Forty years after graduating from Dennis Memorial Grammar School, Onitsha, the 1977 graduates went back to the school that molded them and donated a skills acquisition centre. Kasie Abone who witnessed the reunion, reports
It was a memorable moment filled with nostalgia. It was a moment when accomplished men in different fields of endeavours suddenly became boys again. The event was historic and very special. It was the 40th anniversary celebration and reunion of the class of 77 old boys of Dennis Memorial Grammar School, (DMGS) Onitsha. The C77 were those students who graduated/sat for their West African Examination School Certificate Examination in 1977 at DMGS. Tagged 40th Anniversary Celebration/Reunion DOBA C77 which evoked so much emotions as most of them were seeing themselves for the first time after 40 years, the occasion also served to give back to a school that molded them into men of substance and means most of them had grown to become. From far end of the world where they all dispersed to after leaving their alma mater they gathered in their numbers leaving every other important engagement to witness the historic reunion 40 years after leaving DMGS. From Canada, USA, Europe, UK to join their mates within Nigeria to witness the epoch gathering. Their coming together was characterised by bear hugging, back slapping calling out their various nicknames, shouting out greetings from a distance. Some could not withhold shedding a tear or two of joy. They allowed it flow uninterrupted. The feeling was indescribable stepping their feet once again 40 years after for most of them into the school that molded them and seeing most of their classmates alive and doing well after such a long time. Fond memories of the Dengram days came flashing back in leaps. And relish it, they all did. The day started with a thanksgiving church service at All Saints Cathedral, Onitsha conducted by Ven. Obiora Uzochukwu, the Sub Dean of the Cathedral, joined by one of their own now a venerable of the Anglican Communion, Ven. Chuks Godson Okoli, DMGS Principal, Rev. Canon Chigozie Anieto among other Reverend gentlemen.
While delivering his sermon, Ven. Uzochukwu admonished the celebrants to not only use their substance to serve humanity but also to live lives that exemplify Christ teachings as instilled in them in this cathedral while they were yet students. He said: â€œYou may have been big this 40 years but there is a banquet waiting in heaven for only those who are truly born again and that have the spirit of Christ dwelling in them. This is an opportune time to receive Jesus Christ. It is my prayer that the spirit of God will quicken your spirit to be born in Christ with the hope of eternal life.â€
Sermon over, they rendered their school anthem. It was a nostalgic moment. It was a moment when accomplished men in different fields of endeavours suddenly became boys again. This was followed by special anniversary thanksgiving.
The high point was handing over the skills acquisition centre to the school through the principal of the school, Rev. Canon Chigozie Anieto. It was a moment of giving back to the school that gave so much to them. In line with the demands for practical learning the C77 set donated a vocational centre for skills acquisition to the school.
While unveiling the centre, Rev Anieto, who expressed gratitude to the class said the gesture was in line with current government move towards skills acquisition in schools. â€œI am so excited because I already have it in mind to do such a thing but it was going to cost us a lot of money. So, I reached out to them and today they have done something which I am excited about. Thank you as we expect more from you.â€
Also speaking, President General DMGS Old Boys Association, Sir Dr. Eric Anazodo, commended C77 for aligning with the new philosophy of DOBA for Class Sets to mobilise themselves towards giving back to their alma mater. In his words, â€œForty years after leaving the school they have kept in touch with one another and they have thoughtfully decided an area where we really need, a vocational centre. When we were here we had tailoring hobby and all that. So, it was very good they have tried to revive one of the projects we used to enjoy in DMGS. And do it in a very significant move. I am sure other class sets would emulate and go to other areas of need in the school.â€
â€œEntering the school, I have a feeling of nostalgia, the school has done so much for us and that is why whenever old boys are in every part of the world we think home so to say,â€ he added. He described the occasion as wonderful occasion adding entering the school I have a feeling of nostalgia.â€
Barr. Okey Dike Secretary C77 extended profound gratitude to all their classmates who came and who gave their time and talent towards the completion of the project.
