The Combermere School – Where Black Excellence is Redundant

Dec 13, 2019

I have often tried to explain to people how much my education at the Combermere school in Barbados (which is over 320 years old) prepared me to excel in every setting I have been in.

It is by far the most formative academic experience in my life. It is hard for people to understand that you can leave the NYC public school system as a typical under performing Black kid, get put into a school that you could never test into, and rise to become brilliant, cool, funny and mischievous, while learning to play multiple instruments, getting two certificates from the Royal Schools of Music, dominating in math, physics, history, geography etc… and in your final year having to take 24 exams for 8 subjects, covering 3 years of material and crushing them.

Combermere was a place where Black excellence was the price of entry, not a destination. You got no credit for showing up, no credit for trying, no grading on a curve, no excuses, and were ranked from first to last in every subject, so you knew exactly where you stood. It was like being on Krypton … everybody could shoot lasers out of their eyes, everybody could leap over buildings, you had to come with more than that to excel there.

That kind of environment causes you to develop confidence in your abilities (current and future), to set high expectations for yourself, because there is only one kind of expectation – high. It is place where you learn that “verbal diarrhea is a disease that must be cured” after writing that sentence 350 times on the black board – i.e. there is a time and place to run your mouth and during class is certainly not the time nor the place. Your teachers are excellent, and you respect them (that is not optional) and you speak when spoken to – yes sir, no sir, yes ma’am, no ma’am, and you come prepared. You study hard, but pretend like it comes naturally to you.

You respect students in the upper classes and you stay away from those areas where they congregate unless you are willing to suffer the consequences. Students help regulate students (I.e. we had prefects – specially selected students who enforced the dress code and certain school norms) and while it was unlikely, you secretly hoped to one day become the Head-boy or Head-girl (i.e. the leader of the prefects and the student with the most authority) who was almost always the most senior officer in the Cadet Corp.

Black teachers, Black students, Black administrators, all delivering Black excellence. But in truth, Black excellence is redundant. Black is excellent. No need to add a qualifier. The only time Black is not excellent is if there is an unnatural outside force preventing it. We had no such forces.

You will find that people from Combermere have a certain air about them, we respect everyone but do not believe that anyone is superior to us. Period. Full stop.

Someone once told me that I “walk like I own the ground that I walk on”. I was not even aware that my mannerisms gave that impression, but while I was appreciative of the compliment, I was not surprised by it… that is who we are, because we have earned it.

Much respect to Combermere or as we affectionately call it “Caw’mere”.  Up and on.


About the Author – Shawn D. Rochester is the CEO of Good Steward LLC (GSL) and the founder of PHD Enterprises, and the IDEA Institute. These organizations provide financial education and advisory services to consumers, increase the presence of Black employees and enterprises in US public and private sectors payroll and supply chains, and facilitate commerce between the Black business community across the African Diaspora and on the African continent. Shawn has a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from The University of Rochester and a Master’s degree in Business Administration from The University of Chicago Booth School of Business with a focus in Accounting, Finance and Entrepreneurship. He is the author of The Black Tax: The Cost of Being Black in America and CPR for the SOuL: How to Give Yourself a 20% Raise, Eliminate Your Debt and Leave an Inheritance for Your Children’s Children. And can be reached at


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  1. Great read Dr. Rochester! I must say I wish I attended a school like that as a child. Although, one day I will have children!

  2. It was an amazing experience that all of out children need to experience.

  3. Having tested and passed for this school. Going thru the process, I know full well the feelings and perspectives we as Cawmereans possess but it brings tears to my eyes to hear how precise you are in your insights(I have encountered some of those comments as well) to being a member of this great school, I guess it was an “Awakening” of sorts.
    Up and On.

  4. Well said, Dr. Rochester! Thank you for so eloquently describing our alma mater as an academy of excellence in our day 👏🏽
    I do hope that the current student body and faculty can keep the Combermere tradition alive and that young people the world over can learn to fearlessly seek their God given purpose.

  5. UP and On my brother

  6. The conciseness – or ethos of that school which the authors experienced may very well be virtue of a single seed – a school song, whose purpose was to grow young men. “Lives are in the making here,” the first sentence of the school song, speaks to life’s grand design – to grow and be productive. It is not dated,

  7. I identify with every single word written here. Black is excellent! It’s quite unfortunate that black people oftentimes allow this truth to be distorted by outside forces. Keep up the good work Sir!! Up and On!!!

  8. You will find that people from Combermere have a certain air about them, we respect everyone but do not believe that anyone is superior to us. Period. Full stop. This is so true I never could quite articulate this but it captures the truth about the Combermerian. Upward ever, onward forever.

  9. Pluming Wings for higher flight! Up and On!

  10. I attended Combermere school aka Waterford University from 1959-65. It was not regarded as the number one school on the Island. But due to the ethos enshrined in the school song, the standard of teaching, the musical, hockey and cricket standards and the support and camaraderie of past students, Combermere has produced Prime Ministers, Knights of the Realm and others who have reached the pinnacle of their chosen professions. Up and on!

  11. Hello Shawn, I enjoyed reading your article above on attending Combermere school. As a graduate from the Waterford University ’70, I am proud of your contribution to the Up and On culture. I am happy to say that like you and many before us, Cawmere made us who we are. My fellow Cawmerian keep the flame burning and continue with your contributions.

  12. This was a great read really brought back some fantastic memories from my days in Waterford.

  13. Well said my brother.Up and On!!!

  14. Thanks Ricardo!

  15. Thanks Greg

  16. Thanks Nigel. I will keep the flame burning bright as I am immensely grateful for my time at Combermere.

  17. Thanks David. I recently read “Combermere School and the Barbadian Society” by Sandiford and Newton so I could get a more robust understanding of the history of the school and how its stature grew over time. Combermere is a extraordinary school that produces greatness and I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend. I will continue to up hold the standard. Up on.

  18. Yes indeed. Thanks Miranda. Up and on.

  19. Thanks Jamal. It is a bond that we all share and I grateful to be a part of it. Up and on.

  20. Thanks Stacey. I am working hard to help more of our people (and others) understand that Black is indeed excellent. Up and on.

  21. It is definitely not dated. My life was indeed transformed by this great institution of learning and development know as Combermere. Up and on.

  22. Up and on Stanton.

  23. You are most welcome Fay. I also hope that the current student body and faculty continue the tradition of greatness. Hopefully someone will share this article with them so they know how amazing they are and how fortunate we all are to be a part of such a great legacy.

  24. It changed the trajectory of my life and I will forever be grateful. Many thanks. Up and on.

  25. Many thanks and much appreciation. Will do.

  26. Entering Combermere as one of the first girls in first form set me on a path of fulfillment and success. It was the institution that formed my love for the arts and history ,upon which I have built my career. It was place where I felt safe amongst teachers of high esteem and older students who readily took on the role of big brothers and sisters. More importantly as a girl coming from humble beginnings, the culture of this institution to embrace all present and past students regardless of class or religion has taught me to a better person. Congrats on your endeavors and as we say Up and ON!

  27. Thanks for sharing your experience at Combermere Dr Johnson. I feel an enormous amount of gratitude for my experience at Comberemere and it’s legacy of giving students from humble beginnings an opportunity to develop an exceptional foundation for success. Up and on.

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