History, we have learnt from elementary school, is the written record of past events.
Why do we revisit this academic meaning of history? Because what happened at Cuttington University last weekend was an extraordinary reminder of the university’s history and many of those who made it happen.
Foremost among those who were memorialized was Cuttington’s founder, the Rt. Rev. Samuel David Ferguson and the first black person to be elected and consecrated bishop of the Episcopal Church.
All 76 of the other bishops had been white men. He built not only Cuttington (1889), Liberia’s second institution of higher learning, but also Bromley, the Episcopal school for girls, in Clay Ashland, Montserrado County. He also introduced to Liberia the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).
To memorialize this great churchman, patriot and educator, Cuttington named the Graduation Hall, which is also the main place of assembly on campus, in memory of Bishop Ferguson. Representing the Ferguson family were two of his great grandchildren, Counselor Seward M. Cooper, one of Liberia’s outstanding lawyers, and Dr. Ophelia Inez Weeks, President of the University of Liberia.
The College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences was named in honor of Doctors John and Judy Gay, who for more than a decade taught at Cuttington and helped raise its academic standard. Dr. Gay, at 89, and his wife, 85, said they are too old to travel now and asked Kenneth and Mae Gene Best, two of their former students at Cuttington, to represent them.
In his remarks thanking Cuttington for this great honor bestowed on Dr. and Mrs. Gay, Mr. Best, publisher of the Daily Observer newspaper, said the Gays’ contribution to Cuttington went far beyond outstanding academic training. Mrs. Gay had helped spearhead the founding of Cuttington’s esteemed creative magazine, the Cuttington Review.
It was that magazine that led Kenneth into Journalism, he told his audience last Friday. Dr. John Gay was also a musician, who led the Cuttington Choir in the performance of many classics, including Handel’s Messiah; Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, The Pirates of Pensanze.
The Gays taught many Cuttington students from Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, Southern Africa, some of whom held prominent positions upon return home.
The College of Allied Health Sciences was named for Cuttington Reverend Herbert and his wife Mrs. Marion Donovan, who served as Episcopal missionaries in Liberia 95 years ago. Representing them were two of their grandchildren, Herbert A. Donovan III, Assistant Professor at Rikkyo University, College of Business, Tokyo, Japan, and his sister Jane Elizabeth Donovan, a professional engineer.
The College of Natural Sciences was named for one of Cuttington’s preeminent graduates, Dr. Emmet Dennis, Class of 1961, who recently retired as President of the University of Liberia.
Dr. Dennis took his doctorate in Parasitology from the University of Connecticut. He has served in several high level positions at Rutgers University, the State University of New Jersey. He was also the founding Director of the Liberian Institute for Biomedical Research (LIBR), with research and control programs in major tropical diseases.
Also honored at Cuttington last weekend was Dr. Evelyn Kandakai, former Education Minister of Liberia and former Acting President of Cuttington University. A 1970 graduate of Biology at the then Cuttington College and Divinity School, she took the Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction & Tests Measurement from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate in Education from Teacher’s College, Columbia University.
She has served in numerous other top educational positions. The Cuttington Botanical Garden was named in honor of Dr. Kandakai. Cuttington also honored Dr. D. Elwood Dunn, Class of 1964, by naming the Department of History and International Relations for him.
After taking his PhD degree from American University in Washington, D.C., Dr. Dunn returned home and served, among other things, as Minister of State for Presidential Affairs under President William R. Tolbert, Jr.
One of Liberia’s renowned scholars, Dr. Dunn is the author of several books, including the two-volume Historical Dictionary of Liberia, along with other authors; the History of the Episcopal Diocese of Liberia; and the three-volume Annual Messages of Presidents of Liberia, J.J. Roberts (1848) to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (2011).
Cuttington also honored Dr. Joseph Saye Guannu by naming the university’s Institute of Peace in his honor. After taking his Doctorate in Political Science from Fordham University, Dr. Guannu returned home and served in many government positions, including Liberian Ambassador to the United States.
He has taught at Cuttington for many years and heads the Institute of Peace. The main thoroughfare on the Cuttington campus was named for another eminent Cuttingtonian, the C. Gyude Bryant, Jr., and former Chairman of the National Transitional Council of Liberia (NTGL).
This thoroughfare is being paved for the first time, through the instrumentality of Chairman Bryant’s family. Two of Chairman Bryant’s relatives, Messrs. Anthony Deline and Vivian Jones, received the honor on behalf of the family. Another major development at Cuttington last weekend was the visit of the Vice President of Liberia, Madam Jewel Howard Taylor, also a Cuttington Alumna.
But this was not just a visit. The university is in dire financial straits at this time, owing partly to the failure on the part of the previous government of Liberia to meet its financial obligations to Cuttington.
Vice President Taylor generously donated 8,000 gallons of petroleum and a purse of US$2000 to Cuttington. She promised to return with more goodies for her beloved alma mater and pledged that the administration of President George Weah will strive to meet the government’s obligations not only to Cuttington, but also to the University of Liberia and other educational institutions.
Cuttington’s President Herman Browne, the entire faculty, student body and the Alumni Association, which was well represented at last weekend’s events, gave glowing thanks and praise to Vice President Taylor for her generosity.
It was indeed a glorious weekend at Cuttington, for which all Cuttingtonians were exceedingly grateful. Cuttingtonians in the United States were also ably represented.