Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

High School Graduation

High School Graduation for Two Chibok Girls

High school graduation

High school graduation cap and diploma

I was reminded again of the 276 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram from their school in Chibok, northern Nigeria. Their abduction led to the hashtag campaign “#BringBackOurGirls.”

I thought just a few had escaped early on. According to an article in Newsweek, fifty-seven escaped soon after they were taken. Ten of these girls were brought to the U.S. by a group called “Education Must Continue Initiative.”

Emmanuel Ogebe is a Nigerian human rights lawyer based in the U.S. He was instrumental in forming the organization. But last year the federal government of Nigeria announced that it was taking over guardianship of the girls. Parents had complained, feeling the girls were being exploited.

Apparently Ogebe is still involved with at least a couple of the girls. He has announced that two, called Debbie and Grace, have graduated from an American high school in Washington, DC.

I have seen nothing about the others. It is possible they are also taking part in high school graduation, but being kept from the media.

Nkiru with her performing friends at Baccalaureate

Our High School Graduation

Nkiru, our granddaughter, has her own high school graduation on June 7. We are driving to Philadelphia to witness the event.

I’ll have pictures of her graduation next time.

But I can’t resist sharing one picture here. She performed with friends at Baccalaureate on Friday evening last week. She’s been reluctant to sing in public, so this was a big deal!

Cornell Graduation Final Note

The Gellerts were proud to advertise their legacy of family members who had graduated from Cornell.

The Gellerts were proud to advertise their legacy of family members who had graduated from Cornell.

Daughter Beth and her husband Kelvin got to the Cornell graduation early. They got seats in the eighth row up, right behind reserved seats for legacy families.

We sat right behind the Gellerts. At least 30 people were in the group. They all wore red T-shirts. On the back were the names, years, and in most cases the degrees, of all the Gellerts who had graduated from Cornell.

The earliest was 1927. The list ended with Jason, TBD.

It was fun to see. They were having a lovely time.

But it also reminded me of the privilege that can get passed down through generations to some of us.

At the end of the U.S. civil war freed slaves were promised 40 acres and a mule. The promise went unfulfilled. Starting with nothing, former slaves who had been denied an education had to make a living.

Very few Black people were even admitted to Ivy League colleges and universities in the 1920’s. There has been little or no opportunity to develop legacies like the Gellerts.

Is it fair?

Mount Holyoke Reunion and My New Role

Mount Holyoke does not have legacies like the Gellerts, though there are some families with several generations that attended the college. The college, like Cornell and most Ivy League schools and others too, is making a serious effort to encourage greater diversity in its student body.

I told you after the reunion that I was on the slate to be co-vice president with two classmates. Our role is to chair the reunion in five years. I assume we got elected; no one has told me otherwise.

And I’m happy to be sharing the task with Susan Higginbotham Holcombe and Anne Wadsworth Pardo. Some of my readers know Anne. I spoke at her class a couple of years ago.

Both women are in Boston. I imagine I’ll travel there for planning once or twice.

We were amused and sobered when we learned that the alumnae office asks us to have at least two people, preferably three, in each class officer position from now on!

Nigeria’s Gentleman’s Agreement on Power Sharing

The mysterious Max Siollun says the “gentleman’s agreement” among Nigeria’s leaders to share power between the north and south may be out of date.

“The unwritten power-sharing agreement . . . was consolidated during Nigeria’s first two democratic transfers of power — in 1999 and 2007 — and it alleviated the southern secessionist pressures that had festered under decades of military rule by dictators from the north,” he says.

It did help the country to move forward. He continues, “For a time, this mechanism for alternating power helped keep the peace in a country with hundreds of different ethnic groups and more than 500 different languages.”

(That’s the largest number of languages I have ever seen for Nigeria. More often it’s said to be 200 or even 300.)

President Goodluck Jonathan photo by Amanda V UN

President Goodluck Jonathan photo by Amanda V UN

Siollun believes that the agreement, “was never intended to be permanent.” It worked when Yar A’dua, a northerner, was elected in 2007. But when he became ill and eventually died in office, his vice-president, a southerner, succeeded him.

That vice-president, Goodluck Jonathan, was elected on his own in 2011.

The 2015 election went to Buhari, a northerner, as it should have, according to the agreement. But now President Buhari is ill.

Siollun says, “If Buhari . . . doesn’t finish his term of office, and power passes to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, a Christian from the south, it will be the second time in seven years that the north’s ‘turn’ in the presidency has been cut short.”

Vice-president Osinbajo, currently in charge

Vice-president Osinbajo, currently in charge

Whatever happens, Siollun thinks it’s time to abandon the agreement. He suggests a way out.

“Nigeria should abandon the convention of north-south presidential power rotation . . . [and] deepen power sharing in state and local governments.” He says many of these governments already, “practice some form of power rotation among politicians from different ethnic, religious, and geographic groups.”

He suggests the country strengthen the local and state governments. That’s where most people experience government anyway, he says. Would people be willing to give up taking turns between north and south for the presidency, even if it doesn’t work as expected?

Maybe this could help develop a feeling of “one Nigeria.”

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.


  1. Hello Catherine. Ethnographers who are experts in the field put Nigeria’s languages at over 500. The often-cited 250 odd is a gross under count.