I Celebrate Prof Kevin Etta, an Icon
It was in my third year at the University of Calabar (UNICAL), maybe my most frustrating year as an undergraduate. I was at the Amphitheater where we usually received lectures. We had just finished one and we were in between collecting notes with those who jotted, exchanging necessary and unnecessary pleasantries nay noise. Most people were out of the lecture venue while some, like me were stuck in pews, waiting for the first person on the row to move.
A man walked into the class and went straight to the board. He wore a faded brown jumper, the sleeves were folded and his hands were inside the pocket. We went on with our activities while thinking about the different absurd things he could be, but definitely not our lecturer nor a man who was going to change my life (our lives) for good.
He brought out a marker from his pocket and wrote the words that froze the class: “MY NAME IS PROF KEVIN ETTA”.
He wrote it with the handwriting he always ended up apologizing for and making jest of.
We started finding our way back to our seats as the words that flowed from his mouth sounded honey coated, old, yet graceful. He began to teach not just Physiology but wisdom, from years of experience and impact.
Before us, all we saw was an old Professor but he was more. He was a walking physiology text book. He was a former Vice chancellor who brought sanity and beauty to our institution.
His classes made me feel like a child who sits on the floor beside her grandfather, in awe of the stories he tells her.
He asked us to bring a white handkerchief to his class, ironically not to be used to wipe our sweaty faces but to be used as an indicator to stop him when he goes faster than us and we are lost along the way.
He spoke about his days studying in the USA. The most hilarious was the incident where a white student, after staring at him oddly while he lectured, came to ask him after the end of class why he was black. She could not imagine why a man so handsome, intelligent and perfect could be black and not white.
He also told us about the times he went on official duties as a public office holder and he returned the left over funds from whatever was allocated to him and people thought he was insane.
The most motivating story he told, which is also the inspiration behind this message, came at my lowest point. My grades were terrible, I was making efforts to improve but it only seemed like things were going worse. In fact, on that day I remember adding a new carry over to my list.
He told us how he usually bled from crying after he scores a ‘B’ instead of an ‘A.’ He felt that although he was supposed to go to an Ivy League school but ended up in another ‘lesser’ school, he was supposed to be the shining light that he was.
He said, the last time he bled and was admitted in the hospital, the Doctor who took care of him asked him to jump through the window and kill himself for having a low grade (by his personal standards). He was thoroughly reprimanded by the Doctor and for the first time, he was not so hard on himself even though this did not encourage him to be mediocre.
Prof Kevin Etta concluded his story by asking us if as he spoke to us in front of the board as our lecturer, if we cared he had straight A’s or C’s in school. That, if all that mattered to us was not the fact that he stood in front of us as a lecturer and he passed knowledge effectively.
He concluded by saying our grades do not make us but the product of what we do with our lives.
That day, I could proudly say the university finally passed through me.
Today, I join the rest of the world to celebrate Prof Kevin Etta, an icon whose indirect impact will follow me for the rest of my life.
Happy 80th Birthday Sir.
God bless you today and always.
By Marycollette Matiki