spirit rises again
approached this career guidance thing with some trepidation.
Id done it before elsewhere; it was the school I was
The last time I drove up Carib Street, what I saw was embarrassing:
wild vines billowing over pedestrians heads, sun-bleached
buildings, and a sort of interior fence within the outer walls,
which, for one thing, didnt make sense to me, and secondly,
despite being new, seemed already to be decaying, reflecting
the run-down, had-its-time and now past-its-prime college.
Not much of a Presentation.
But what did present itself to me on Thursday was, well, different.
I drove in opposite Grant Memorial, my other alma mater, but
couldnt find the vines. The fence was still perplexing
but looked brand new. There was no litter in sight. The Old
Block looked youngand got a more dignified name, too.
There was a guardin an actual guard hutsans the
bus driver uniform Ronnie Man used to wear when
he took a dollar from us every time we were late for school.
Then, as I walked up from the car with every magazine, book
and newspaper for which Id ever written, I was presented
with a smile. And it couldnt have come from a more surprising
After all, Ms Hosein never smiled. I remember her sluggish
gait up the Old Block corridor, each step more reluctant than
the last, going to another rowdy class full of foul-mouthed
fools who could care less for her or her effortand certainly
didnt give a flying fish for French.
Riding on reputation
Why would she have smiled, I suddenly thought? And why did
Perhaps she held out hoping something would change, that somewhere
beyond tomorrow, beyond the cussing and shouting and walking
in and out, beyond the we-go-Pres-so-we-too-bright
mind-set, that shed be able to smile, and to smile not
from the muscles in her face, but from deep withinand
She meant it on Thursday (and shed nicely lost weight),
so I knew something had changed.
Pres was riding on its reputation and little else for quite
a while, even when I was there from 93 to 98 before
heading off to Fatima.
South people might be able to tell you: The prestige school
had lost its prestige. It was in physical and psychological
disrepair. The football matches were lost, the behaviour was
bad, and the scholarship list increasingly diminished. All
it had was this thing called Pres spirit.
You see, there was a freeness in Pres. Wed plan our
own grads and teachers would not even be invited. For a long
time, there wasnt even a security guard. I used to break
class and travel to a friends house to watch music videos.
And when RIK had its fire sale, half the school
was in front of the store.
Freedom within structure
The system operated on a tacit understanding that the boys
were responsible enough to handle themselves in this freeness;
that the school, like a good parent, had done its job and
knew the children could take it from there.
For that, among other reasons, we felt proud to be Pres and
loved our school for it. Pres spirit.
But the same rules cannot always apply. Times change and,
with it, people and attitudes. And when the college started
its tardy crackdown, staff experienced inertia and students
resisted. The college went through three principals in a year.
Everything suffered, the spirit too, I was certain.
I had a chat with Jaiks, whom I knew as the VP and who now
sits in the principals chair. He talked about five-
and ten-year strategic plans. He showed me a matrix
of offences and penalties. He mentioned contracts
students and their parents had to sign, rules and regulation
books, new systems in place, and a new attitude of staff and
student. And he gave me a copy of the fattest, prettiest yearbook
Id ever seen.
Id also never expected to see so many official-looking
plans and thing.
culture change, he called it.
That takes a while, I said.
saw any litter in the yard when you walked in? he asked.
No, I didnt. But dont the boys now feel restricted
in this regimented environment? I mean, we used to suckle
on freedom back in the day.
A boy walked into Jaiks office at that point. Lanky,
pants falling off and a strange hairstyle if ever I saw one
(and, if you know me, Im no stranger to strange hairstyles).
whats the matter? Jaiks asked.
And there he flashed his signature smileone full of
warmth and compassion and solidarity. A bit worn, now, with
age, as his greying temples revealed, but otherwise the same.
sir, just need you sign this.
And the boy smiled toonot the perfunctory smile of a
boy in front of his elder. It was the bashful smile of a boy
who knew he would be taken care of, and was grateful, but
just didnt know how to show his indebtedness.
The boys in the auditorium roared in approval at something
the MC was saying before sending them off to the seminarsthe
usual thing from Pres boys. And thats when I realised:
the Pres spirit was still there. It had remained the same,
impervious to outward changes and regulations and strategic
within structure, Jaiks said, smiling.
I smiled, too, from deep within.
The boys roared again.