A few hours ago, Lee Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister of the city state of Singapore published an article in Foreign Affairs in which he expressed doubts about this being the Asian century. He was echoing late Chinese leader, Deng Xiaoping who expressed similar reservation in a conversation with his Indian counterpart. Logically, if the leaders of the two giants in Asia doubt that the 21st century would be Asia’s and a younger incumbent is following them, who will say something else even as fluid as world affairs can be.
If Asia is not in that race and the West is contending with declinism, which other continent should this century be hers if not Africa? Laughable on the surface but what if just the collective agency is the only thing missing for Africa to own this century? One Black medical student becoming the valedictorian for her set in a top ranking university may not mean so much to this dream but it is part of it. It is part of it in the sense of the unbeatable capacity of the Black soul to strike at excellence in spite of a world that has been so hostile to it. A black girl performing the valedictorian for a faculty at the University of Toronto, University of British Columbia, University of Melbourne, Australian National University, University of Sydney, University of Edinburgh, University of McGill or the University of Warwick is not the same thing as a European, American, Australian or Asian girl achieving same in any of this rising layer of tough universities after the first top 10. Racial propaganda directed at the Black or the Black depicted in history has already denied a Black that capability.
In that sense, the valedictorian role that fell on Nigerian girl Chika Stacy Oriuwa this year for the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto is a signifier of what Africa can do if only Africa can gather the agency. But, will it gather it? With Nigeria and South Africa blundering all the way, it is doubtful but as nature abhors a vacuum, stuff can still happen. Chika Stacy Oriuwa’s story is reproduced below even as we read it while asking why Nigeria does not have world class universities. What does it take to have world class universities when you have surplus of demand for university education and the academics that, in spite of all the battering, are still number one on the continent? Almost nothing beyond common sense!
Source: CBC News
Chika Stacy Oriuwa has wanted to be a doctor since she was a small child. When she started medical school at the University of Toronto four years ago, she was the only black person in a class of 259 students.
On Tuesday, (June 2nd, 2020), she graduates as valedictorian. In doing so, she becomes just the second black woman valedictorian and the first woman in 14 years to receive the honour. Dr. Kristine Whitehead, who now practises in Ottawa, was co-valedictorian in 1992 alongside Dr. Gideon Cohen.
“I am extremely pleased to see that Dr. Oriuwa has been recognized by her peers, it is a tremendous honour,” Whitehead said Tuesday in an email to CBC Toronto.
Due to COVID-19, Oriuwa’s valedictory address will be posted online, and it will contain a message for black medical students who follow in her footsteps, she said.
“Medicine is such an incredible and beautiful profession. And it’s such a privilege and a responsibility to be able to become a doctor, and … they are more than well-equipped to be able to fulfil this role.
“Their place in medical school as black medical students is rightly deserved and rightly earned and to never question that for even for a moment, even if other people question it.”
‘Overcome any adversity‘
Oriuwa said she recommends that black medical students have a “resounding sense” of how they define themselves as they pursue their education. “Knowing who you are and what you stand for and what you will and will not tolerate will allow them to encounter any adversity and overcome any adversity,” she said.
Oriuwa herself has encountered adversity, including racist and sexist comments and attacks on her character that questioned her ability to be a competent physician.
“One thing that has really strengthened my resolve is, really, this undying sense of conviction that I have as an advocate. I know what my purpose is and what it is that I am called to do,” she said. “And I think that being strengthened and bolstered by the community is something that also allows me to do the work that I know is necessary.”
Her four years of advocacy work, speaking engagements and mentoring others has made a difference. Twenty-four black medical students were admitted to the University of Toronto’s faculty of medicine for the class of 2024. It is the largest group in Canadian history.
Oriuwa’s valedictory address is already videotaped and streaming.