There were many high points during the two days we spent at the reunion, but the most amazing for me was when all forty-five of us knelt down for Mama to bless us.
I attended Abeokuta Girls’ Grammar School, Abeokuta for my O’ Levels from 1973-1978. My father and one of my uncles took me to AGGS for the two day entrance examination and interview in June 1973. It was my mother who took me to the Junior Boarding hostel known as JB in September 1973. On Friday December 7th 2018, forty-five years later, I walked into the JB room I first entered as a nervous ten year old in 1973. There is another generation of young girls in the rooms now. There are still bunk beds in the rooms, and I walked towards the bed that was in exactly the same spot as mine was all those years ago and sat on it. I had to fight back the tears as bittersweet memories came flooding back. On December 7th and 8th, my class set at AGGS converged to celebrate the 40th anniversary of our graduation from high school. Some of us have managed to stay in touch over the years, but most of us have not seen each other in forty years. Two years ago, one of our classmates set up a WhatsApp group for our set. This space has helped bring us together, and we have been able to pull in our classmates from around the world. The class of 1978 collaborated on a project to refurbish and equip our school Chemistry laboratory. We have also supported each other as we mark milestones in our lives. A few months ago, we started planning the reunion program. There was a period when I did not engage much on the WhatsApp platform due to the amount of trivia that was being posted, the bane of many a WhatsApp group. However when the reunion project started, the trivia evaporated and we all focused on putting a good program together.
On the morning of Friday 7th, we all met at the school in time for morning assembly. One of us gave a motivational speech to the students. After that we all walked to our old Senior Boarding school at St Paul’s. It is a fifteen minute walk from the school, but for our little legs back then, it felt like an hour. There is another school on the premises now, but our old school chapel is still there. We went into the chapel and had a brief praise and worship session. The current Chaplain came around and could not hide his shock that a group of us had shown up after forty years to thank God at our school chapel. He appealed to us to arrange a visit to their school so that the girls can see who they can all grow up to be. It was very moving for all of us. We then walked back to our own school for a forum with the school teachers on modern teaching techniques. One of my old English teachers, Mr Remi Sotonwa was there as a resource person for the forum as well as to receive an award. We had managed to identify ten of our old teachers to be recognised on Saturday December 8th, but Mr Sotonwa was only going to be available on the 7th. After presenting Mr Sotonwa with his award on behalf of the class, I said to him, ‘You will be happy to know that one of your favourite English students became a writer’, then I presented a set of my books to him. At this point, he couldn’t hold back his tears and neither could we. After the teachers’ forum there was a brief ceremony to hand over the Chemistry Lab we had done to the school. After that, we paid a visit to the Stella Obasanjo Motherless Babies Home, Abeokuta, where we handed over gifts for the children. We were impressed with the condition of the facilities as well as the passion of the spokesperson for the home. On Friday night we had a lovely reunion dinner, followed by a lot of dancing. Some of us joked that our alcohol requirements were quite low due to the significant number of Pastors in the group!
On Saturday December 8th, we all gathered at the school for the official reunion program. We were all decked out in beautiful blue Adire, specially ordered in the school colours, as well as a silver head tie. If we had thought Friday was emotional, Saturday was even more so. When some of the old teachers we had invited saw all of us, they were visibly moved.
One of our favourite teachers during our time at AGGS was Mr Chuks Onwubiko. Mr Chuks taught us English Literature and Economics, and he was very kind to us. Mr Chuks was there on Saturday and it was great seeing him again. Another teacher who I will be forever grateful to is Mrs Cecilia Egbeyemi who taught us History. Mrs Egbeyemi knew that I struggled with Mathematics and science subjects, but I was very good in the arts. A few months to our school certificate examinations in 1978, Mrs Egbeyemi made me spend weekends at her house, alongside another classmate of mine, Remi Sotola. She gave me her History notes from her days at the University of Ibadan as well as her copies of the History journal, Tarikh al Sudan. I made an A2 in History. When Mrs Egbeyemi walked into the school hall on Saturday, looking ever so elegant and radiant at her age, I was overjoyed. I saw her years ago, when I was still living in London. I went to visit her at a school where she was the Principal in Abeokuta, but I lost touch with her.
The icing on the cake for all of us at the reunion on Saturday was the appearance of our very own grand Diva, Mrs C.O. Adeniyi, who we all called ‘Mama Adeniyi’. Mama!!! Mama was a force of nature. She was the wife of the Bishop of the Egba-Egbado Diocese at the time, and the St Paul’s senior boarding house was part of the grounds of the Bishop’s residence.
Mama was our housemistress, which was not good for us because she had the habit of swooping in on us to wake us up with canes. She taught us Mathematics and Needlework, subjects I never cared for, so she was always on my case, though she liked me because I was well behaved. She was a text book disciplinarian, the fear of Mama was the beginning of all wisdom. Mama had something to say about everything we did or did not do right. Mama taught us to sit properly, to walk ‘like ladies’ and to never chew gum. If Mama caught you chewing gum she would take it from you and spread it all over your hair and put you out in the sun to dry. That is why I never acquired the tacky habit of chewing gum in public. However, Mama was also very kind and fair. Mama Adeniyi is 92 and quite frail, but she insisted on making it all the way to Abeokuta from Lagos. Before we presented Mama her award of recognition, we took turns to do drama skits of some of the things Mama used to do or say to us. There were many high points during the two days we spent at the reunion, but the most amazing for me was when all forty-five of us knelt down for Mama to bless us. After the blessing, we sang one of Mama’s favourite songs, ’He who would valiant be, ‘gainst all disasters’. Mama’s eyes lit up and she sang along with us, full of energy.
I feel so blessed to have been part of such a wonderful experience. We should not take our blessings for granted. At least five of our classmates have passed away, and there are quite a number we have not been able to trace. I intend to make the best of the opportunity we have been given to reconnect. At this time in our lives, we can all help one another with whatever we have, it could be emotional, physical, spiritual or financial support. I am also truly thankful that we had an opportunity to say Thank You to some of our teachers. I paid a private visit to Mama Adeniyi two years ago, just after she turned 90. I was however very happy that we were all able to publicly celebrate her on Saturday while she is still around to appreciate our gratitude. Do you take part in alumni activities? Or are you put off by the constant bickering, nagging, show offs and so on? Please make an effort. The schools need us. The students need us. And we need each other. Viva AGGS! Viva Class of 1978!
Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at [email protected] abovewhispers.com