The year was 2014, the month was August, the day was the 18th. It was two weeks into the semester, and it was her first time in the class. I was on a flight, miles away from Ghana, on vacation when my friend sent me a text message, more like a distress call, “Audrey was in class today, with a basket full of readings and a reaction paper due next week…”

I returned almost three weeks into the semester. “This is your first time in this class, right?” she said. “Where were you last week? And you turned in an assignment, how did that happen?” I fumbled, “my name is Ivy,” I said pretending not to have heard the other part of the question, because, my dear friend, Fidelis, was the answer to the second part of the question.

She praised me for getting an 8, “you see, that’s the mark of a serious student, she did her assignment while away and was able to get a high score,” she said. I felt guilty, but so began a personally transforming journey to learn from and make this wonderful woman truly proud of me.

A relentless teacher and advisor

Impressing Audrey was hard. Though compassionate, she had such high standards. Her writing was impeccable, she rarely made mistakes. Being her student taught me extra attention to detail, because she simply would not let you get away with anything but your best. I often read through everything about six times before I submitted.  Even so, I also quickly learnt that she was a teacher that allowed her charges time and space to grow, but always on hand with feedback to improve. Under her tutelage, I grew in ability and confidence. She also had the sixth sense to know when I was becoming complacent, and just how to ‘deal’ with me and keep me motivated.

An instance comes to mind. I had written a profile story I thought was the best. I was laughing at my classmates as she went through everyone’s assignments on a large screen, blasting them quickly and moving on. I foolishly thought that mine will be better. When it was my turn, she said, “and this is the most disappointing one.” My grin vanished, my heart rate increased. Every line of my paper had red ink and I could practically feel her fuming as she graded the paper. I got a 5.5/10 and my classmates teased me non-stop. They said, “if she was able to treat her pet like this, then we did well.” It was Audrey’s way of challenging me not to take anything for granted and never rest on my oars.

Audrey was and is very passionate about teaching and research and was very concerned about the students she supervised. My second semester started with a pregnancy, and although I was assigned to her as a supervisee, I didn’t tell her anything. She quickly noticed my inconsistency as I was very sluggish, sleeping in class, absentminded, and doing the barest minimum on assignments. After her constant prodding, I told her the news. When she finished making fun of me and telling everyone who cared to know that I went to “eat and cleaned my mouth and came to sit down quietly in class,” she got back to business.

Audrey gave me time away from school and work as her teaching assistant, to go and have and nurse my baby. When I returned, she pushed me to my wits end to finish and submit my dissertation. At a point, I even wondered if the dissertation was mine or hers. As fate will have it, the end product won an award as best dissertation in Communication Studies for that academic year. And on that fateful evening in April 2018, when I walked up the dais to receive my award, Audrey was sitting in the crowd, sending me text messages and telling me how proud she was of my achievement. She had a very important engagement that day, but she showed up for me regardless.

A worthy mentor

When I asked Audrey, to mentor me, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. She laughed and said, “when people are running away from me, you want to be mentored.” I have however never regretted being her mentee. Although it came with a lot of work, I have benefitted far more than I have invested. Audrey has helped me chart my academic path. She saw my strengths and pushed me in the right direction. She placed many opportunities in my way. My work with Penplusbytes and the Media and Information Literacy program was Audrey. My work as a facilitator and collaborator with DW Akademie was Audrey. My work with the Center for Gender Studies and Advocacy was also Audrey. My feminist identity and politics is also definitely Audrey! Whenever there is a feminist issue up for discussion that I’m unsure about, I defer to Audrey primarily and she is always there to offer guidance.

In Audrey, I did not only gain and a teacher and a mentor, I also gained a colleague and a friend. I walked into my interview for an academic position at the University of Ghana in 2017, a position she and Prof. Amoakohene were instrumental in getting me into. Working with Audrey wasn’t particularly easy, but her switch from teacher to colleague was admirable. She was able to draw a fine line between the two and showed me a lot of respect. She also gave me room to operate, handling classes and labs on my own and building my own teaching portfolio.

When it was time to pursue higher education, Audrey was very instrumental in all of my decisions. Although she initially didn’t want me to go very far away and for too long, she understood my perspective and offered her blessings. She was there through all the disappointments and all the wins, offering encouragement, criticisms and praise where it was due. She also made sure that I found another worthy mentor in the diaspora in whose hands she gracefully left me.

A kind and beautiful human being

Audrey is a shining example of how a mentor can reach into and exude light, kindness and warmth into every aspect of a mentee’s life. I remember on the evening of 2nd May 2019, I had just cut a birthday cake during a seminar and basked in the birthday song the students sang for me, but I was very disturbed. My daughter was in Korle Bu having a life-changing surgery and as I paced up and down thinking she was going to die, I stepped out of the seminar building, fighting back tears. Shortly after, Audrey drove by, I waved at her, forcing a smile but she reversed, stopped her car and called out, “Ivy, is everything alright? I said, “yes, Prof, everything is fine” forcing myself to sound as normal as possible. Audrey, stopped her car, parked and asked me to get inside. I burst into tears. She hugged me and berated me for being too secretive and bottling everything inside. Audrey allowed me to cry, cracked a few jokes and offered her home to stay the night if I wanted to since I was too scared to drive to the hospital.

Over the course of our ever-evolving relationship she became a friend, confidante, and everything in-between. I could burst into her office at any point in time to rant about anything and we could talk about everything: life, love, relationships, sex, children, academics, you name it. Audrey is 60 but is definitely 16 at heart! Sometimes, I feel I’m the older one.

I had keys to her office, I could use it anytime I wanted, I could drive any of her cars. And o my, did I love driving her red HRV? It was my second car, and it helped that Audrey absolutely hates to drive. Sometimes, we will go shopping for clothes, and I’ll get to select her outfits for some occasions. These days, even though we are miles apart, she beats me to it all the time with checking in. I’ll wake up to her WhatsApp messages, wishing me on important days like Women’s day. I often joke that I’m the last born of many ‘sisthren’, but I know I’m not. My life is just one of many Audrey has touched with her vision, generosity and passion for excellence. As long as she is here, she will continue mentoring many more girls, but I’m glad and grateful that our paths crossed.

Looking into the future with hope…

One day, I said to Audrey when she was putting together her portfolio for promotion, “I want to be like you when I grow up.” To which she said, “my dear, you will do better than me, you will excel.” Those words of affirmation have stuck with me, and just like the very first day, I know that I have been noticed, and I have no other option than to excel.

*****

The writer is an Assistant Lecturer at the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Ghana and the Editor-in-Chief of FemInStyle Africa Magazine