We are gathered here today to celebrate our own graduation, and for that I would like to begin by saying congratulations. We made it omera, we made it.
I cannot start talking about the graduating class of 2014 without remembering a classmate and a friend who is no longer with us; Racheal Waithera Njiri. And I am truly saddened that she, in a matter of legal speaking, rested her case so damn early. Kindly, take off those square hats from your heads and observe a moment of silence for this departed, genuinely good person.
Now, I know I am not the class valedictorian so I will not make a speech at the graduation square today. Many people will, however, most of them our lecturers who bored us to sleep while we were in campus. I want to warn you that it will be no different. And therefore, as the outgoing chairman of the Kenya Law Students Society (fondly known to many of you as Jakom) I wrote this speech for all the comrade graduands from The University of Nairobi, and more specifically, Parklands Campus School of Law located next to the chinoiserie that is Thika Road.
Now you know me, I am a storyteller. After today, I doubt our paths will cross because I have decided to render my entire four years in law school almost useless by becoming a freelance scribe. That is why you do not see Mother Karua in the crowd. Anyway, let me begin by telling you something that happened earlier this week.
I took a picture of myself in a graduation gown and posted it online. Three hours later, there were over 150 likes and a trail of comments going deep into my timeline, deeper than the pit Ole Lenku harvests his excuses from. I will be honest with you, I felt famous. Hell, I felt like a socialite. Perhaps I am. Parklands campus is known to churn out socialites every year. First came the queen of twerk, Maura Malanga. Then came the lady with a killer bumper, Corazon Kwamboka. Perhaps those figures are a sign that the dubious mantle has been passed on to me. Who am I to say no to the names that Mukundi and Kibaki have already coined; Vera Magungika and Jakomazon?
That night I went back to my bachelor’s pad. Mukundi, my housemate, who was also a classmate, had not got his gown yet, and so to give him a feel of what wearing a gown is like, I lent him mine. At that moment, a neighbour knocked and found him wearing my gown and they hit I off in a mixture of Kyuk and Swahili.
“Eish bwana, you look nice, when do we come for nyam chom?”
“Na huyo mwingine? Hakuwa anaenda shule?”
They laugh. I giggle.
Neighbour looks at me and wonders why I am not graduating. I could imagine what was going through his head; that maybe I am the daft one with pending resits to take care of, or I ate the my fees and now my degree certificate is being held ransom…or maybe I am merely uneducated.
I would not blame him. My housemate is the one who wears monkey suits every morning to work, while I am the one who walks out to buy breakfast at noon.
Graduating from UoN School of Law is an act of survival. It is a jungle inside those walls. It is easy to get over 250 likes, and comments from people saying congratulations. The ones that make me laugh are those comments of people saying that you are finally their go-to lawyer, and yet they have not paid you any retainer (Mehul Gohil are you there?). These ones are followed closely by people asking you to represent them in court – clearly the difference between a lawyer and an advocate is a rumour whistling in the wind.
I accept all these invisible pats on the back with grace. However I wish these guys knew the kind of things I had to do in order to get that degree. UoN School of Law is one of those campuses where the lecturer comes and tells you in your first class that nobody will receive an A, the lucky ones will get a B, and that less than a quarter of the class will manage a C or a D. The rest will fail. Meaning they will get an E. Meaning you get to experience what Prof. Situma referred to as ‘a second bite at the cherry.’ The acne of congruity.
We took that as a challenge. We applied dubious methods in order to have the acronym LL.B before our names. My friends and I had a motto that got us through those four years; If you cannot dazzle with brilliance, you baffle with bullshit. The idea was to fill pages with nonsense; to impress the lecturer with a seductive morass of sugarcoated claptrap until he had no choice but to give us fair grades. But then it never worked on all of them. Prof. Situma, Prof. Mutungi and Dr. Gakeri called us on our bullshit one too many times; they could see through the load of twaddle.
Despite all this, we never did let those five letters of the alphabet determine our fate. To hell with grades, we said, God gives us what we are worth.
Looking back now, it seems like just yesterday when I was on a runway contesting for Mr. & Ms. Parklands beauty pageant. Sharon Manoah and her council of witches tickled my vanity and proclaimed me hot enough to get that crown. You see, comrades, when you are 19 and a bunch of girls tell you that you are hot, and you have swag, it gets to your head.
It does not seem so far off, running for Vice Chairperson in 2012 and Chairperson in 2013. The whole experience of campus politics opened my eyes to new realities. During campaigns, a mwanasiasa is reduced to a street finagler peddling ideals and chunks of nyama choma at Wambugus Grove. It is a path jewelled with pure poppycock that no milksop can dare tread upon. Winning elections is touch and go.
And God help you if you campaigned during the era of one Emacar Dru. This misanthrope would go to the tuck shop and order for breakfast, lunch and supper saying that “Jakom amesema atalipa.” If you don’t pay, he will not only not vote for you, but he will tear down all your campaign posters.
Law school redefined life for us.
Resits by Dr. Gachuki taught us that what does not kill you does not make you stronger, it simply knocks the living hell out of you. Campus relationships taught us that when the heart rules the head, bankruptcy follows. That is how a heifer ran away with my ATM and withdrew half of my HELB money.
