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Dr. Aklilu Habte and Dr. Moges Gebremariam Remember the Jesuit Fathers at TMS

The Jesuit Fathers who served as administrators and teachers at Tafari Makonnen School powerfully influenced the intellectual development of thousands of students over the course of their three decades of service to Ethiopia’s premier secondary school, witness the many TMS graduates who have  earned baccalaureate and graduate degrees at Haile Selassie I University and other distinguished postsecondary institutions around the world.  But the educational mission of these dedicated teachers was far more expansive than traditional classroom learning.  They were passionately devoted to shaping their students’ character as well, instilling such values as self-discipline, honesty, and service to their fellow human beings, to their community, and to  their nation.

Two distinguished TMS alumni, Dr. Aklilu Habte and Dr. Moges Gebremariam, attest to the tremendous influence of the Jesuit teachers on their intellectual development and character formation in the video interview that Fr. Festo Mkenda, SJ, recorded for this blog a couple of weeks ago, with my and Bisrat Aklilu’s assistance.   In their fascinating interview, Drs. Aklilu and Moges also acknowledge the tremendous contribution of Emperor Haile Selassie to education in Ethiopia, including founding Tafari Makonnen School and the University College of Addis Ababa (later Haile Selassie I University).

Fr. Festo, you might recall, is currently writing a history of the Jesuits in Ethiopia, including a chapter on Tafari Makonnen School, A Splash of Diamond, which he describes in a video interview we posted at this blog  several weeks ago.  Members of the Tafari Makonnen School Alumni Association of North America, which is closely associated with, can look forward to learning more about his forthcoming book when he appears in person at a future TMSAANA meeting, when such gatherings are deemed safe.

A Splash of Diamond:  Fr. Festo Mkenda’s Forthcoming New Book on the Jesuits in Ethiopia

Fr. Festo Mkenda, SJ

I’m sure that when you watch the video of my recent interview with Fr. Festo Mkenda, SJ, you’ll agree that his forthcoming book on the Jesuit presence in Ethiopia, A Splash of Diamond, will be a must-read for all – including former, present, and future students and teachers – who love and admire Tafari Makonnen School.  Fr. Festo, who is on the history faculty of Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, devotes a chapter to His Imperial Majesty’s namesake secondary school, which remained for years the Jesuits’ most important ministry in Ethiopia.

Discussing A Splash of Diamond with Fr. Festo during our video interview evoked fond and vivid memories of my tremendously fulfilling three years on the faculty of Tafari Makonnen in the mid-1960s.  It seems only yesterday that Fr. Marcel Gareau invited me to his TMS office to share sage counsel on bringing ancient history to life for my ninth grade students.  And a fond memory of Fr. Paul Beaudry comes to mind.  He is sitting outside his tent with me and fellow TMS Peace Corps teachers Garber Davidson and Randy Sword – at the end of the day at our Boy Scout vacation camp at Lake Langano, glass of sherry in hand, reminiscing about past holiday camps.

Our readers might find interesting my thoughts on the French-Canadian Jesuits who served as TMS administrators and teachers and who are featured in Fr. Festo’s upcoming A Splash of Diamond.  The following is excerpted from my December 2012 post at this blog:

“…..It was easy to forget they were Roman Catholic priests since they wore normal business attire, were addressed as “Mr.”, and never discussed their Roman Catholic faith in the classroom at TMS.  But early in my three-year tour of duty at TMS, it was obvious to me that these were men of God on a single-minded mission:  to contribute future Ethiopian leaders to the country they so passionately loved who were not only superbly educated, but also imbued with a strong sense of public spiritedness.  Looking over my TMS files this morning in my study, I came across the June, 1967 issue of the Tafari Makonnen School Ensign.  In the opening pages, the TMS Director, Maurice Richer, one of the Jesuit Fathers, beautifully defines for the graduating seniors what being educated means:

Your intelligence may be in your hands and in your fingers; in your memories or in your imaginations; in your powers of abstraction or in your powers of  concentration; in your quick minds or in your logical powers of reasoning; in your hearts and intuition or in your sharp analysis of facts; in a scholarly life spent within the four walls of a library or in the active life with the boundless horizon as a limit.

You may have one or many of these traits; but if you don’t live and think for others and in terms of others, if you don’t use your gifts to make others happy, if you always set yourselves as the norms of all things, if you think that you have everything to give, but nothing to receive, to me you will never be able to claim that you are intelligent persons.

