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Opinions of Friday, 28 September 2007

Columnist: Brogya, Gideon Owusu

KNUST Jubilee Graduation


The Journey

It all began in August, 2003 when the jubilee graduands were admitted into Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, KNUST for short. People from all walks of life, from different tribes, different countries, and different worlds had come to this great institution as freshmen. It was easy for one to discern that Ewes, Gas, Ashantis, Fantes, Northerners, Akuapims, Nzemas, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists, Hare Krishnas and pagans had come from their respective worlds to merge into one world: the KNUST Community. The campus was filled with freshers of every description; black white, brown, yellow, tall, short, dwarfed, fat, slim, and skinny. Obviously, it was not going to be easy for everyone to mingle with complete strangers for four years but the freshmen seemed determined to adapt, as they arrived at their various halls of residence to start registration. People from near and far arrived in parents? cars, chattered buses, taxis, and even troskis. Some freshers came with their personal cars, motorbikes, bicycles while the majority came with their two legs to finish the four-year race. ?Huh, e no go be small? was all one could mutter to themselves. Some brought as many as five suitcases, fridges, laptops, DVD players, TV sets and fat bank accounts whilst the less fortunate ones brought one archaic portmanteau and a jute sack containing cups of gari, roasted groundnuts and shito as the first consignment with many more to follow as their stay on campus progressed. In Unity Hall, one student brought a mortar and a pestle in addition to his portmanteau. Your guess is as good as mine; he was an Ashanti and obviously one who was not ready to let go of his fufu and bush meat soup. Another arrived with a metal trunk and a chop box as if he came to pursue a master?s program of his senior secondary education (SSS). These two spectacles were hilarious and wonderfully exhilarating that other students assigned to the hall couldn?t help but giggle amongst themselves. As I looked in awe at the amazing phenomena, it occurred to me that each of the arrived freshmen had come from a different background and as such had a different perspective to university life and the world as a whole. This meant that everybody had a peculiar reason for coming to KNUST and for that matter had developed a concomitant mindset to achieve their dreams. At this point, I think every freshman, not only me, had discovered their own reasons for applying for admission and had concluded on the values and etiquette they were going to adopt to realize their dreams.

The hall masters, hall tutors and hall executives did their trailing best to allot rooms to freshmen assigned to their respective halls. The next morning, all freshers were excited after experiencing their first night on KNUST campus. They looked their best as they came out of their halls to have a somewhat necessary reconnaissance of the campus they have heard so much about. Surprisingly, either at the entrance or the periphery of every hall, there were some hyper-dressed continuing students pompously seated so they could be seen by all and sundry. I learnt they were ?burgers? ? students, who traveled during vacations to brush the smelling teeth of horses, bath pigs or luckily sweep beautiful streets of foreign cities. They wore designer clothes ranging from Gucci, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Dolce and Gabbana and loose fit jeans with Timberland boots to match. The reflection from their shining necklaces and bracelets popularly called ?blinks? could cause one to go blind. Please spare yourself the time of asking if there were no lady burgers. Don?t make a mistake by calling them burgers else you will never befriend one; they called one another a burgeress.

It was undisputable that, a few months from the day of admission, several freshers would become also become burgers and burgeresses. ?Ei Burger!? I screamed as I bumped into one, who was my senior back in Opoku Ware.

?Are you a hamburger, London burger, American burger, Libyan burger or a Somalian Burger?? I found my self asking since one became a burger the moment they stepped outside the borders of Ghana.

He was a South African burger and no doubt, he measured up to standard by dressing like all the other pig-bather burgers.

The survey of the campus was not a bad one at all. The large avenue trees that lined the beautiful streets of the campus were very attractive. Those serving as shade for students had broad canopies and beautiful flowers. All the six halls of residence of the university had well-mowed lawns and well-trimmed hedges. The landscape in front of the main administration was the most magnificent, with the median and the roundabout rainbowed with several wild flowers. Beyond the roundabout was the faculty area built in seclusion from the halls of residence and other relevant areas of the school. But, lectures had not begun yet because the teachers were on strike. Of course they wanted an increment in their salaries from the already bankrupt ?HIPC? coffers of Ghana.

?Ah! These lecturers would never be satisfied with whatever amount given them just as they never get satisfied with pursuing degrees?. I could envision President ?Gentle Giant? J.A. Kufour telling his Finance Minister.

Registration was in progress and all freshers trooped in and out of the accounts office of the main administration to finish the necessary payments to be made. As this routine continued, other freshmen, particularly the male, had started working vehemently towards their dreams by drinking and smoking in the halls? JCRs whilst others were seriously chasing handouts from senior course mates.

