Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka can now afford to laugh about a bizarre “baptism” ritual carried out on his first night in secondary school.
But on the day it happened in 1977, it was a rude welcome to Kibabii High School in Bungoma.
Form Two students at the institution, he recalls, woke up the Form Ones at around 4am and “baptised” them with cold water, as part of the school’s tradition then.
It was a crude way of welcoming students to the school, but whichever secondary school one has attended, there is sure to be a thing or two that will serve as a reminder of the transition from primary school.
As the students that sat the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examination last year join Form One in various schools from tomorrow, Lifestyle brings you the perspectives of Mr Lusaka and other prominent Kenyans as they flashback to their high school experiences and how they shaped them.
He joined Kibabii when bullying of Form Ones was fashionable, a vice he says should never be condoned.
“Form Twos were the most notorious bullies. Form Threes and Fours were very level-headed,” he recalls.
He had to contend with the situation, and it did not help matters that it was his first time in boarding school. He says the ups and downs he had between 1977 and 1980 when he was a student at the school hardened him.
The downs included Form Ones being robbed of their food rations, especially on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays when meat was served.
“Form Twos would come and eat your meat, after the hassle of getting a plate and serving. First of all, it was a crime to eat meat with bone. That was for seniors,” he recalls with a chuckle.
But he believes the bullying was a small drawback to the students, as those days there was serious pressure on Kibabii students to shine.
“That was one of the best schools in performance during our times,” he tells Lifestyle. “It was shameful to go to such a school and not make it to Form Five.”
The experiences inside and outside of class, he says, prepared him for the future in many ways.
“You learnt to be independent, to take care of yourself. You had to learn the home chores very fast, like washing your clothes and being vigilant. Because if you were not careful, we also had people who stole other people’s things,” remembers Mr Lusaka.
“You also got hardened up. Even if you cried, nobody cared; so you just learnt to bear with the situation. And these things come to help you in future because, in day-to-day life, you come across many other challenges,” he adds.
After studies, Mr Lusaka joined the provincial administration, starting off as a district officer before he became a district commissioner, then later became the first secretary for provincial administration in the Office of the President. He was then promoted to be a permanent secretary in the Ministry of Livestock Development.
With the onset of county governments, Mr Lusaka was elected the first governor of Bungoma in the 2013 General Election. He lost a bid for re-election in 2017 and was later elected Speaker of the current Senate.
He believes high school life was a good preparation for public service because it introduced him to people from diverse backgrounds.
“Secondary school really opened up my mind,” he says.
His advice to this year’s crop of Form Ones is to put their best foot forward because they have a level playing field.
“That is where they start shaping their future, and they should take the challenges they will face as an opportunity to excel,” he says.
National Assembly Speaker
Mr Muturi’s stay at Kangaru School in Embu between 1972 and 1977 contributed to his future career as a lawyer, a Member of Parliament and now as the National Assembly Speaker.
This was partly due to the debating activities he participated in.
The debates, he says, taught him tolerance and how to accommodate divergent views.
“People would express different views, different opinions, but you were not enemies,” he recalls, adding that he also enjoyed taking part in drama by writing and directing plays.
What’s more, his stay at the school introduced him to Kenyans from different persuasions.
“It helped you to become a truly national character,” says Mr Muturi.
At Kangaru, there was also the spirit of competition that pushed them to study hard. As such, he managed to make it to law school at a time when only 60 students throughout the country were admitted to study law in any year.
“It was a lot of hard work and commitment and devotion. Also, there was respect for institutions which were shaping us. That was absolutely necessary,” he says.
Asked whether there was bullying, he replies: “It was a problem in our time but it died with time.”
To this year’s Form Ones, he urges moderation.
“They should look forward to exciting times, but always have an open mind. Obviously, there is a lot to learn, but they should also have time to play,” says Mr Muturi.
The reigning Miss Tourism Kenya
Coming from the depths of West Pokot County to Nairobi for secondary school education was a steep learning curve for Sarah.
She was a student at Mount Laverna Girls’ Secondary School — a private boarding school in Nairobi’s Kasarani — from 2011 to 2014.
She says the school opened her eyes in many ways.
“I was not used to city life and the new vocabulary. I actually took almost two months to learn Sheng which my colleagues were speaking,” she recalls.
A question like “ulisoma ‘raimo gani?” was initially hard to answer because she did not know that “raimo” is how Sheng speakers refer to “primary school”.
