It is the first day of 2016. It is a new horizon. Many of us are understandably, reviewing the past 365 days in our minds eye. Were there some things we did not get right yesterday? Yes! Did we learn lessons from them? I suppose if we search well, the answer to this would also be a “yes”! Were we crest fallen at some point? Yes!
Hmmmmm: so where does all this leave us? This reminds me of lines from a poem I read in primary school, which has for some reason stayed in my head all these years. I will not be surprised if many of my classmates may have forgotten these lines because we were only but children at the time. However, for some reason, those words have stayed with me every day and will remain with me till the grave.
“It is not a crime to fail. Low aim is a crime.
Success and failure in life is inevitable.
If for one reason or the other, failure at one point in your life arises
Never give room to discouragement”
So, back to the first day of 2016. You see, all the wrongs and failures in the last year count only because of the lessons learnt. We need not wallow in the wrongs and failures themselves. Fall all we may, we cannot remain fallen! What is most important is to take the lessons learnt from the past, arrange them like arrows in our quiver of the present and fire them with precision at obstacles that will rare their heads in the future. As we bask in the euphoria of the New Year, remember that it is not the kaleidoscope of multiple resolutions that matters but the ability to set a few firm goals and keep the focus while applying our previous lessons and understanding that even though failure may rare it’s head, the final goal is to succeed- there is no abandoning ship because we are set to conquer horizons yet uncharted. It is for this reason that the Loretta Reveals Team is rolling out the story of a young medical student at the start of this New Year. The youth of today are the leaders of our world tomorrow. Read the story so far, of one of our emergent leaders of tomorrow Hafeez Shaka I call him the determined man with a dream. You can make up your mind as to what you would label this character once you are done reading his write up below.
The road between the Clinical students’ hostel and medical complex is well traversed by numerous students for various reasons. The main intentions being to access nutritive support from the “Buka”, reach their hostels, get quality study time at the John Harris Library or just a necessary route to other places of interest. For me, the place I frequented most was the small but fairly conspicuous Hostel Mosque within the Halls of Residence. So for the majority of my study in the University of Benin, if you saw me under the sun, odds are that it was along this road. It was during one of these strolls on a typically cold morning early 2012 that a daydream about being class Valedictorian and giving a speech on graduation day illuminated my mind. It was a vivid picture of me in full apparel, fumbling with a paper I pretended to read. I laughed out loud at the silliness.
After primary school in Lagos and Kaduna, I arrived Command Secondary School Jos, Plateau State in 2001 for my secondary education. To most then I was seen as one “Oyibo” that has come to suffer in boarding school. On the contrary, I saw myself as an above average student with albinism. I was very aware of the potential challenges of “looking different” and the effect this may have in my quest to navigate secondary education – but with a mission to conquer, this was the least of my worries. Through a wave of hand to acknowledge an acquaintance too far out for me to see, having to write while standing by the blackboard with my note on my palm, the occasional but painful sun burn and on a brighter note, the unwavering support provided by the close friends I made in students and staff, I eventually made it, with chants of “Whiteman Shaka Hafeez” resonating in the hall after having carted away most of the prizes awarded on graduation day.
I subsequently aced my West African Examination Commission (WAEC) and (National Examinational Council (NECO) examinations and gained admission to study Medicine in the University of Benin (UNIBEN) driven by my fascination with the mechanism of the human body. I thought it would be business as usual so I grossly underestimated the gulf between secondary school and the university. Throwing in the peculiarities of medical school, I soon found myself stuck in the rat race of making 70% attendance, signature hunting and aiming to “just pass”. Personally, I was surprised when doctors asked me why I could not see the board from my seat, “Even with your glasses?” They would ask why I wore a hat to class or what I was doing with an umbrella when there isn’t a cloud in the sky. Friends thought I intentionally ignored their calls from afar, walked too fast between venues to avoid people and was totally inept at all things apart from reading those books, “…you put so close to your face” after all, we would all pass. I realised that adapting myself to situations which was usually my strong suit was more challenging than usual, and frankly, there was little motivation internally or externally to do so. This reached a nadir when, after trying as much as possible to “change”, I took my first professional examination. PASS PASS PASS, I saw on the notice board. I wondered if that was it, why bother? I was sure I could “pass” with half the effort, half the resources and twice the sleep time. Distinctions were rare so why work hard and just fall short or have some people debate if you are worth it even when you have completed the “mission impossible” of gaining a cumulative score above 70?
So why did I keep dreaming of excellence? A chance encounter with someone (who later became a good friend) on my favourite road in school. As I hurried past two guys chatting along the road one evening, I was taken aback when one of them suddenly called out the name “Whiteman Shaka-Hafeez”. I turned around to answer this name that only those far away in Jos called me. The look on his face could only compare with that of a fan who met his far off idol. I decided there and then that being the best I could be was part of being myself and I wouldn’t let anybody or system take that away, this was for me! So I decided to push myself harder but not limited to just my medical degree in school here. I wanted to know more, to be more, to experience more, to have more. So I could be excused for the dream, I thought.
Fast forward a few years more and something else caught my attention that further propelled my dreams. The Ashanti Graham Health and Education Initiative Foundation (AGHEIF) began celebrating excellence in UNIBEN Medical School. This Non-governmental Charity offers a yearly award of a brand new laptop and a cash prize to celebrate the best graduating student in Surgery. In fact, the highlight was in the set ahead of mine when there was a tie and two students got a new laptop each as well as the cash prizes. ‘There is no reason I will not get the AGHEIF Prize I said to myself: it is an added reason not to “just pass” but to actually excel’ – collect the AGHEIF Prize I did.
I could not help but have a feeling of Deja vu. My name, albeit in the reverse this time “Hafeez Shaka”, reverberated the UNIBEN Akin Deko auditorium of the university during the College of Medicine Oath-taking ceremony and again at the Convocation and Prize- giving ceremony. My family was called up to stand with me at the university Faculty. I had graduated, receiving prizes for the best graduating student in Medicine, Surgery, Mental Health and Pharmacology. I also emerged as the overall best graduating student in the School of Medicine.
Though I didn’t give a speech, it is with my AGHEIF laptop that I type this manuscript for the lorettareveals inspirational blog – dreams do come true. When asked how I do it, “I just try” is my easiest reply. However, I know that for me, to “try” means way more than just putting effort into an endeavour, it means giving it your everything. I had a lot of help along the way too. The unbridled belief my family has in me, my continuously patronizing roommate and many good friends.
So as I take the next step in my career as a doctor, I am not oblivious of the challenges that abound. I look forward with much more confidence that I have positioned myself favourably to surmount them while keeping true to myself. Or at least I will “try”…
Shaka Hafeez, 2016 and beyond holds potentials yet to be charted for you. Working to be the best in Medicine, Surgery, Mental Health and Pharmacology as well as being the best graduating Medical Student in the University of Benin School of Medicine 2015 graduating set is the beginning. Keep the flag flying! To all our readers, we at the Loretta Reveals Team maintain you “just try” without “giving room to discouragement” this New Year as you unleash the New Improved YOU!