Speech by John Baimba Sesay on 114th anniversary of St Helena Secondary School

Speech by John Baimba Sesay at the 114th Foundation Day Ceremony of the St Helena Secondary School, Kissy, in Freetown on 3 February 2022

Mr. Chairman, Board of Governors, Principals of both Junior and Senior schools, Staff, Pupils, distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, let me express profound appreciation to you all for joining the St. Helena Secondary School to celebrate its 114th Foundation Day. I’m deeply honoured to have been invited to serve as the Keynote Speaker on this auspicious occasion.

This school, founded in 1908 by missionaries from the African Methodist Episcopal Mission-AME of the United States of America, remains a key player in developing Sierra Leone’s human resource basin. Here is a brief history: First, situated at Wellington Street, Freetown, St. Helena AME Seminary was only catering for students doing theology and, at the time, started with a group of 35 students. Due to the huge demand for admission, the school was moved to Pademba Road and later to Africanus Kissy in 1954.

As I look at the Principals and Staff, I can see sacrifices and hard work. Looking at the Pupils, I can see a thirst for knowledge and an eagerness for the unknown. And as I look at the parents and guardians, all I can see are the struggles of my parents—making sacrifices so that I, standing here before you all, would taste the fruits of education. Education is a process in which the Principal, teachers, pupils and the parents and guardians are all interconnected.

Though it is an interconnected process, it takes hard work, self-discipline, and honesty for a pupil to achieve greatness. We cannot achieve excellence by cutting corners, and we cannot achieve greatness through dishonest means. And we cannot achieve greatness by being lazy. Great people have achieved their statuses through a combination of those factors highlighted earlier.

Mr. Chairman, Board of Governors, Principal, Staff, Pupils, distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, let me now go to the thrust of my address here today. The topic I want to talk about is: “Achieving greatness through hard work”. Though I humbly regard myself as a work in progress to achieve greatness, I will use myself as a watered-down example of how greatness could be achieved through hard work.

It all started when I arrived in Freetown from the provinces in 1999 as an Internally Displaced Person. I had some difficult moments staying with relatives. Life wasn’t that easy, sometimes having to do menial jobs just to survive. I sat to the Basic Education Certificate Examination in 2000, and by 2001, I was enrolled at St. Helena AME Secondary School.

I have good memories of the late Oladipo Venn as Principal. He was a strict person, one who helped shape our future. OHB Venn was our Government teacher at the same time. His book, Essentials of Government, largely prepared many pupils to know the rudiments of governance. Another teacher Mr. James Turay, now in the USA, was more than a History teacher, and he was a friend of most of his pupils. I still recall how sometimes, I would come to school hungry and bump into a cookery stall just next to the school gate, searching for food.

Notwithstanding all of these challenging moments during my days here, 2001-2003, I also served as Senior Prefect, and you all know what that means. You have to be intelligent and hardworking. I wasn’t the poorest of the poor, given the difficulties I was going through, but I knew what it meant growing up in an environment of over 15 others—going to school, sometimes, on an empty stomach.

But that never killed my determination to pursue education. So, when I became Senior Prefect, it was more about hard work than my background. And by 2003, when, together with others, I sat to the West African Senior School Examinations, I was among the very few who got university requirements to pursue higher education. But it was during my days here, I realized that one needs not attend a Grade A school to gain admission into the university or be productive in society. Life at St. Helena taught me different lessons. And one of those lessons is hard work. And let me give you a few reasons why hard work is the key to achieving greatness.

Firstly, hard work helps you build discipline. At the beginning of your journey, you aren’t ready to handle the success and all the responsibilities that come together with it. But earning it with sweat and sacrifices prepares you for that. For example, successful business people in Sierra Leone wouldn’t have been able to manage people effectively, run a big company, organize their time well and work with big sums of money if they hadn’t started from anything and earned the chance to get to every next step.

Because of hard work, ex-pupils like Justice Ivan Ansumana Sesay-Justice of the Court of Appeal and Chairman of Legal Aid Board, James D. Rogers- former Bank Governor and current Chairman, Board of Directors Sierra Leone Commercial Bank, Sarah Bendu- former Executive Director-Sierra Leone Roads Safety Authority, Professor Abdul Mansaray-former Principal, Njala University, ACP Brima Kamara- Head of Media at the Sierra Leone Police and Alfred Kamanda- current Financial Consultant at Statistics Sierra Leone and president of the alumina Association have all, among others achieved greatness in a very modest way and are contributing to national development. So the hard work, together with the time it takes, is a must on your journey to success, and it makes you who you have to turn into to live the better life that’s awaiting you.

Secondly, hard work teaches you values. You learn to persevere, find ways to appreciate all you have but still aim higher, be patient, take action instead of waiting for things to happen, stop blaming, and take responsibility for anything you have or don’t have in your life instead. Hard work gives you a purpose; it helps you overcome laziness, doubts, fear of failure, and bad habits.

And thirdly, hard work gives you results. The best measure for anything is progress. And nothing else brings more results steadily than hard work. Working on your goal itself is the motivation you need to keep moving forward and say no to distractions from daily life. With hard work, one can make it in life.

Mr. Chairman, Board of Governors, Pupils, Ladies and Gentlemen, because of St. Helena’s critical role in my life and with hard work, I later became a diplomat and diligently served Sierra Leone for six successful years in the People’s Republic of China. I am now working for the United Nations System here in Sierra Leone. As I end on this note, I encourage you all to hold on to the ideals of handwork as the most honourable asset you need to succeed in life. I dare you all, therefore, to dream big and become great people in society.

(Labor Ominia Vincit- Labour Conquers Everything)

I thank you all.

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