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.