“Taiwo…you…I don’t know…I don’t know….you, you are becoming complacent.”
He said no more than that. And that was the first time I heard the word ‘complacent’. I hurried to my dictionary as soon as I got back to the dormitory later that afternoon, and checked out the meaning of the word. What I stumbled upon gave me no joy. In fact, it gave me a cause for concern, and planted thoughts in my heart that have constantly rang over the years as I travel over land and sea, in pursuit of my dreams. I became ever afraid of becoming complacent.
I was in SS2, cruising at the peak of my academic performance, and it was a Chemistry class. The Chemistry teacher was also our JETS Club Coordinator, and he held a unique place in our hearts as a man given to excellence, albeit sometimes with seemingly crude methods. He was renowned in the school for his flogging “till I see blood”, an expression taken from his own mouth. A Ghanaian by birth, his native tongue made the word ‘blood’ sound like ‘blad’, with the vowel ‘a’ drawn out to emphasize the pain he would inflict on erring students.
Like every other student, I feared and respected him. But beyond my fear of him was a deeper understanding of the man within – a man resolved that none of his students would repeat his mistakes; that all of us would excel in our endeavors, and we would be outstanding. Some people are forever like beacons in the night, a reference point for the soul if one ever got lost in the sea of life. Mr. Laryea was such a man, although almost none of us regarded him as such at the time. The words he spoke that day, that simple sentence, remain a searchlight into my soul, a tool to examine my attitude towards my successes in life. Am I becoming complacent?
Mr. Laryea made us write up our class notes, teach our peers, and taught us in JETS Club things I would later learn in Year 2 Organic Chemistry at UNILAG. Of course, I was over-prepared for those courses when I took them, and I could only pass in flying colours. He never dictated notes to us throughout SS Class. He taught us, left us to form our notes from what we understood, and he could inspect them at any time. When we were in SS3, he would call people randomly from one class to teach another class a topic he had previously taught. So you had to be prepared – you could be called up at any time. He not only taught us Chemistry, but often gave pep talks to challenge us while sharing his own stories.
I could easily write a book about Mr. Laryea, whose middle initial was ‘I’, whose enviably unique signature we often tried to reproduce, and whose rare beating left tough boys screaming, but words would not be enough. A quiet, thoughtful man with a strong personality whose words pierced deep and left marks in the soul – he has goaded many youngsters on to success. And in spite of the pains memories of him may dredge up, he remains a man to celebrate any day. Many cheers to Mr. I. Laryea!
NB: This piece was first written on September 27, 2017. Mr. Laryea is shown in the picture attached to this post with my friend, Michael Adesanya when we stopped by to visit him a couple of years ago.