By Jonathan Pay-Layleh, Alumni Journalist
Margibi County Superintendent has admonished graduates of Liberia’s oldest technical and vocational training high school, the Booker Washington Institute (BWI) in Kakata, Margibi County, to remain prepared to give back their time, resources and expertise to a school that gave so much to them by preparing them for the job market and national leadership.
Superintendent Jerry Varnie made the call when he addressed the BWI Alumni Association’s Annual Convention on the campus at the weekend.
“Many of you hold key positions of influence; many of you are public officials; some of you are influential business people,” the young superintendent told assembled graduates at a ceremony that also saw the election of a new corps of officers to steer the affairs of the association.
“I would appreciate to see that you use that influence to direct the development and improve your great institution,” he urged.
Supt. Varnie highlighted the need to pay attention to the school financially, “to bring back the level of excellence in vocational skills training and to make BWI competitive and bring back that old Tiger spirit.” The institute’s sport body is named the Tiger Sports Association.
Varnie challenged BWI alumni to “take a deep reflection of the role this school has played in your life, the discipline, the quality of instruction, the competitiveness” that made companies and organizations visit the school in the past to scout for potential employees before and during graduation ceremonies.
The performances of BWI graduates before the outbreak of the civil war were so impressive that one of Liberia’s best known accountants and financial experts, the late Sam Mombo, once declared that “a BWI diploma is a key that you simply use to open and enter the job market.”
But since the end of the war, BWI annual budgets have been so little, it has not been able to fully meet the expectation of the nation.
Analysts in the field of technical education hold the belief that BWI is capable of meeting the manpower training needs of Liberia once the needed resources are deployed through budgetary support. And in support of a more meaningful financial assistance to the school, Mr. Varnie wondered how the alumni community can play a role so that BWI cannot live on past glory.
“I want you to think of these and ask yourselves what has gone wrong, and where the alumni association can help to return the school to her original status and standards that made every child envy BWI students,” Varnie declared to a thunderous applause.
The convention ended with the re-election of all of the association’s corps of officers, a team led by Koffa E. Tenbroh as president. They will serve for another two-year term.
The BWI Alumni Association, arguably, is the strongest union of former high school graduates in Liberia. The association is also very strong in the United States, forming one of the strongest member organizations of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA).
During the weekend convention, a member of the BWI Class of 1959, veteran journalist and publisher Kenneth Y. Best, lectured alumni on his book about the school: “The BWI Story,” which explains how the institution came into being and some of the outstanding personalities the Institute has produced since its creation in 1929 during the administration of President Charles D.B. King.
Mr. Best, who turns 80 on October 28, informed the gathering he’s currently authoring another book – this time about his BWI class and the contributions members of the class are making in different areas in other parts of the world.
Meanwhile, Alumni President Tenbroh, during last week’s convention, appointed Jonathan Paye-Layleh as the association’s Alumni Journalist. That was the same position to which Jonathan’s mentor, Kenneth Y. Best, was appointed by the BWIAA in 1964. Mr. Pay-Layleh, who has been BBC and Associated Press Correspondent for Liberia since the early 1990s, got his training in journalism from the Daily Observer newspaper.