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Memories of my sojourn at the old school

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On Wednesday, I had the distinction of being this year’s honouree at the graduation ceremony of the St Vincent Grammar School. The invitation caused me to reflect on my sojourn at that school, really a journey that impacted tremendously on my life. My association with the school as student and teacher spanned 16 years, with my nine years as student and non-graduate teacher being very formative ones that

helped to shape me into the being that I am today. They were, indeed, glorious days.

What I remembered most about my first two weeks was the number of fights that occurred daily, often by the same students. Fights started sometimes in the classroom, continued during the breaks, were interrupted by the bell, only to start again later. I was told that in former years, those inclined to fight were supplied with boxing gloves, perhaps a civilized way of dealing with it!

Cricket and football occupied much of my time. In my third year, I made the school’s first eleven team, which played in the National First Division cricket competition. Shortly after, I got on to the football team. Eventually, I became the first student to have captained the cricket and football teams at the same time. The year I graduated, about six of us students were called up for trials for the national cricket team.

The time of my first caning is marked indelibly in my memory. I commuted to Barrouallie then. One afternoon, I was awaiting my friend Bing Oliver, who was packing his bag.  There was some noise in the hall. After all, it was three o’clock! Headmaster Miller, after whom Miller House was named, came out of his office, and beckoned Bing. Bing had done nothing to deserve the caning he was about to get. I was amused and started laughing. Mr Miller looked back and summoned me to his office to get a taste of the brutality which he was famous for administering. We only knew later that anytime the headmaster came out of his office, never to look at him, for he caned the first boy to make eye contact. We learnt this the bitter way. Commuting presented problems for me, with my involvement in cricket and football. To participate in house matches meant missing the bus and walking home, although I was always fortunate to get a ride, walking one day as far as Rillan Hill before being rescued.

At break, there was always a race to the tuck shop to taste Miss Emily’s mauby and bodyline. Miss Emily and her tuck shop were institutions in the school and she stood out, having seen masters and headmasters come and go. She had power and held the school’s historical memory.

My crowning achievement as a student was to have attained the position of head prefect. Prefects carried some power, since they could hold students in detention and recommend them to be caned. This was often abused, as a way of demonstrating power.

On graduation, I was appointed a non-graduate teacher and taught history and English to the third and fourth forms. I often meet persons who remind me that I used to teach them at that time, among them, some who have residence at the mental hospital. It was a challenge then, because I was teaching students who were almost my age. This was an important period that I recognized only when I went to university. Those years served me in good stead, because I entered with a degree of maturity, missing from those who went soon after high school. Those years also helped to sharpen my academic skills.

(To be continued)

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian

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