STRONG IN FAITH AND WORK

I entered the doors of Campion College in September 1965 as a terrified young introvert.

I’d wanted to go to Campion forever but the cost of private school was beyond my parents’ limited means. Campion’s Jesuit founders wanted to produce a special type of graduate hence their reluctance to accept government “aid” with strings attached.  Yet, as deeply religious persons committed to Christian principles, they believed in student diversity but were restrained by fiscal realities in what they could do. So Campion held an annual entrance examination open to all and offered free tuition scholarships to the top three candidates in that exam.

I secured one of the three scholarships but this still wasn’t enough for a teacher/housewife couple with three children to educate.  Fortunately, I was lucky enough to win a Government Scholarship (paid everything including books, meals and “pocket money”) to Jamaica College in the Common Entrance but sufficiently ungrateful to refuse to go.  My reasons for such an ignorant position were that my father taught there; my elder brother was a student; and J.C. was famous for corporal punishment and ragging.

So, I held out for Campion.  My father then applied to the Education Ministry and obtained an unprecedented transfer of my Government Scholarship from J.C, a government-aided school, to Campion, a private school.

I’ve a vivid memory of my very first Campion class (latin) by Father John Ruddy, legendary Dean of Discipline, who paced the aisles repeatedly chanting “Amo, amas, amat, amamus amatis amant..”  After about five laps, he stopped at my desk.  “Dr. Robinson, I presume?” (tongue-in-cheek).  My worst nightmare! I stammered “yes”.  “Well, sir” he said “You are our class Beadle (a student leader responsible for attendance records etc)”.

Don’t ask me what he saw.  Maybe it was simply that my melanin content stood out leading to a decision to make a sly point regarding diversity.  What I do know is that, for the rest of my time at Campion, Father Ruddy, whose gruff exterior terrified every student, became my mentor and fiercest ally.  When, in 5th form, after an unblemished disciplinary record, I was given my first (and only) demerit, he was devastated.  He took it a lot worse than I who knew I’d deserved more.  The lesson I learned from knowing the real Father Ruddy was that nothing is ever as it appears.  Thereafter, I had no problem with grumpy facades which I knew only hid some social disability.

I remember two hugely popular American Jesuit volunteers, Thomas “Whitty” White (joined from 1st form) and John Gannon (2nd form) who did teaching stints at Campion.  Their strengths were never taking themselves seriously and treating students as equals.  Yet I remained difficult to handle.  I still have a third form report card with Mr. Gannon’s frank comment: “Cranky in class especially when he doesn’t get his own way” (plus ça change….). During 2nd form, I became very sick at home one Sunday and was rushed to hospital for an emergency appendectomy.  Monday evening, my first visitors were Messrs Gannon and White (“cute plot to skip school Robinson” was Gannon’s opening salvo).  From that, I learned there’s no leadership without responsibility. These guys walked the talk.

John Gannon became a Jesuit University professor; held a senior position within the CIA; and was one of the founders of The Department of Homeland Security. I’ve lost track of “Whitty”.

Some lessons were subtle; others obvious but always geared towards real life.  Campion’s teaching methods were decades ahead of their time and driven by the Jesuit philosophy to produce a well-rounded Christian person of competence, conscience and compassion to be of service in the world and with the generosity to make a contribution.  Jesuit philosophy insists that the liberal arts, natural and social sciences, and performing arts, linked with all other branches of knowledge, are powerful means of developing leaders with the potential to influence and transform society.  This should be national education policy – to produce a multi-dimensional graduate.

Students were encouraged to participate in extra-curricular activities (otherwise, no honours award was possible) but these weren’t limited to sports. Debating, Drama, Community Service clubs and journalism carried identical “credit” as sports.  Within “sports”, cricket, football or track were equally important as badminton, tennis, swimming, table tennis or chess. Everyone earned their place in every pecking order by merit. NOBODY was “passed” to play sports.  Yet, many will be surprised to learn that Campion College was where the great Winston Chung-Fah first made his mark as a top-class motivational football coach. Campion’s cricket team was always classy and “Chungy’s” football team defeated top Manning Cup contenders in friendlies but Campion was barred from that competition and Champs.

Academically, pass mark was 60% (where in the working world, except maybe politics, is less than 50% performance satisfactory?)  Among students, competition was so fierce that any grade under 70% was embarrassing.  In my class, an average of 90% placed you outside the top ten.

In those days, Campion didn’t get the pick of primary/prep school students as is alleged today. Campion mostly got those who could pay. Campion’s adherence to principled methods and respect for each student’s individualism (while others concentrated on buying athletes and winning Champs) produced such phenomenal results that ALL students now want to attend.