The chicanery of campus romance led us to more treacherous fields. Being in love is a fugue state. One succumbs to magical thinking. At some point I had a nasty fall out with a lassie. Soon after she got over me, she also got pregnant. I was not even over her yet. And as if that was not enough, James Mbugua and Jefferson Sankara began asking “Are you sure mtoi si wako?”
But that is nothing compared to what happened to deMaitha. She, the one blessed with boobs of a four legged mammal, used to wear his clothes. When the affair ended, she left him with more than a broken heart and a cigarette addiction. Nigger could not wear his shirts anymore, they were too big for his size.
That said, campus love was not all bad. There were moments when the sun shone.
Mukundi, you remember your neighbour, the one who lived opposite you? What was his name? He was so fond of importing his dishes from Meru because the local cuisine left a bad taste in his mouth. There is this time he imported a girl who screamed with a twang’. In the poetry of the moment, as the plot thickened, the rickety campus bed creaked louder, and then we heard moans calling “Oyieeeeeeee!”
“Wait a minute, who is Oyier?” Mukundi asked as we stood outside his door in bewilderment.
“There is no Oyier in our class. Si Ï thought hapa ni kwa Njoroge na Mutua?”
“Mutua ni kama ako exile juu nilimcheki TV Room.”
“Na huyo dame kwani anachinjwa?”
“But Jakom, who is Oyier? Hebu tugonge.”
“Nooo bwana! We cannot allow! History is being made inside there. Do not interrupt just because you are on the wrong side of it.”
“Heh. Wawawa! Even rabbits take a break. Huyu Oyier ni kama anaenda 60 minutes non-stop!”
“Hii slaughter ikiendelea, tutaita Head of Security ama Halls Officer.”
Just as we turned to leave, the girl unlocked the secrets of her origin. She wailed “Yees. Dio. Oh yeaaaaaah! Njeso! Habo Njoroge. Shikiria habo muriu, habo. Aki Njoro usiachirie. Gaaaaadho Mwadhani!”
Those were the days.
Having served you as Jakom for two years, I am happy to raise this invisible glass to you, class of 2014:
To you who did her thesis research on Wikipedia and Google. To you who cheated on class with endless games at the pool table. To you who now lives in a bedsitter, struggling to pay your rent from the peanuts that those mean bastards pay at law firms. To you Omoke Morara, the first class academician. To you who is chasing your dreams faster than R Kelly chases after 12 year olds. Yes, I am talking about you, Teflon Don Blunts, Matanki Mwaba, and Ndunge Wambua.
And I cannot forget you, who used an elevator for the first time when you reported to campus in 2010, and puked all over Anniversary Towers potted flowers as a result. I cannot forget you, Christopher Marwa and Marcelino Leisagor who thought the green Afya Centre was a huge Mpesa Shop. I remember you today, you stranger, you shitty little bastard who spoiled hostel toilets for us, with your poor aim, dunging techniques, and pencil graffiti that asked us questions like “Unakunya saa hii, kwani wewe umekula wapi na HELB imeisha?”
I raise my glass to the comrades who poured into the streets, punched clenched fists in the air and chanted Comrades Power! Comrades Riaaah! Comrades Aktchuuu! The administration had the audacity to deny us the amenities that keep us off the streets, and then ask us why we threw stones. Student protests were not even about the plight. It was about the people, the camaraderie, the purpose- and it was that purpose that made us one on the streets. At that moment, every student with a stone became a member of a brotherhood, a fraternity, in which members call themselves comrade.
Woe unto the Nairobi civilians who thought that it was a call to Rhumba. Those were war cries, bana. Drumbeats of war. This is Sparta, omera! Even pedestrians are held accountable for the injustices of the administration.
As I remember the fallen comrades who didn’t make it to this day, I tip my hat and hearts to you, mothers of my class; Mama Jeremy, Mama Henry and Mama Adrian. With every decomposition, there is fertilization. Lakini only God knows how you managed to hold class notes in one hand and a baby in the other.
Now, I know we all wish to make the world a better place at 23, and many of you at 55 are reading this; you can stop rolling your eyes now. Remember that you can’t do much good for the world unless you do good for yourself, and that you never let the end of your schooling become the end of your education. When we came into campus we had no clue what we would accomplish or become, so as we move out, at least we know who we truly are. If you ask me, that is the most important lesson we have ever learned from the entire 8-4-4 system.
To the rest of you parents in attendance: those who travelled with the whole clan, waiting patiently with those shiny things you want to put around our necks, those things are ugly – no matter how much love they represent. They make us look like a convocation of Isaac Ruttos at a harambee.
Also to the clan that travelled overnight all the way from Kasipul Kabondo, be reminded that graduation parties are not just feasts for you to come, jam University Way with traffic, eat our nyam chom, drink our beer, dance with our girl friends, and then book the next bus out. No. Bring money. Ngima tek e boma ka. Come with notes yawa, preferably in those white envelopes so as to maintain decorum. But that is not to say that we will mind if you squeeze them into our palms while dishing out a congratulatory greeting.
Finally, since law is a quote-inclined discipline, I will end this speech with the words of a person who saw us through many a Tuesday night at K1. His name is Will.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas fame.
He says and I quote; “I have a feeling that tonight’s gonna be a good night.”