all intensity because “even if it takes a long time, the educated get ahead over the long run”, as stated by Marc Brodeur.
NB: The Writer is a Youth-Activist and the Executive Secretary at Success Book Club