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Be Whoever You Want To Be!

Last week, I had the honour of being the Guest Speaker at my alma mater, the Murray Deen Preparatory School. I was absolutely delighted to be back there after 20 years. The school ground felt different but familiar, and I had so many flashbacks from my time there. After I got the call, I wondered what I would say to 10, 11, or 13-year-olds that wouldn't bore them to death and would at least give them some hope and inspiration. My former teacher who called to extend the invitation for the 'Social Day' had told me that I could talk about anything. So I managed to write down some thoughts thinking that it was going to be a class of pupils, probably sitting around in a circle, for a small talk. I was working a 24-hour shift that day but I really wanted to honour the invitation so I asked my boss to cover me for three hours while I went to do the talk. So I entered the school grounds and woooo, all the pupils and teachers were seated in the school hall. It was the official farewell ceremony for the class 6 pupils who just sat to the National Primary School Exams (NPSE),marking the completion of their primary education. I was stunned for a second. My former teacher had assumed that I knew that the school had started doing leavers events but I did not know this. I later learned that it was started about two-three years ago. My former class two teacher, in her welcome address, had already blown my horn to the fullest. She told the pupils and other teachers about how I was a star pupil and excelled in school. And this wasn't even the introduction of the guest speaker. By the time we got to that point, the pupils had echoed 'hmmmmmh' in admiration, I suppose. It was an incredible but nerve-wracking feeling because I felt unprepared for a very formal event.

Anyway, I got up from my chair amidst the round of applause and took the podium. I felt a sudden calm when I got up there. Looking around the school, the flowers and the flag stands were familiar. On my left was my class 2 room, and close to it, the stairs leading to class four. On my right were the rooms for classes 5 and 6 and the Head Teacher's office. Behind me was the stage that I had been on many times during my time there. I was calmer. It was familiar territory.

I thanked the teacher and pupils for having and reintroduced myself to the pupils in terms that they could fully understand. I could see the perplexity on some of their faces at the earlier introduction of me. They were smiling and nodding. Being a doctor and noticing that almost everyone had their masks on their chins, I started with a short Q and A session on COVID-19. I found it interesting because the kids knew a lot about it but still had their masks on their chins and necks. But I was not utterly surprised. This is what the adults do all the time, so it is only right that the little ones also feel this was right. After we agreed on the importance of keeping our masks on, this is what I had to say to them...

Thank you all again for inviting me to give a talk on this all important day. 20 years ago, I did not imagine that I would be called upon to be a guest speaker. I had so many great memories during my 5 years at this school. After I got Rev. Rogers' call, asking me to be the guest speaker, I wondered why me? I was a good pupil, alright, but I wasn't the brightest or the best. So why me? But then I realized that it is to remind you that you can be whoever you want to be; you don't have to be the brightest. You just have to be the very best version of yourselves every day. And so that is what I am going to tell you today!

Today, I am going to tell you to be fearless, be realistic, work hard and go after the things you love and are passionate about. You can be successful at any and everything if you work hard enough. And the world is big enough to accommodate all of us and all our dreams and aspirations. So don't ever settle! Never settle! Soon enough, if you haven't already, you'll slowly start to find out your passions and the subjects that you find intriguing. When I was your age, I knew I loved reading, and writing, and creative arts. I loved to use my hands. So it is really not a surprise that I ended up wanting to become a Surgeon. Surgery allows me to use my hands and my brain. If someone's bone is broken, I use my hands and try to fix them. And nothing gives me more joy than seeing them get better. As long as you're passionate about what you do and you do it to the best of your abilities, that is your success story right there! Don't compare your journey with someone else's. We are all different and unique in our own ways. And if you fail along the way, get up and try again. Try harder.

These teachers have given you all the foundation you need to succeed and become outstanding leaders of your time. I know this because this school made me. So often, when I speak, I am asked if I studied abroad. I did study abroad but only two years ago. I learned to talk well right here at this school. The education that I got has carried me through many stages in my life. I would be lying if I stand here and tell you it has been a completely smooth ride. I have had challenges. I have had to retake exams, but I never give up. I found what I loved and worked (and I'm still working) really hard. Success comes with hard work and commitment. I have these incredible teachers here to thank for that- for giving me a solid foundation.

Apart from being a doctor, I am also a writer. I own a blog where I share my stories about work and life in general. Writing is a skill that I learned at Murray Deen. Those compositions and letter writings made me better. They all have shaped me into the person that I am today. My handwriting is better than most doctors I know because our art teacher, Mr. Bangura, made sure we learned about calligraphy. That word and its definition have stuck with me for more than 20 years. Calligraphy is the art of using beautiful handwriting (I showed them a picture of one of my wall hangings from when I was in class 5). Through morning devotions and being part of the school choir, I learned hymns, Psalms, and bible stories. So when I teach at Sunday school, it all comes easy. I am grateful that Mrs. Scott let us get involved in our Brownie Guide inauguration. It showed me how well-organized events should look (I showed them my Brownie Guide Certificate 22 years ago). You would wonder why I keep all of these. They are my reminders of how far I've come, all my successes and struggles.

I can go on and on about all the beautiful things I learned and gained from this school. But the point that I'm trying to pass on is that you have been empowered with so much. You can succeed and be whoever you want to be. Most of you are probably 10,11, 12 years old, and you still have your whole life ahead of you. I am 30, and I still have a long way to go. Nothing is definite. The world is constantly changing. But, everything is possible if you believe and work towards it. All you need is hard work and God's grace, and you can conquer the world.

20 years ago, I was one of you, ready to enter into unfamiliar territories. You should all be super proud of yourselves. You have done so well to survive primary education. I know it's not always easy- all the hot mental tests, but the end is absolutely worth it. Also, be proud and grateful for your teachers. They are building you up for a great future. Look where they got me! Just imagine all the endless possibilities. I am rooting for all of you. I would love to see future ministers, presidents, and leaders in all spheres of life from our Murray Deen. May the odds always be in your favor. This little light of Murray Deen, we're going to let it shine!! Thank you all so much, and all the very best for the future!

If you're reading this, remember that you can also be whoever you want. Remember how far you've come and keep pressing on. You are doing amazing!

Right to Left: Mr Terrence Williams, Mrs Leticia Harding, Rev Christian Rogers, Me, Mr Bangura, Miss Thorpe
With a cross section of my former teachers and the new head teacher

Lights of Murray Deen, Class of 2021

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