……In December 1974 – a time of upheaval in Ethiopia – a Christmas letter arrived at my then-home in Columbus, Ohio, from the last Jesuit Father left in the administration at TMS, Marcel Gareau, who had been an invaluable mentor to this fledgling history teacher in the 1960s.   It closes with this Christmas wish:

From a land where so much is changing nowadays, and where so much remains to be done, we ask that your prayers obtain for all concerned the selflessness we are taught in the birth of the Lord, without which we cannot achieve the peace and order we yearn for.

Sadly, that peace and order would be long in coming.”

TMS Alumnus Ermias Amare’s New Book “Reminiscences of TMS”

I’m pleased to share this new podcast, featuring TMS alumnus Ermias Amare, who talks with me about his new book, “Reminiscences of TMS,” which the Tafari Makonnen School Alumni Association of North America (TMSAANA) is printing and distributing. As you’ll learn from Ermias’ podcast, writing this memoir of his student days at TMS was an intensely emotional experience. Even over fifty years after his graduation from TMS, his passionate attachment to the distinguished educational institution that we former students and teachers revere has lessened not the least.

“Reminiscences of TMS” not only recounts in great detail Ermias’ classroom experiences from the second grade through his graduation, Ermias also writes fondly about the Addis Ababa of his student days – its physical, social, and cultural features, including the vivid religious celebrations so characteristic of Ethiopia’s capital city. He paints a full picture of the Tafari Makonnen of those days, as not only an outstanding educational institution that well-prepared its graduates to succeed at the university level and in diverse professional roles, but also provided them with a rich social experience. And Ermias reminded me as we recorded this podcast that the academically stellar school we love and respect – while it was elite in terms of performance – was a public institution with an incredibly diverse study body, both socially and economically. One of the tremendous gifts Tafari Makonnen gave its students was the living proof that a cohesive culture can be multi-faceted in terms of ethnic identity and social and economic status.

Ermias Amare has without question written an important book – a must read – about an important institution. I’m looking forward to talking with Ermias in our next podcast recording session about his forthcoming second book, which he says will venture well beyond the walls of the Tafari Makonnen compound.

Remembering Tafari Makonnen at the Third TMSAANA General Assembly

Doug - beginning first semester '64 at TMS

I’m pleased to share these two videos of the keynote address I delivered at the third General Assembly of the Tafari Makonnen Alumni Association of North America on May 29: “Remembering Tafari Makonnen.”  I was truly honored to be invited to speak by Bisrat Aklilu and his TMSAANA Board colleagues, but, to be honest, I was very reluctant to accept the invitation, in light of the many distinguished Ethiopian graduates of Tafari Makonnen School more worthy of the honor than I.

However, I am certainly glad that I did accept the invitation to reflect on my experience as a TMS teacher from 1964 to 1967.  Not only did the keynote afford me the pleasure of reuniting with several former students and meeting other members of the extended TMS family that I’m proud to be part of, I found preparing my comments to be a path to rediscovering my love for TMS and for the students whose lives had become entwined with mine during my three years at what was then Ethiopia’s premier secondary institution.  I didn’t anticipate the emotion I’d feel as I worked on my keynote, searching for the right words to describe my experience as a twenty-something thousands of miles from home a half-century ago, and I certainly didn’t expect the intense joy that frequently engulfed me as I rehearsed the words I’d speak on May 29.

Allow me to tell a story I forgot to share at the General Assembly.  In the summer of 1966, after my first two years at TMS, I returned to the States to spend a few weeks with my parents, who were then living in Pocatello, Idaho, where Dad, who’d sold his business in Illinois, was a university freshman.  It was great to be with my parents and three of my siblings again, and to hear about Dad’s exciting educational journey, but as my visit drew to a close, I woke up one night thinking, “I’m really ready to get back home to Addis.”  And as my plane landed in Addis a few days later, it did, indeed, feel like arriving back home.

How wonderful to have the opportunity – in spirit at least – to travel back home with you on May 29!  I deeply appreciate your making me feel so much a part of the TMS family at the General Assembly, and I hope these video recordings of my keynote address will enrich your memory of our day together.  By the way, I’m sorry about the two brief interruptions in the first video – resulting from a faulty camera battery – but the record of my comments is 99 percent complete.

Please do share your thoughts by commenting on this post.

Talking With TMS Alumnus Petros Aklilu

Petros Aklilu With Shield

Talking With TMS Alumnus Petros Aklilu

I’m pleased to share this fascinating podcast featuring distinguished Tafari Makonnen alumnus Petros Aklilu, who discusses his experience at TMS and in the States as an American Field Service student, reflects on TMS’s tremendous contribution to Ethiopia and to the many students it shaped and nurtured, and on Emperor Haile Selassie I’s legacy – especially in the field of education.