This naturally led to a gradual segregation between the future leaders of this great country of ours and the future lunatics who would fill up the country?s mental hospitals. Some serious Dada Bs had also started playing skilful one on one basket ball games on the B? ball courts whilst the Hala Bs entertained themselves with draught and ?oware?. The registrations were completed at the faculty and departmental levels so the various faculties could confirm admitted freshers who had reported.

The day for orientation finally came after registration was closed. It was this day that many of the students caught their maiden glimpse of the spectacular Great Hall. The building sat in its proud magnificence close to the library quadrangle with beautifully-trimmed lawns surrounding it. When the freshers entered the building, they marveled at its interior as they took their seats. Within minutes, the gigantic Great Hall was full of anxious freshmen, ready for whatever bureaucratic rules and regulations the authorities had for them. This was the likeliest time every fresher could see almost all freshmen gathered at one place since registration began.

To the utter admiration of freshers, the university officials entered the auditorium with an aura of brilliance around them. We all gave them a standing ovation as they took their hard-earned seats at the high table.

After several hours of lecture and long speeches, we finally got conversant on how we were going to live without being caught in the entanglement of traps, disguised as rules and regulations. When the orientation was finally brought to a close, people started exchanging pleasantries and making acquaintances. The sociable and outgoing ones smiled and greeted whoever they ran into whilst the cocky and egocentric ones frowned their way out of the Great Hall. This also brought segregation to those who would be well-connected in society and the prospective loners. Just after the orientation, freshers started grabbing themselves and the boys were always found visiting the girls in their cubicles. I could conveniently speculate that the lecturers? strike was a contributory factor to this, because there were no lectures and assignments. Thus, all freshers could do was to embark on romantic sprees.

Ei! Another segregation; those who would be married or at least be engaged by the end of the four years(4-4) and those who finish with two bachelor?s degrees (4-0).

Thankfully, the professors, doctors, emeritus, lecturers, I mean our teachers resumed from the strike a few weeks to matriculation. On the day of matriculation, all freshers gathered under canopies that had been mounted at the library quadrangle. Wow! Come and see the freshers already looking like corporate executives and diplomatic corps. I could smell serious designer suits in the air: Ted Baker, Hawes and Curtis, Next, Giorgio Armani, Marks and Spencer, and not to whisper a word about the fragrant eaux de toilette. Honestly, everybody looked splendid and beautiful, and handsome if you like. Groups of freshers were categorized according to their respective faculties and the vice chancellor and senior staff were already seated on the platform.

Professor Kwesi Andam was a man filled with charisma and great oratory. He was there to matriculate both eligible and ineligible freshmen into his five-star university. Ineligible in the sense that, some freshers used forged results and fake identity to gain admission. But at this stage, the unsuspecting VC could not fish out the fraudulent freshers with his myopic eyes.

So, he opened the ceremony with awesome eloquence that everybody applauded even as his speech progressed. After his speech, Prof Andam called the various faculties and made some academic incantations to declare us matriculated. Hurray! We were now bona fide students of KNUST and were now to be called first years and not the loathsome ?freshers?. The VC went on to mention the various almamaters of the first years in a hierarchical order of number of students admitted. Presec came first, followed by Prempeh College with Opoku Ware placing third. Mfatsipim School came fourth, followed by Wesley Girls, St. Louis, St. Augustine?s, St. Peters, and Adisadel College in that order. Other prominent schools he mentioned include Achimota School, Holy Child, GSTS, St. Roses, Aburi Girls, Accra Academy and the Less Endowed.

I asked a lecturer where the Less Endowed School was located. He laughed heartily and said ?It?s not a school but the VC?s initiative of bringing students from less fortunate schools to pursue higher heights?. I desperately wanted to see how the battle between the less endowed and the much endowed was going to be like. ?Well, let?s wait and see if the strategies and arms for this battle would be based on endowment?, I told myself. After matriculation, the grabbing status of first years shot up by 100% whilst some who grabbed around the time of orientation had already degrabbed (broken up).

Ei! Another segregation between the future divorcers and divorcees. As has been the tradition, all matriculated freshers, now first years, were ponded by continuing students to informally usher them into the fraternity of the KNUST student body.

The actual university life began after matriculation, when lectures became intensive and mid-sems were imminent. First years started serious studies and researches so as to earn fat cumulative averages and not to be expelled from the school. Students adopted the ?Nyansapo wosane no babadie mu? strategy, meaning chew, pour and forget. It was extracted from the school?s slogan: ?Nyansapo wosane no badwemma?.

The spiritually inclined ones also resorted to fasting and prayers at the popular Paa Joe Stadium, still clinging to the ?babadie? strategy. Students formed study groups to grasp conceptual aspects of courses by sharing ideas whilst the weaker brethren sought the aid of TAs (Teaching Assistants). After the first semester?s examinations, several students excelled, finding themselves in first class and second class categories. Worse still, some first year students bombed real bad. Some had as many as five deserving trails while the more fortunate ones had averages as tiny as the shoe of a louse. Such folks forgot they were chilling during socializing and fun city nights when their mates were burning both the midnight and Paa Joe candles.

