“You conf or what?”
This was the half-jovial, half-mocking reaction I got from a friend when I switched from French to Literature in the term before my final year at Presbyterian Boys High School, Legon. The year was 1999. I was in Form 2. Many said it was academically risky, others said it was unnecessary while for some it showed a “lack of clear direction or focus.”
Not Mrs. Akyeampong.
I will spare you details of what went into that decision except to say it was necessary for my academic survival. The SSSCE, that killer of an exam, was due the following year. Although I had an idea of what I wanted to do, I was still a bit doubtful. However, my worries were practically over by the time I finished speaking with Mrs. Akyeampong.
She didn’t dismiss my late change of mind as the indecisiveness of a teenager. She didn’t berate me for toying with my future. She didn’t try to impose her own vision, life-plan or ideologies on me. In a most calming manner, she listened to me, she really listened to my heart and once she caught wind of my dream, she was unrelenting in her support. And that was vintage Mrs. Akyeampong: patient, open, understanding, warm, humane and empathetic. Her true genius was that sublime ability to unearth gold in her students no matter where the stood, who they were or where they came from. She was a remarkable teacher with a great penchant for bringing out the best in everyone.
Together with Mr. Kofi Allotey, a teacher who himself had played no less a role in building my self-confidence (when he urged my participation in GTV’s flagship“Talking Point” program in SSS 2), she inspired us to produce the school magazine and Yearbook in an era where few secondary schools in the country could even manage one of these. At the time, she would laboriously go through the articles for the publication, editing and correcting while providing a much-needed link between us and the school administration. The Editorial Board, though exciting, was extremely demanding and we would never have been successful without her hands-on support.
Personally, though I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, Presec was the first place I learned to report and write. I finally found my calling in journalism after graduating from college but it was under Mrs. Akyeampong’s tutelage that l learned to write my first leads, nut graphs and features. It was at Presbyterian Boys that I conducted my first interview with a high profile personality, Kweku Sintim Misa, for the school magazine. I filed reports on the National Science and Maths quiz, wrote profiles on stand-out students and reported on some school activities or events. I don’t know why but “A trip to Kokrobite” immediately comes to mind. I also conducted interviews for a column titled “Geizi eyeball to eyeball” for a weekly production by the editorial board called “Fila Column”. All of this was under the direct supervision and guidance of Mrs Charlotte Akyeampong as the Editorial Board Chairperson.
Looking back now, it is impossible to overstate the importance of Mrs. Akyeampong’s mentorship in my life. On the issue of my change of subject, she became personally involved in getting me up to speed for the looming SSSCE Literature-in-English exam. In her free time she taught me everything I’d missed in the past year and a half, tested, graded and helped me in areas that I was struggling with. Sometimes she opened the doors to her house for more tutoring. At home, her family was nothing but warm, receptive and hospitable. And so it was till the day of the mighty exam. All this was free of charge.
Mrs. Akyeampong is one of the warmest and most kind-hearted people I’ve ever known and I, like most of my friends admired her contributions, impact, spirit and character. My encounter with her was as a result of my interest in literary activities but in the end she was just like a mother to me. I graduated from Presec, and went on to other things in life but none of that self-confidence and the skills she taught me has ever left. For this and so much more, I remain eternally grateful. I’m also thankful to all the other teachers and staff at Presec who made my time there memorable. We are also grateful to her husband, the late Professor Akyeampong, her children (Angelo Akyeampong, Adrian Akyeampong and Adeline Akyeampong) for being kind enough to share their mother with Presec and the world.
The fact that she wasn’t an old student didn’t matter to her. The fact that she wasn’t Presbyterian did not matter. The fact that she didn’t always reap financial rewards for her efforts didn’t matter to her. No, you didn’t need to be a relative or a family friend or even to be her student. C.S Akyeampong’s legacy in Presec was that of selflessness. Here was a woman who took the Presbyterian dream, the one laid down by the likes of Engmann and the early missionaries and truly made it her own.