By Paul Quinn
The students, staff, old boys, family supporters and other well-wishers were in an ebullient mood this past Thursday as the Antigua Grammar School (AGS) celebrated 139 years as a leading educational institution in Antigua and Barbuda.
In a Service of Thanksgiving at the St John’s Cathedral, the current school boys ‘hooted and hollered’, cheering wildly as the various performances and speeches were delivered, especially whenever the school’s motto, ‘semper virens,’ (‘always flourishing’) was uttered.
Apparently, they have a deep and abiding belief that the venerable school will ever blossom and prosper. Of course, part of that pride and belief is the awareness that they must play their part in living up to the wonderful ideals and principles of the school; they must stand on the shoulders of the boys (and girls, albeit briefly in the early 1970’s) who graced the hallowed halls of that shining beacon on the hill, and distinguished themselves in their chosen fields.
It is little wonder that, for many years, in the late sixties and seventies, the dogma at the AGS was, “Who is best? AGS!” It was an article of faith, an unshakeable belief in themselves. As you can imagine, Grammarians, past and present, are not bashful about declaring their love, loyalty and pride in the good ol’ ‘Semper Virens.’
Not surprisingly, Headmaster (now called Principal) Samuel Roberts, in his opening remarks, spoke to that ethos of excellence that holds sway at the AGS, and he urged his boys to continue in that grand and noble tradition. He ended his address by citing the theme for this year’s commemoration: “Excellence inspired by teamwork.”
What was quitemovingwere the reflections on the school down through the years by Headboy, Ronaldo Antigua. He recounted the beginning of the school with about a dozen boys under Archdeacon Samuel Branch in 1884, who remained as the headmaster for over forty years. He recounted the names of most of the past headmasters and cited the names of many of the distinguished past students. One of those highly esteemed past students in attendance on Thursday was His Excellency Sir Rodney Williams, Governor General of Antigua and Barbuda.
There were great vocal offerings from the current student body; a beautiful pan rendition from the AGS Steel Orchestra, arguably the best school steel orchestra in Antigua and Barbuda; a funny poem recounting the history of the school by a sharp Third Former named, Seaman, T. (Grammar School style of referring to students); and an inspiring sermon from Pastor Kofi Mensah.
According to Architect Steve Browne, a proud and distinguished Grammarian who was in attendance, “It was important for me to be here. My father (late distinguished attorney Steve Browne) attended the Grammar School, as did two of my brothers, several cousins, and my two sons. Both of my godfathers also attended this school. The AGS provided me with a solid foundation that stood me in good stead when I went abroad to further my studies. It was as a student athlete out of the AGS that I was able to attend Murray State University on an athletic scholarship, and I am grateful for the wonderful opportunities, guidance and tutoring afforded me here. I will always revere my alma mater. This year’s Founder’s Day service was absolutely enjoyable, all the renditions were well delivered, and the sermon was on target. The at-times raucous shouts of approbation from the boys reminded me of my mischievous days at the school . . . quite nostalgic, a special treat.”
The service ended with a lusty singing of WE BUILD OUR SCHOOL ON THEE, O LORD, thethird stanza of which declares, “Hold Thou each hand to keep it just / Touch Thou our lips and make them pure / If Thou art with us, Lord, we must / Be faithful friends and comrades sure / Dear Lord we pray Thy Spirit may / Be present in our school always.”
All hail the AGS! One hundred and thirty-nine years, and still going strong!