How to choose your mentor – pitch in Mentors are for life! Work in progress
Fight like the underdog and finish like the favorite.
I have thought about the best way to tell this story for many months and the excitement about writing it gave me the illusion that it would take a good chunk of my quiet time to really do justice to it.
In my head, I have shared this story too many times and I am beginning to feel like the underdog!
Let’s get right to it.
Chris was the unusually quiet boy way back in secondary school. He wasn’t popular amongst his colleagues in anyway and this was even after spending 5years in the boarding hostel in Mayflower School, nestled somewhere in Ikenne.
He sometimes appeared aloof and lost in his own thoughts. He was the sort you could call “introverted extrovert”! He was comfortable living inside his head where ideas and thoughts flashed in almost blinding consistency. While in the company of his really good friends, he would have a hearty laugh and enjoy the bliss of true friendship. He sort of enjoyed both worlds.
He would prefer to keep his circle of friends small and loyalty was a value he held so dear. But he was also awfully shy. In his head, he played all sort of raps and soulful music- they kept him company and sane. He found solace in the quietude of music from inside his head.
He couldn’t lock eyes with a girl his age while conversing with one and that is if he ever got half the chance. And he would also admit that it didn’t feel the same when he talked with his sister who was a year younger. It must be his hormones, he sometimes wondered.
He therefore had a healthy reputation. He was never caught on the wrong side of the school regulations where other students breached with reckless abandon. If he ever gave it a shot, it was because he was absolutely certain he wouldn’t get caught.
Mayflower was one of the very few schools where the tenets of democracy was systematically entrenched into the psychic of young adolescents so early in life. Every year, students would cast their votes for their preferred leaders in one of the most transparent electoral processes you can imagine existed as far back as the earlier eighties.
What sort of leaders you ask? Senior Prefects, Labour prefect, Sanitary officer, Sport Prefect, Social Prefect and the works. Each with defined roles to keep the school organized and students in check. It was the school’s firm believe that leaders must be deserving of their roles and right from the rigorous selection and screening of the candidates to the voting process, responsible leaders emerged as though refined from the kiln.
The electoral process had all the trappings of glamour defined by melodramatic campaigns, graffiti, campaign souvenirs, colorful manifesto nights, even the quiet voting process and then the glorious chants of victory up until the subsequent swearing in of the first Citizen (The senior prefects).
It was truly an experience for any young student to witness. Intense yet rewarding, exciting yet heart wrenching. Every student trusted the process and the candidates gave it their best shot.
Some students with affluent background would literally hand out gifts to gullible students in the junior classes in an attempt to win votes. It worked for some, but others quickly learned the hard way. On the other hand, students with a modest background or those who didn’t think they had a good chance would give it a feeble fight by visiting as many classes as they could armed with lofty promises dripping from their sugarcoated mouth.
To be honest, it was one of the truly unique and impressionable moments that every young student those years would certainly never confine to the doldrums of their memory. Second only to the popular “Self-reliance” camping in the thickest bushes of Sofola farm!
Waves of nostalgia would not allow me continue this piece.
Please allow me take a breather!
Chris had been nominated for the coveted social prefect role and he had no clue who put him up. Over the five years in school, he had witnessed the pizazz of the electoral process and watched as leaders emerged every year. He had never imagined that he would be dragged into the buzz of campaigning and voting. He was too shy to speak and his nerves would not permit him enough strength to go through the rigors of campaigning and winning vote.
To make matters worse, he was up against two of the most popular boys in school. Both of them were quite popular with the girls and had a cult-like following. Everyone knew that once you have the senior girls on your side, the rest of the election was history. The campaign was therefore fought right in the girl’s hall and hostel for the two contestants. Heated debates and fierce argument divided friends and caused disquiet amongst the senior girls about the two boys. Chris on the other hand was so unknown, so much that, not once was his name mentioned when heated conversations about the campaign for that role had gone cold. Not once. He was referred to in third party – “That other guy”
A few days earlier when Chris managed to turn up for the screening at the vice principal’s office, he was first besieged with questions about his state of origin. His Niger-Delta origin placed him in the minority in a school dominated by tribes of the southern extract. Although he grew up in Lagos, he had to unlearn the Yoruba language he thought he knew all his young life. The school even had a day (Wednesday) dedicated to speaking the language during the morning assembly!
Now, the panelist were curious about his tribe, not that it mattered much for the entire electoral process, but there was something about the young boy that got them asking him to sing a song.