During the subsequent semesters, some trailers and louse-shoe average holders braced themselves up and began improving drastically on the academic ladder. I guess they were motivated by the saying: ?Experience is not always the best teacher, but evaluated experience is?.

On the contrary, some recalcitrant trailers retrogressed nonchalantly while their colleagues made laudable headway in the degree race. This led to the expulsion of several first years by the end of the first academic year, highlighting the fact that we all came on the same day but would leave on different days.

Don?t be disappointed dear reader, the first years with forged results and incognitos were expelled before they could lay their unscrupulous icy hands on the school?s credible introductory letters for visa acquisition. The wrestling, gymnastics, acrobatics and sumo fighting on the academic highway was increasingly keen throughout the four-year stay on KNUST, a.k.a. Kwame ?Nkrumah Fie?.

Final year finally came and each student embarked on the much dreaded project work. Starting from ?Introduction, through ?Data Collection? to ?Conclusion? amidst cancellation and being reprimanded by supervisors, students could then envision how it was like to be called a Technocrat ? an alumnus of KNUST. Nonetheless, we never threw in the towel nor raised the white flag. Although some fell and gave up along the way, the vast majority were able to submit their theses to come to the finish line of the hectic marathon, unscathed. The grabbers, grabbees, and the first class students of all faculties made a lot of hullabaloo but the mediocre ones stood by only one principle: ?Nice guys may appear to finish last, but usually, they are running in a different race?.


The End of the Road

It started on Friday the 8th, through Saturday the 9th to Sunday the 10th of June, 2007. It was the 41st Congregation of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. It was dubbed ?Jubilee Congregation?, because Ghana celebrated her 50th Independence Anniversary this same year, 2007.

After several weeks of preparation and undue razzmatazz about the congregation, the day finally came and graduands began to show up at the premises. Again, the Great Hall was in its majestic appearance and surrounded by an uncountable number of ?Andam Koti? (KNUST Security), as if it was about to be stolen by Ataa Ayi and a bunch of his co armed robbers. In the foyer of the Great Hall, the busts of past VCs looked sternly at graduands as if to tell them that, they still had a lot to achieve in education and that the first ?Nyansapo? degree was just the tip of an academic iceberg. I could not immediately speculate the number of graduands who could read the message the little statues were trying to convey, but I bet there was a handful who would tell the VCs? busts to go hell. Within thirty minutes, there was almost every participating graduand at the premises. The high-tech amongst them brought along digital cameras, video cameras, camcorders and I?m cocksure some even brought satellites and their personal TV crews. On the other hand, the low-tech graduands had their analogue, photographic and pinhole cameras in place. I think you?ve figured out what was going on around with all those technological innovations, by now. Good guess ? everybody was taking a photograph or a videograph with somebody. You could hear the ?click, click? sounds and see the flashes from cameras at all angles around the Great Hall.

It was a celestial d?j? vu; the occurrences preceding the commencement of the congregation were just like the ones we experienced four years ago, during matriculation. By this time, the University Council, lecturers, and invited guests had started arriving at the premises. Andam Koti had gone wild, busily directing traffic and saluting sycophantically at the dignitaries. Parents who made it in time were able to see their sophisticatedly costumed sons and daughters before they were summoned into the magnificent auditorium. It was utterly incredible. I had not seen so many people exquisitely dressed for a single occasion before. Parents were smartly dressed and beamed with smiles, obviously contented with being able to see their children through the university. I agree they deserve the happiness, because not all parents are responsible enough to educate their children that far.

Graduands entered the auditorium through an entrance peculiarly designated to them whilst parents with the ?Nyansapo? invitation cards queued through the main entrance into the auditorium. All graduands were seated categorically according to faculties and they could have ministered sweet heavenly hymns as a mass choir, with their adorable academic gowns and its ornaments. Parents and guests gradually filled their seats to get ready for the start of the ceremonious ceremony.

When everybody was seated, the convocation entered the Great Hall, walking up the aisle to take their seats. They were followed by the Chancellor and the Council of the university and they were followed by tunes from ?Atumpan? (talking drums) and ?Ntentenben?/ ?Ntahara? (local flutes and horns) from the Manhyia Palace. Everybody stood up as the convocation walked up the aisle to the high table.

Members of the convocation included Daasebre Osei Bonsu (Mamponghene) representing the Chancellor, Archbishop Peter Kwasi Sarpong (former chairman of the university council), Nana Otuo Siriboe II (Chairman of University Council), the VC, Pro VC, registrar and senior staff of the university.

