Five years ago, I was certain I would be writing this post on the lush green grasses of an Ivy League campus or a Chipotle restaurant close to highly rated liberal arts college. University had to be in America. 3 years of education in a pseudo concentration camp setup had drained all the drive left in me to continue schooling in Ghana. The lure of an American education was too appealing to not consider. The names of all the top universities in the land of the star spangled banner was known to most us. We started flipping through the pages of Barron’s and Kaplan SAT prep books long before we began cramming Aki-Ola for WASSCE.
Five years ago, I probably would not have imagined writing this message on a WordPress blog. A blog religiously kept for close to a year and nominated for a national award. Writing was not my biggest obsession. I could rant on Facebook occasionally about a government corruption scandal or Manchester United’s struggles as a club but writing a full blown out article was not yet in my resume.
Discovering my latent writing skills happened on the campus of a university I thought I was not going to attend. The University of Ghana is just a stone’s throw away from my high school and probably a hurl away from my home. When I started harboring unrealistic dreams of being the next Dwayne Wade, I trekked to and fro to the university’s basketball court to throw air balls and dribble the basketball like it was a hot potato. Legon to me represented a propelling platform to rosy dreams of donning an NBA jersey and slam dunking it home in the fourth quarter of an Eastern Conference final game.
When Legon materialized as the community I was going to spend four years of my life in, it came with a healthy mixture of everything life could possibly throw at anyone. It was right here in Legon that I realized I could pull a trick or two with the pen and keyboard of a laptop.
In 2013 during the Easter break, my whiling away of time on Facebook proved fruitful for the first time. On my timeline was an advertisement for an essay competition with a thousand dollar prize and a trip to Kenya. The last time I entered an essay competition prior to that, my entry was disqualified because my work was incoherent and the ideas, all over the map like US troops. A thousand dollars was the prize money so whipping up a better piece came with a lot of incentive. Not forgetting how broke I was back then.
I entered the competition with an essay written after long hours of prep. It felt like taking the bar exams. I researched, wrote, cancelled, researched more, proof read every line a thousand and one times and finally clicked send on my yahoo mail. Two months later, yahoo sent me a notification about a mail from a reputable African think tank, the organizers of the competition. The first words of the mail read “Dear Shafic Osman, congratulations on placing first…………” Everything after that was a blur. The Muslim in me got me shouting ALHAMDULILAH while the showoff part of me wanted to go on Facebook and tell the world.
A couple of dollars richer and back from Kenya, my writing went to sleep. Sophomore year of Economics ensured that all attention had to be channeled to advanced studies in demand, supply and mid-level calculus. Funny thing about economics in Legon is, regardless of how long you study, a question somehow sneaks up on you and bursts your exam bubble. At least that has stayed true for me.
Burdened with the need to keep my GPA afloat, writing took a backseat to my somewhat academic progress. However, I opened a blog or two and eventually left it dormant for the vultures of the internet to feast on. Focusing on my academics became my topmost priority but excelling at it was another issue.
The minute economics became more mathematical, everything looked fuzzy. I am probably one of the victims of mathematical anxiety. Comprehending how to take account of the national level of output in plain English is not a hustle. Give me a 100 page article on any economics issue which has no mathematics in it and I will be done in a jiffy. But finding such an article is like locating the Holy Grail. The field of economics is mathematically laden and overcoming any trace of mathematical anxiety is a prerequisite to excelling in it. I still struggle with this anxiety. I guess that tells you how excellent I am at this Demand and Supply thing.
Bearing myself down with backpacks full of books I could not master was surely not the way to while away time. There had to be something worthwhile in this community of over 30000 students. Sports was an option but my level of endurance was like that of a septuagenarian making his way up the Great Wall of China. Student politics was the other alternative but the pettiness dominating the field was nauseating to my “politically holier than thou” self. And then I heard about debate!!!
All my life I have been a talker. Mom used to call me “peace fm” because my mouth knew no rest like the newscasters of the radio station I was named after. From class 1 through to JHS 3, every end of year report on me had “likes talking in class” at the Teacher’s remarks section. This penchant for speaking had to be put into good work and what better place to achieve this than in the debate society.
A gathering of students with the most amazing rhetoric skills is the perfect ambience to hone your public speaking. Challenged with coming up with well-prepared case in 15 minutes and delivering it coherently in 7 minutes is as exciting as it gets. Once you get bitten by fangs of debate, you become intoxicated with an obsession to deconstruct to the basest level, every argument your ear picks up. Whether it is through eavesdropping in a Trotro, your mothers “because I am your mother” premise or your lecturer’s academic talk, everything becomes subject to a rebuttal.
Debate came with immense personal growth and broadening of worldly scope. It came with appearance in several tournaments, nationally and internationally as well as a handful of medals and folders filled with certificates. However, karma in debate is not reached when you clinch the shiniest of trophies. It comes when your relevance extends beyond 7 minutes and the podium. When you translate the eloquence into real life spaces where issues discussed are actually carried out and not limited to the discretion of adjudicators.
My debate Karma occurred on a Saturday morning sometime in October 2014. I was warming the bench of my hall’s basketball team when the host of Ghana’s only basketball talk show, Fast break On TV3 stopped by. Passingly, I mentioned how I was a fan of his show. Out of the blue, he offered to have me on his show sometime after I told him I followed the NBA and occasionally wrote an article or two on basketball. As we say in Presec, like joke like joke I was billed to be on TV.
When you appear on national TV for the first time without any preparation, you are bound to stutter and have the cocoons in your stomach blossoming into butterflies. But you do get through your first time and after that, you walk through subsequent sessions like Gifty Anti on the evening news. The public speaking skills you learn from debate come in handy as you express yourself in a discipline you love. Away from the TV screens, you run commentary during national basketball championships and join the “I saw you on TV” club.
The experiences you live in those four years in Legon can be as exciting as you choose to make them. You could have a bland life like my Math and Stats major roommate who has Lecture Hall-Room-Cook-Study-Watch Series-Sleep and repeat the cycle life. Or it could be like that of my other roommate who volunteers at Radio Universe and is arguably one of Ghana’s leading debaters. The experience could be like that one of the many recipients of the “Best Couple” award during the many end of year departmental celebrations. Those lovebirds who “grabbed” each other for the better part of the last four years. Or it could be a hapless story of “Boy meets girl. Boy likes girl but Boy is too lazy to do the chasing”.
Regardless of the experience, four years is a fleeting time. Eventually you will sit down for your last paper and the pleasant memories will come rushing in. The “Had I known” will do too. At the end of the day, what matters most is how those years mold you into the person you want to be and should be. The people you meet in gob3 lines and TV rooms could become better friends with you than those you sit in the same class with. Half the books you should be reading might probably not be on the reading list of your course outline. And so is what you should be studying. But do not let anyone lie to you about the essence of the GPA. If you Ace it while doing a thousand and one things on the side that is fine. But never lose focus of that average even though those who say “GPAs do not determine lives” are very close to the truth.
So four years of undergraduate studies has been wrapped up like a Chipotle Burrito. It is now time for Babies and Diapers!!!