Born in Addis Ababa in 1948, Petros joined TMS in the fourth grade, after three years at Patriot School. Selected for the American Field Service Program in 1965, Petros spent the 1965-66 school year in Wellesley, Massachusetts, where he graduated from high school.  Having spent a year at Haile Selassie I University, Petros joined his brother Tesfaye at Oklahoma State University, where he was awarded the BS degree in economics, and went on to earn his MS degree in agricultural economics from the University of Massachusetts.  After spending two years as an economist at the Awash Valley Authority and completing his Ph.D. course requirements at Cambridge University, Petros began his illustrious 31-year career at the World Bank, retiring in 2007.

“Retirement” isn’t an accurate description of Petros’ post-World Bank life. He founded a nonprofit, “Community Development and Oral History,” dedicated to helping rural communities realize their dreams and have access  to primary education and clean drinking water.  And Petros was instrumental in creating the Tafari Makonnen Alumni Association of North America, serving a three-year term as its first President.

As you’ll learn from the podcast, Petros – like so many other TMS graduates – feels tremendous respect and affection for TMS, which not only shaped him intellectually, superbly preparing him for his postsecondary education and highly successful career at the World Bank, but also profoundly influenced his character. Indeed, as Petros describes his TMS experience in this podcast, Tafari Makonnen School offered its students a “well-rounded” education in the highest sense of that term.

Like many other TMS alumni I’ve talked with over the years, Petros gives full credit to Emperor Haile Selassie I for fostering education in Ethiopia in the face of significant resistance, but regrets the absence of serious reform in other areas that might have averted the reign of terror following His Imperial Majesty’s overthrow.  The photograph above, showing Petros with the Emperor, was taken in 1967 during HIM’s visit to Haile Selassie I University, where Petros was a first year student.   As I mentioned to Petros in a recent email thanking him for sharing this wonderful photograph, when I see photographs of HIM, I often feel a jolt of emotion – I think because as a 22 year-old American teacher at TMS, the Emperor symbolized – to me – the spirit of the ancient kingdom.  He was, to me, a distinguished and romantic figure, whatever his flaws.  And, of course, can you imagine anyone looking more regal than HIM?  For a man of small physical stature, he certainly loomed large!

On my visit to Ethiopia in 2012, I saw the bust of Ras Tafari Makonnen that Petros talks about in his podcast, which has been rightfully restored to its central location in the foyer of the former TMS Administration Building.  I thought you’d like to see it.

Ras Tafari Makonnen Bust at Former TMS
Ras Tafari Makonnen Bust at Former TMS

I deeply appreciate the time Petros dedicated to recording these reminiscences despite the hectic life he leads in what is erroneously called “retirement.” His contribution makes an even richer resource for readers interested in Ethiopia and in the proud history of the distinguished educational institution that was so close to His Imperial Majesty’s heart.  Enjoy Petros’ podcast, and please do share your comments!



Dr. Randall Sword Talks About His Peace Corps Experience

In this fascinating podcast, Randall Sword, MD, who recently retired to Santa Fe, New Mexico, after a highly successful career as a physician in the Los Angeles metro area, talks about why he joined the Peace Corps back in 1964 and about his experience as a Peace Corps trainee at UCLA that summer and as a teacher at Tafari Makonnen School in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from fall 1964 through spring 1966.  I shared a house with Randy, as his friends know him, only a couple of blocks from Tafari Makonnen, across from what was then Itege Menen School – along with Garber Davidson our first year in Ethiopia and Dave Karro our second.

In addition to  being a great housemate – good humored, easy going, and really fun to spend time with – Randy was an excellent teacher who worked tremendously hard at his new profession and was very popular with the boys in his science classes.  We both taught  all of the ninth grade classes in the academic section – Randy biology and I ancient history – and no matter how hard I worked to bring those long-ago times to life for my ninth graders, once Randy added a sex ed component to his biology curriculum, I couldn’t hope to compete on the popularity front.

Randy and I spent a thoroughly enjoyable weekend together at my and Barbara’s home in Tampa Bay last February, getting reacquainted and reminiscing about our teaching days at Tafari Makonnen.  For the first time I realized what a life changing experience the Peace Corps had been for Randy.  As he recounts in this podcast,  by the time his two-year tour of duty at TMS was drawing to a close in spring 1966, Randy knew he was meant to be a physician, and the self-confidence he’d acquired as a Peace Corps Volunteer without question stood him in good stead as he went about translating his new vision into reality when he got back to the States.