There was no bullying at the school, she says, due to the strict regulations. And she at one time became a class prefect and later a sports prefect.
Participating in debates at the school, she recalls, built her confidence.
“I was very timid before joining high school. But through my experience, I was able to improve on my socialising skills. I joined the debating club and this really helped me to be vocal and to know how to express myself. This experience really built me as I can now talk in front of people,” says the model.
Sarah is currently studying for a Bachelor of Science degree in biostatistics at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.
“High school is not just a place where you go and study a certain curriculum then come out with a grade. It’s also the place where you get to know yourself as a person,” she says to this year’s Form Ones.
PROF PETER MBITHI
Vice Chancellor, University of Nairobi (UoN)
Prof Mbithi’s first days at Queen of Apostles Seminary Secondary School, in Nairobi’s Ruaraka, called for many readjustments from the day he joined in 1971.
“For primary education, I went to school in one of the villages in Kanzalu in Kangundo. As I went to Form One, I was an underdog,” he remembers.
“I came from a very mean background; mean to the extent that I did not know Nairobi, my parents were not in Nairobi, I did not have a big brother in Nairobi,” adds the vice chancellor.
But because of the Christian values of the school — which is for all types of learners, not just those interested in joining priesthood — he adapted fast.
“The school had a number of important values. The first one was to just be happy with the people that you find; that whoever they are, wherever they have come from, they are your brothers,” he says.
“I could say I was lucky that we didn’t have bullying. We were more, therefore, of people coming together to take care of one another,” adds Prof Mbithi.
Having acclimatised to life at the school, he soon found a niche in the basketball team and was also in various clubs including those for debating, science, and agriculture.
He was also a class representative throughout his stay in school, and in Form Four he was appointed to be in charge of academics.
High school taught him many things, among them being an early riser and spending time wisely.
“That formed my present-day attitude to work. I have never got to work after 7am throughout my career,” he says.
“We were also taught to keep time; that time is the only resource we are given equally. The only way, therefore, you can achieve higher than anyone else is by using time better than them,” adds the professor.
He would grow to be one of the most prominent Kenyans to have come out of the institution, becoming a veterinary surgeon, a professor of veterinary surgery and holding various leadership positions before he was given the reins to be in charge of UoN from January 2015.
His message to the Form Ones is to trust the systems they find in their new institutions.
“They should know that the systems that are there work for them and with them; and that they need not fear because hope is what makes people sustain their march into the future,” says Prof Mbithi.
“They should know that one of the elements and good attributes of going to high school is to enhance cohesion so that you become a world citizen. You meet people who are not your brothers, whom you were not born together. They speak different languages, they’re from different backgrounds. And that’s a great opportunity for you to grow out of the small shell that you came from,” says Prof Mbithi.
Kenya Airways pilot from 2005 to 2018
Mary Kai’s culture shock when she joined Pangani Girls in 1988 was the time the students woke up to serve breakfast.
Learners waking up at 5.30am so they could serve breakfast an hour later was quite the shocker for her, as she had been at a primary day school where she woke up well past sunrise because it was near their home.
“I remember asking my school mum, ‘Why are we going for breakfast at night?’” she says.
But she soon adjusted to the routine and, by Form Four, she was a house captain.
She recalls that co-curricular activities were not her cup of tea, as she often found joy in academics. And her stay at the school up to 1991 taught her many things.
“It’s at Pangani where I learnt to budget because I knew that if you finish all your money, you will starve for the rest of the time,” she says.
“The other thing that I enjoyed in Pangani is that we used to pray a lot. If there was a place I learnt how to pray, it was at Pangani Girls,” she adds.
Mrs Kai is a seasoned pilot who left Kenya Airways (KQ) last year as a captain — the person in charge of a flight. During her stint, she flew KQ planes to multiple destinations in Africa, Dubai and India.
She quit KQ to start her own aviation business alongside her husband. It is a chartered flights company that operates from Wilson Airport.
Her counsel to this year’s Form Ones is to stay positive even when selected to schools they do not like.
“There is always a reason. Even me at that time, I did not want to be admitted to Pangani. But I found myself there and, on hindsight, it’s a very good school,” she says.
“They need to come up with a routine early enough so that they don’t burn themselves out. Just look for a routine whereby, by the time you are in Form Four, you do your best,” adds Mrs Kai.