After the unveiling, they relocated to Engr. Freedom Ifeobuâ€™s country home at Obosi who together with his amiable wife hosted them to a sumptuous lunch. The moment provided ample time for a lot of catching up, threw banters at each other laced with jokes reminiscing of their good old days; which elicited so much laughter. It was joyous and memorable. Some others who missed earlier activities received rousing welcome as they joined the lunch. One of the late arrivals was the Deputy Governor of Anambra State, Dr. Nkem Okeke whose arrival elicited wild jubilation. Throwing all protocols to the winds, he melted into their company. Okeke, though naturally very unassuming was in his best elements. Tears of joy rolled down his cheeks as he relieved how he almost derailed before his father withdrew him to Lagos where he was remolded and redirected.
â€œToday brings beautiful memories. We were all together, we were all young not knowing what life will bring. Today, we are all achievers in our different fields. We thank God for His mercies. We pray that things will continue to improve in our lives. Our children will grow up to be like us or even better.â€ Asked what he was sharing with his mates he said, â€œI was telling them a story how I derailed in DMGS until my father took me out to Lagos. I became a day student and he was teaching me at home. I realised I didn’t know much. I completely derailed. My father knew the value of education. In fact, he made a statement one day that really changed my life. He looked at me one and said â€œYou can’t be my son.â€ So, I realised that I had to change my ways and become more focused. Look at me today, with God’s grace I have become the deputy governor of Anambra State. I have a lot to thank God. I really do.â€
Dr. Browne Okonkwo was the brightest and most intelligent of his mates. He topped the class in WAESC coming out with distinction. His classmates have not forgotten. â€œTo God be the glory I graduated in flying colours. In fact, I was the best in our set. I had aggregate 10 Grade One distinction in WAEC. And from Class 5 I entered the university. We had five distinctions in our set but I had the best, Freedom Ifeobu, (their host) also made distinction with aggregate 12. School was cool. We enjoyed ourselves in school. We had good time unlike what is happening now. We were studious, we were hard working. Though we didn’t have a lot of teachers at the time but we studied very hard and we came out in flying colours. Uniting with my classmates today makes me feel good. In fact, I had to shelve a lot of programmes to be here. As a medical doctor I had to keep a lot of patients at bay to be here.â€
For Canada-based Prince Peter Ezenwa, the brain behind the vocational centre, â€œthe reunion has made it possible for most of us to come back for us to see. This union has been most eventful. I am happy about that. Recalling memorable moments, he said â€œWe used to go to fetch water at Nkisi River about five kilometres away. You fetch the water with a bucket that had no cover. By the time you get to the school the water is half the bucket. The way we cut the grass. So much we enjoyed.â€
The Interim Chairman, DOBA C77, Mr. Sunny Chuba Nwachukwu, said there were so many he had not seen in the last 40 years after graduation. In fact, 60 per cent of the people I saw today I had not seen them since leaving school in 1977. As a matter of fact over 60 per cent of my classmates I saw today I never saw them since we left school. So it is full of nostalgia and I give appreciation to the Almighty God to have kept us alive to meet today, it is wonderful. About 22 of our members have passed on but we will continue to pray to the Almighty to continue to keep their souls in eternal peace.”
Mr. Ben Okafor, a Lagos-based business man who works in the oil sector gave a graphic account of life as a Dengramite. “We were victims of the Civil War. Between 67 and 70 we were out of school. When the Civil War ended I now finished my primary school. In 1972 when we were entering for secondary school, you have to choose three schools. My father chose three schools for me DMGS number one, Government College, Owerri and Government College, Umuahia. As fate would have it I passed common entrance. I had 35 score. I guess the highest was 36. So, my father said I should go to grammar school. So, I went to grammar school on merit. My father was the person that brought me to school.
