TO MY SON AS HE MATRICULATES (1)
One of the thrills I had as a part-time lecturer and one of the reasons I left the position was the behaviour of a certain student in my class. This boy, who seemed to be part of the student body, had come to study Mass Communication and it turned out that he was not ready for anything else.
This handsome boy with sagging trousers and hair on top had come into what the University told me was my office with his hands on his hips. It is easy for students to put their hands on their hips if they are not carrying books, not when they talk to their teachers. 'Look sir,' he said, 'I came here to read Mass Communication. Why do I have to study this stuff? Why do I have to learn Psychology and History?' His English was not exactly as rich but it came clear that he got the idea of the university wrong.
New (and standing on one leg) as I was in that University, I could have told this specimen a number of things. I could have pointed out that he had enrolled, not in a vendor-mechanics school, but in a university, and that at the end of his course he meant to reach for a scroll that read Bachelor of Science in Mass Communication. It would not read: Qualified Newspaper Distributor … and Reader. The urge was also to tell him that his scroll would certify that he had specialized in Mass Communication and had attained a certain minimum qualification and that he had been exposed (yes exposed!) to some of the ideas mankind has generated in its history.
That is to say, he had not come to receive a limited technical training but a university education and that in the university, students enroll for both education and training.
I could have told him all this but it was obvious he wasn't going to be around long enough for my advice to matter; judging by his demeanor, the first semester examination will blow him to the street corner where he will continue to specialize in the names of all football players in Europe, how much they are worth, their cars and girl friends. Rather than do all that, I saved my breath and thought of my own child who had just enrolled to study engineering at the University of Nigeria. This letter is for him on his matriculation:
For the rest of your life, your day will average out to about twenty-four hours. This will be a little shorter if you are in love and a little longer if you are out of love…with your wife. The average will tend to hold. A third of those hours will be lost to sleep. You remember your late grandmother, my mother. She believed, like her age, that sleep is a waste of time! Just may be!
Like every father, I pray daily that you stay healthy and focused and the resources keep flowing in for me and your mum until you and your brother and sister graduate. Assuming God grants me this plea, about eight of those hours will be employed in your professional skills. You will see to it that you do not send yourself to jail by designing/supervising structural works the way your teachers taught you. Collapsed buildings and faultily constructed roads have cost this country so many lives that a law will soon be enacted to send all who have a hand in them to jail. If you do well to keep out of jail, an unending barrage of lawsuits can just be as bad.
If you learn well enough to pick a job and keep from trouble, this education can bring you some basic satisfactions. Along with everything else, it will set your table, support your wife and rear your children. This is your income, and may it always suffice.
Now about the last eight hours, one other third of your life - what do you do with it? I pray you end up in your family, not in the bar. What sort of family are you going to raise? Will your children be exposed to a reasonably penetrating idea of life? Now that democracy has started forcing itself on the world, even in the middle-east, will they be intellectually alive to undestand it or will they be part of it only as thugs? I hope you know what I'm saying. Will there be books in the house to keep their minds from wandering?
To be continued
•Anekwe is of Diewa Writers Club
To my son as he matriculates (2)
Will there be a painting in your home to engage the eyes of a reasonably sane mind? Will the children speak your vernacular, native language and good English? Will the television be tuned 80 percent of the time to the popular (notorious/magic?) channels where the children will learn how not to trust their uncles and cousins and friends or will it be tuned to news channels and good music? These are the identities of man. There is not time enough in a three life times to invent for oneself everything one needs to know in order to be a civilized human.
The university has included Achebe as a reading. They know why a budding engineer should study that. That is why the university tasks you to know things from Sigmund Freud of psychology. When you read him, you see how the human brain and mind work. You also will have part of their experience. So will you take little parts of the minds of Aristotle and Sophocles, if you have a chance of studying their works. I took geology and chemistry as compulsory electives while studying Mass Communication. I had to this sometime that to quieten your constant probing while we were watching the earthquake of Haiti. Every learning is useful and when required by the university, should be enjoyed.
Do not tell me that you are there to study only engineering with its associated linear equation, heat and light and other jargons people of your ilk in applied sciences try to impress us with. The university is there to make you a complete human. Uncles Clem and Inno are two engineers you know well. Clem is an inventor while Inno contributed in giving our city many landmarks. You know also that both speak French well. They navigate through life by this language.
As this is true of the techniques of mankind, so is it true of the mankind's spiritual resources. Take your spiritual exercises serious. Somebody may tell you that God is old fashioned. That is very true but it also shows it's an enduring fashion. Yes! Don't forget the many uses to which you put your phone.
Keep using your e-mail, twitter, flicker, face-book, linkeldon and all those social network sites? You need all those things to live in Nigeria of your own time. Avoid the use of SMS. Your other uncle, Professor Ocho confirms its style has crept into and hurts written grammar. He should know. He teaches it.
Eat all the local food at the campus. Enjoy every bit of your stay. You will never be this age again. See every lecturer as your father and mother because that is what they are. If any of them becomes angry with you, humbly go and pacify him with apology. As it is with us, so it is with them.
We can't wait to see you on your first holidays. Mum has pledged to prepare pounded yam. Only you have to pound it.
Anekwe is of Diewa Writers Club.