Quo vadis, Antigua Grammar School?

The Antigua Grammar School is the oldest surviving institution in the State of Antigua & Barbuda. It has had icons of every kind, has stood the test of time and has emerged with flying colours to remain as the sole colossus that has shaped the educational and political landscape of this country.

In both World Wars, its students have carried the flag of Britain upon whose public school system its traditions have been formulated, with outstanding distinction. Archdeacon Samuel Edmond Branch, its first headmaster and son of its founder, was among the team that dared to challenge the first English cricket team to come to Antigua in 1895.

It is known that they were dismissed for just over 30 runs, but less than 100 years later, it took our National Hero, a Grammar School icon, Sir Vivian Richards to avenge the humiliating defeat at the same Antigua Recreation Grounds, crush the English team and establish the fastest century in Test cricket history.

The names of Lieutenant Colonel Reginald Branch in World War One, Pat Nanton, Rowan Henry and Leo Gore in World War Two, “will grow not old, as we that are left grow old.”

Son Mercier dominated heavyweight boxing in the Eastern Caribbean as a student. Walter Etinoff, as a student, not only won the bodybuilding title of Mr Antigua but, if our weights had been officially calibrated, would have surpassed Tomy Kono of Japan, as the best middleweight weightlifter in the world.

AGS old boy, Paddy Winter, won the annual Mr Universe bodybuilding competition five consecutive times, in Britain. Lester Bird, our three-term prime minister, was once the best long jumper in the world and one of the quickest fast bowlers in the West Indies, but for the prejudice of the larger West Indian islands.

Selvyn Walter, the founder of Halcyon Steel Orchestra, co-founder of King Court Masonic Lodge, for two consecutive years, won the election as president of the Guild of Undergraduates of the UWI Mona Campus, a member with Walter Rodney of the most successful UWI International Debating Team and the only man to crushingly defeat VC Bird, Father of the Nation in a national election.

National Hero George Walter was general secretary of the Antigua Trades & Labour Union, co-founder of the Antigua Workers’ Union of which he was also general secretary, and premier of this nation.

John J Comacho, reputedly the richest man in Antigua, was an ex-Grammar School boy. Chief Justice Comacho of British Guyana and later chief justice of the British Caribbean islands, was an old boy of the AGS.

Co-ordinator of our National Anthem, Sir Novelle Richards; composer of the music of our National Anthem, Walter Chambers; designer of our National Flag Sir Reginald Samuel and designer of our National Coat of Arms Gordon Christopher, are all old-boys of Antigua Grammar School.

Our deputy Governor General Sir Eustace Francis can proudly claim the AGS as his alma mater. The graduates of the Antigua Grammar School have gone on to Cambridge (headmaster Jack Foote), Oxford, Yale and Harvard Universities, and served with distinction of which we can cite valedictorian, Dr Gregson Davis of Harvard, who has carried the flag of Semper Virens proudly.

In the field of athletics, our young sprinter Bailey has thrown his hat in the ring for the 2012 Olympics in London. We can go on ad infinitum and mention numerous others in our claim, but we would prefer to close the list with Fergie and Winston Derrick, whose perseverance with the OBSERVER Media Group made freedom of the press, radio and television possible in Antigua & Barbuda today.

There was a time when the behaviour of the members of our Grammar School was unique and exemplary. All of the icons, national heroes and outstanding personnel mentioned above are worthy of national praise and mention. Our present population ought to seek to emulate them rather than to degrade this noble, enduring institution.

The boy who sought to drag down the name of our noble institution in a public brawl at a Bus Station is not from Antigua & Barbuda and might not even qualify to be a recipient of the free education that ought to serve as the vehicle for upward social mobility.

The motto of the Antigua Grammar School is “Semper Virens”, which means “Always Flourishing”. Behaviour that would seek to transform the motto of this all-enduring institution into “Semper Hooligans” ought to be anathema to the powers that be at Antigua Grammar School and at the Ministry of Education. With members and friends of this kind, this enduring institution does not need enemies to ensure its demise.