That was the first time I was leaving home. Though we were matured then by virtue of the Civil War but then in the mix of different students from different backgrounds it was quite exciting. The basic facilities were not there in terms of toilets, going to fetch water and all that but after a while all that became part of us. So, it was quite great. And the first prayer we had with our principal was at the same cathedral we visited today. I could vividly remember what he said. He quoted one version in the Bible and he said â€œwhen I was a boy I thought like a boy, I did like a boy. When I now became a man, everything changed.â€ In other words, telling us that we were no more boys and now we were on our own and we should think and do things independently. He looked at us as boys who were coming from different homes so we should be strong. School was very perfect. We went through it religiously especially attending our chapel, evening prayer. It was very religious because they made sure they inculcate the right morals in us. Every evening we had prayers and sing Ancient and Modern hymn book. At a point Ancient and Modern became part of us that we can sing off head without looking at the book because every evening we must sing. On Sundays we go to chapel in the morning, in the evening we return to All Saints Cathedral and we pray and sing. So, all the church activities and the Anglicanism that I grew up with in DMGS was so deep in me in terms of Ekpele nâ€™Abu and the things that are there. That is the moral. In terms of academics, all our teachers were quite excellent and disciplined.”
Okafor who was more a socialite then, a smart dresser and party freak, a combination of character that earned him the nickname “Don Pedro” also spoke about being a deviant. “Then I could remember that I was deviant, the first bad report I had was by my house master; that a boy who comes to school with coloured dresses, because I would come with those things I would wear to attend parties. When I returned home my father really flogged hell out of me. He now took it upon himself to check my box anytime I was going back to school to see what I was going back with. Even at that I had to find a way out of it. So, that was why in school, every party I must be there. Not that I was a bad boy but I like the social aspect of it. I enjoyed myself. I must attend debate, I was a good debater. I was an average student.
Probably if I had committed more of time to academics I would have been above average. But because I spend so much time on the social part of it, it took most of my time. My father worked in Shell before the war. He was an impeccable dresser. In my hometown they referred to him as the most handsome man in his own days. So, his dress sense robbed off on me. That was the aspect of my life at DMGS everybody still remembers. In fact, we had a clique, we called ourselves Cosmic Generation. Anywhere they had any party if Cosmic was not there it was not a party. So, they called me Don Pedro. Dan Collins, First Apollos, etc. If you don’t have a nickname in DMGS you don’t belong. So, they call me Don Pedro, the don of parties. So, it was fun for all of us and I thank God after forty years we were able to come together and see my classmates again. Oh it was so glorious, it was wonderful. Something keeps coming to my mind. In 1972, the first church service we had in that cathedral, our first principal, Rev. Canon Chinwuzie from Oba, mounted the pulpit, he quoted that verse I was telling you. I could just remember the section of the pulpit where he was. And seeing my classmates coming into the same cathedral where we were well nurtured in Christian way. I tell you if you pass through DMGS and you don’t turn up a disciplined person, apart from the teachers and most importantly the religious aspect of it, going to All Saints Cathedral on Sundays, in the evening you return to All Saints Cathedral. Evening prayers you must come, you sing. So, it was awesome. From Monday to Friday, we must have evening songs. If you come to morning assembly you must sing. At some point, we sing off head because of the thing you do every day. It was awesome seeing the same people you grew up with coming together after 40 years. Most of them who married early are now grandparents they are all achievers in their different fields. So it is great. And what we did today was to express gratitude to God for keeping us alive after 40 years and giving back to the same institution which in one way or the other shaped us into who we are today. We have not done enough. I believe we shall do more and to set a kind of standard that others coming after us will follow.”
The event climaxed with cutting of their anniversary cake, rendering their school anthem while they relaxed for some more catching up with good old times.
It was one of very rare occasions that it was difficult, very difficult to bid each other hood bye. But as even time came, and yours truly had to go, tearing Don Pedro out of the group to take me to the nearest bus station was like separating Siamese twins with bare hands. As they dispersed and bade each other farewell there is no doubt that the memory of this ruby celebration would last for a long time to come.