Campion College was one of the most disciplined student bodies despite never introducing corporal punishment.  Pride, ambition, motivation and competition were our disciplinary tools and excellence our only goal.  Teachers commanded respect without resorting to physical punishment.  They did this by example.  I discovered how to prove, algebraically, that 1 = 2.  The process was flawed but the flaw was impossible to spot.  My maths teacher was another legend, Hugo Chambers, retired J.C. headmaster. During a lull in one of his classes, I proudly approached him and showed him my devious equation series.  He looked at it and, within ten seconds, pointed to the defect in my algebra.  He commanded my respect yet never so much as raised his voice at any of us.

The great Bramwell “Sheppy” Shepherd taught Spanish with a guitar:

Ay, ay, ay ay!
Canta y no llores.
porque cantando se alegran,
cielito lndo, los corazones

I still remember every word. I can translate it too but, all credit to “Sheppy”, that song means more to me in Spanish than English.  He organized a class trip to Central America so students could hear the language in real life. Regrettably, I couldn’t afford the trip.

So, it came to pass that Campion began graduating truly rounded young men (and, as of 1972, women) who were dismissed by “traditional” schools as “sissies”.  Campion graduates were driven to accept and display Jesuit philosophy’s four Cs: Compassion, Competence, Conscience and Contribution.   Campion graduates know, once these are present, all else automatically follows.  Campion graduates don’t need to posture, boast or trumpet self-aggrandizing gimmickry like “the brave may fall but never yield”.   Campion graduates know real bravery isn’t born of bluster but is a by-product of the four Cs.  Campion graduates know true bravery often requires the brave to yield to compassion, conscience or to permit an important contribution.  Campion graduates have no need for greed or lust which they know to be the refuge of the weak and insecure.  Campion graduates chase neither profit nor sex.  Campion graduates concentrate on the four Cs secure in the wisdom that whatever they truly need will chase them.

Campion graduates, without assistance from formalized past students’ lobbies, lodges or cults, now occupy positions of leadership and influence everywhere.  Two of Jamaica’s most compassionate and competent political leaders who’ve made deep personal sacrifices to contribute positively to Jamaica’s future despite the cesspool of a political system within which they’re forced to operate are Kamina Johnson-Smith and Julian Robinson. Guess what? They’re both Campion graduates.  I’m sure you can guess Donald Trump was never a Campionite!

As a direct consequence of their educators’ short-sightedness, many who called Campionites “sissies” are struggling to grapple with life’s realities and have wasted their potential because, unable to lead, they’re forced to follow.  I can hear Sheppy with guitar:

La cucaracha, la cucaracha,
ya no puede caminar.
porque no tiene; porque no falta
marijuana que fumar
.”

There are hundreds of versions of the La Cucaracha song mostly to do with who supported who in the Mexican revolution. I learned the version mocking Pancho Villa (“La Cucaracha”) and supporting José Venustiano Carranza Garza the main leader of the revolution whose faction defeated President Huerta and then other revolutionary factions including those led by Villa:

Una cosa me da risa
Pancho Villa sin camisa.
Ya se van los Carrancistas
porque vienen los Villastas

In that context, “vienen” means retreating to where you came from.

“One thing that makes me laugh
Pancho Villa without a shirt.
Here comes the Carrancistas
Because there go the Villastas”

Toldja! Better in Spanish.

Cielito Lindo is a 18th century love song popularized by Mexican author Quirino Mendoza y Cortes. The name can be loosely translated into “Lovely little one” or simply “sweetie” and its sentiments are very close to the Nat King Cole standard “Smile”.

Campion, once the laughing stock of the high school world, is now Jamaica’s most sought after educational institution.  As diverse as its student body now is, its educational principles haven’t changed. Despite wear and tear of decades surviving in Jamaica, Campion remains the best by any test.

A terrified young introvert entered Campion’s doors in 1965.  In 1972 an independent thinker fully prepared to take on life’s vicissitudes left.  My final 2 years (in a co-educational, rules-relaxed 6th form) were of the greatest “growing-up” value although involving miniscule academic effort.  Accordingly, I support 100% Ruel Reid’s proposal for seven years in secondary school.

I still hear muted, modern versions of the “sissies” insult and there’s loud, unmitigated joy among traditionalists whenever Campion fails in some public competition (like SCQ).  But, whereas, in 1965, these insults were driven by ignorance and arrogance, today’s driving forces are jealousy and insecurity.

Peace and Love

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