When members of the convocation took their seats, the whole congregation sang the national anthem, with the University Primary Brass Band playing in the background. After the opening prayer and the opening of the assembly, it was time for the graduands to sing Gaudeamus.

?Gaudeamus igitur?

?Juvenes dum sumus????.

Graduands sang with extraordinary exuberance coupled with the contentment of having completed school. They sang with a combination of different singing voices: alto, treble, bass, soprano and what have you.

?Semper sint in flore?

?Semper sint in fl?..o??.r?e?

There was applause and a loud cheer when graduands finished the song with a very loud pitch.

A graduand from each of the six colleges was permitted to deliver a valedictory speech on behalf on their fellow mates of the respective colleges. The excitement of graduands was heightened when the registrar, Mr. Yebo Ocrah, took the podium to mention names for the awarding of certificates. Each and every deserving student was called upon to receive his or her certificate except the enfants terrible. Every graduand took the cert from the Provost of their college and proceeded to shake hands with the VC and the chairman of the university council. Officially contracted photographers took shots of every graduand as they received their certificate. There were also journalists from newspaper firms and radio stations across the country. The presence of numerous television crews from leading TV stations cannot be overemphasized.

First Class students received a standing ovation from the vice chancellor and the council chairman whereas second class upper and lower students shook the VC?s and the chairman?s hands as they were still seated. But for students with pass, it was a different picture en masse. I learnt they just stood and waved at the convocation when their names were mentioned, since their certificates was to be given them after the ceremony. Some finalists, who were not supposed to graduate for reasons of either trailing a course or owing the school, disobediently wore gowns and came for the congregation under the pretence of graduating. But they were not smart enough to foresee that their names were not in the graduation compilation. They were, therefore, caught by the candid camera after everyone had taken their certificate. Oops, you should have seen them as they squirmed in their seats and silently felt like sinking into the foundations of the Great Hall.

When the Chancellor of the university dissolved the congregation, some students had two bachelor degrees like earlier prophesied when we came to first year; BSc (Hons) 4-0 and BSc (Hons) of whatever course they pursued in the university. Luckily, some finalists were able to score at least a last-minute goal (4-1*) to swerve the much feared 4-0. Several others tried very hard to score but their goals were disallowed by bouncing or nullified by degrabbing (a breakup).

If I may ask, which category do you belong to? It is not very fair to send two bachelor degrees home to your parents, since it would be more of a disappointment than a pleasure.

Outside, fresh ?Jubilee Graduates? exchanged pleasantries with one another and with parents. The ?click-click? and flashes of cameras resumed with different styles of poses for the ever ready cameras. Somewhere along the Queen?s Hall Street, I could see a male graduate with an entourage of photographers and videographers following him helter-skelter. No! They were not reporters oo, he hired them himself just for the congregation. I could even see one young man carrying jacket for him, and I later learnt that he had first class honours. No wonder ? I think it was worth it.

The celebrations after the congregation were very monumental: there were picnics amongst graduates and families on the beautiful lawns around the Great Hall. It was such a spectacle that, I couldn?t help but take pictures of everybody and everything I saw. As the day neared dusk, friends hugged each other to bid them farewell as they tried hard to fight tears that threatened to flow. Melancholy was in the air and I personally had to wipe a tear which rolled down my cheek. I was going to miss the school, babadie and most importantly, the wonderful people I?ve come to love so much during my four-year stay in KNUST. But this day was still inevitable for the jubilee graduates to be produced and everyone went home with a great sense of optimism of becoming someone in the future ? say, presidents, doctors, ministers, professors, philanthropists and so many things God created them to be.

It had no ended yet. The days that followed were filled with after-parties, mainly organized by graduates who were based in Kumasi. Chale, e no be small, the parties were not easy at all. They ranged from buffets, through barbecues to cocktail parties.

To confess, I secretly wished that, congregations were organized at the end of every academic year. I mean graduation from first year to second year, after second year, after third year and the grand one after final year. Sunday, 10th June was ?Thanksgiving Service? and I maintain you should have been there. The VC, Pro VC and the Registrar were there with their fashionable kente cloths. Ei! I almost forgot, the First Lady of the university, the VC?s wife was also there in her ?numbers?. It was tantalizing. It was cantankerous. It was brutal.

The service was splendid as graduates sang wonderful praise songs and danced merrily to it. In fact, Satan was in trouble; people danced their trails, failure to grab and the curse of degrabbing onto Satan?s head. Some hysterical graduates danced acrobatically while cursing Satan and his diabolic comrades. But on a sadder note, that was the last service many of us would ever attend on our friendly campus. We entered into an intensive prayer session to implore God for his favour and goodwill even as we entered the vague world. After service, graduates took pictures with the VC and bade each other goodbye with the hope of meeting each other sometime in the bright future.

Indeed, the KNUST Jubilee Graduation was brutaaaaaaaal.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.