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 Entwinedlives.com 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!