I remember having a disciplinarian headmistress in the 1990s, when I was working through my classes to sit the University of Cambridge Ordinary “O” Level Examinations. Every hour on the hour, a loud siren would go off, and we would have to pick up our books and bags, and move on to the next class, usually in a different classroom, and often quite a bit of a walk across our expansive high school campus. The teenagers we were, we would chat and gossip along the way, laughing and trying to take as much time as possible, to postpone having to sit down in yet another classroom and listen to yet another teacher.
It was Eveline High School in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and the headmistress was the legendary Mrs. Muguti. We would often find her standing around the quad during class changes, and her very stern and loud, “can you run?” would get us all moving a lot faster!
I also remember having Prize Giving Day at the end of each academic year. We would sit together in the main hall, with our parents and family in attendance, to watch the most hardworking and successful students get recognized for their efforts. The hardworking student I was, usually had a list of awards to collect. My parents would show up, no doubt feeling very proud.
I also remember that Mrs. Muguti would always make the head girl read a certain poem called the Desiderata, EVERY SINGLE PRIZE GIVING DAY! It was much later in my life that I came to appreciate the powerful words in this poem. It goes thus:
- Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
- and remember what peace there may be in silence.
- As far as possible without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
- Speak your truth quietly and clearly;and listen to others,
- even the dull and the ignorant;
- they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Strive to be happy.
Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.
About the Author: Max Ehrmann was an American Poet and Attorney of German Descent. He was born in Terra Haute, Indiana, on September 26, 1872, and died on September 9, 1945. Desiderata is a Latin word that means, “things desired.” He wrote the poem at the age of 54, but it’s really incredible to think that this amazing poem achieved fame only after his death.