There is nothing like taking a national test under a tent with gravel spilling onto the ground before you, especially after all that preparation and anticipation to take it back in March, only to have it drowned out by torrents of rain. Yet, my dear students, you kept at it, and here you are, a month later, skewing your brains around multiple choice questions on this thing called the West African Examination Council test – yes, the famous WAEC that you had never heard about before you started the daily drills for it several months ago.
I know Sonnie, your director, so I know that she explained not just the importance but the larger meaning of a standardized test. It is important. And you are important to take it — and not just because you are the first to take it at this new school.
My largest hope for you, then, is that you do see this test as normal — there is so much “normal” that you don’t even know you don’t know.
You’ll politely nod and otherwise pretend attention as I go on about standardization and human affairs — did you know the word comes from the PIE root *sta- which means “stand, make firm”? That’s crazy stuff, “hold your ground, stand in place” — and we get so much from it: constant, contrast, destination, distance, insist, resist, restore… stand and standard, all coming from and suggesting making firm, holding in place — standing firm.
A “standard,” you see, brings us together. It defines and represents us, makes us community, makes us one. That standardized test was not just some national exam. It makes you part of larger West Africa, not just Lower Johnsonville or, even, Liberia. That “standard” is now your flag, a banner that marks the joining of the dirt and gravel below your testing desks in Lower Johnsonville to the rest of the world.
Amazingly, your normal is far beyond the normal in which Sonnie entered the world. From her birth in a refugee camp during the vicious scattering of Liberia amidst violence and civil war, to the making of this school, Sonnie is gathering your little community, putting this little piece of Liberia back together. That standardized test you took is a true banner of the re-gathering. Wear it, fly it proudly.
But there’s one thing I want you to notice about this photo of you and the wonderful Mr. Harris, who expertly administered the exam. No, it’s not that new building going up behind you, the one in which you, you who took the WAEC this year, and who prepared for it in an old shipping container you call “school”, will lead new students towards the WAEC for themselves in years next.
No, there’s one more thing about that photo. Look in the top right corner, by the open door to the container — do you see what I see?
What, the bucket?
Yeah, the bucket. And the broom.
That’s a school that cares. That’s a school that respects itself — and you. When a school in an old metal box bothers to sweep its rough floors, even when you’re in the grit by it, taking a national exam under a tent, clearly, then, neither the dirt nor the gravel, nor the rain that washes away a test date, can get between you and the rest of the world — and all the WAEC tests to come.
Thank you, and may Glod bless you, my brave friends.