He dished out a local sonorous tune passionately, his eyes shut to the moment until he dropped the last tune. When he opened his eyes, he could see the nod of approval as they ushered him on. As he walked out of the vice principals office that afternoon, he had absolutely no clue how he was going to compete with the other two popular boys. He was the official underdog!
One afternoon Chris snapped.
He had barely started campaigning after the school authorities had declared the process open. In fact, at the time, no one knew he was a candidate for the social prefect position.
There he was walking down the well-cultivated farmland right behind the hotel lost in thought and wondering how best to approach his conundrum. He was a quiet young boy who would now test his mettle with others in the battle for popularity.
An idea sprung up on him. He resolved he would have to go solo and visit every class room and stream he could find right from the junior classes up until the senior classes. When he availed his mental faculties of the number of classes, it jerked in revolt. A whooping 52classes in all!
As he retraced his steps from the farmland he had wandered far into, he was convinced that going round the classes was the best approach to give it his best shot, using the only skill he was convinced could never fail him- his voice!
Chris shared his plan with two of his closest friends. They were piqued by his enthusiasm more than the chances of changing anything. They weren’t even convinced that the tactic would work. But he was all they had.
He started from the Junior classes (JSS1), the moment the last class teacher stepped out of the class just before break time, Chris walked in alone to the amazement of eagled-eyed junior students who had no clue what he was about.
His heart was threatening to break out of the confines of his rib cage. He was thrust into an unfamiliar situation. His comfort zone had gone up in flames the moment he walked into the classroom. He was alone. All by himself as none of his friends had been informed of his daring move that hot afternoon. Afterall it was his cross to bear and he was willing to carry this one alone. He had nothing to lose!
He took deep breaths in quick succession and his fears fled as he found his voice. He introduced himself and asked them to cast their votes for him. He was also willing to show them what he’s got. And with that he started a soulful rendition of the “Junior and Pretty” song that was popular that year.
As beads of sweat broke out on his forehead crawling down his round face, his voice bellowed through the quiet classroom just as the curious young lads and girls looked quizzically at each other before joining in the first chorus.
Somewhere within that classroom, as Chris sang on, one student accompanied the song with the drumming on his desk. Buoyed by the acceptance, Chris rhymed and rapped the verses and the class erupted into a chaotic dance till he was done.
“Vote for me – My name is Chris”
When he walked into the next classroom, he was accompanied by all 60 students in the first classroom. And with each performance he built a strong following.
Each day, they waited for him to show up at the next class. The junior students soon talked about Chris in their halls with their “school mothers” and soon his name was on the lips of every junior student.
His friends joined him as he moved into other junior classes. His closest circle of friends that it. The belief in what he had started was so palpable that they could almost touch it.
Chris was suddenly unstoppable, classes begged that he campaigned in their classes before the others. Some asked for a repeat performance. Others just wondered what was really happening.
Wherever he went, the crowd of students followed. He had to dish out new tunes and songs for each class. He even allowed them choose the song they wanted to hear. It was crazy and yet amazing!
From zero to hundred in just a few days.
His competitors you ask? They were in self-denial. They were convinced that his popularity was a flash in the pan and that the junior students were mostly in for the entertainment. There was no way he could win the most important votes.
But secretly, some of the girls were astonished by his consistency, his boldness and his tactic. No one saw him coming and he hit really hard. They “kinda” liked him. He suddenly looked quite handsome. His school shirt suddenly looked well-tailored. They even thought his English was immaculate and his diction was different.
What they hadn’t realized was that he was “work in progress” for so long that no one noticed. No one realized that he was also a product of self-refinement. He got the push by someone he still can’t figure out till date and he seized the moment. Took his chances and gave it his best shot.
If he was going to lose, he wanted to know he gave it his best shot!
And so it was that he visited all the classes and the students who waited till break time to join the throng of happy lads were harder to control every time. They didn’t allow him sing sometimes. Everyone wanted to share in his moment. He barely sang as his name was now a rhyme on every student’s lips.
What did you expect?
Chris won the election. I would love to say by a mile…but sometimes I can’t trust my recollection of numbers.
It was a deserving and resounding victory.
He made a great social Prefect and memories of the social nights that year are always evergreen.
An amazing learning for Chris himself. He changed his own story all by himself. The lessons are so many to learn so much that 25years later when we discussed this feat at the Oriental hotel that afternoon, I was convinced that it was worth writing about.
Chris discovered his strengths from then on and has made a successful career, family and business out of it. He went on to make a career in disk jockeying (DJ)too!
His audacity to brave the odds and to use his strengths to change the narrative is defining and will always be a turning point he can refer to.
Thank you buddie for allowing me share your story!
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