Views expressed are my own and do not represent the Mandela Washington Fellowship program

I was back like I never left.

Woke up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. The sun was shining brighter than ever. The birds were chirping melodiously. This was me, in the United States of America.

My excitement was renewed.

Showed up to class just beaming! I’d had an amazing breakfast to make up for the downtime. There’s no such thing as overeating. The rest will go into the reserves.

That’s when Linda came up to me and asked, “Your welcome reception is coming up, would you like to give the welcome remarks with Augustine Okoroduddu from Nigeria?

Would I?

Would I?

Of course I would.

One problem, it was less than 48 hours away.

I’ve seen most university/sorority movies and being valedictorian is always a cut throat competition. We don’t have valedictorians so this was my chance to live the American dream of being the ‘valedictorian’ for my Mandela Washington Fellowship cohort.

What was I going to say?


What was I going to wear?

Relapse. Back into the turmoil of anxiety.

I’ve seen how speeches in America can last for decades. The greatest legends are still having their speeches quoted today. We’ve all had a dream but only one dream speech reigns supreme. Everything else is a daydream.

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They weren’t kidding when they said this YALI fellowship is intense. I had back to back academic sessions and by 2pm my body would clock into African time and lights out. Where I’m based, I’m 7 hours behind Zimbabwe. So at 2pm, my body thinks it’s 9pm which is bedtime. And 2am is good morning.

You can take the girl out of Zimbabwe but you can’t take the Zimbabwe out of the girl.

There was no way I’d complete the speech and rehearse it plus memorise it on time.

I was screwed.

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At 5pm we were dismissed and I rushed back to my room. I’d jotted down some notes on what I want to say in my speech. I have enough to cover 5 minutes.

Wait! What will Augustine say? What if we have the exact same speech. Great, I need to go hear it.

Could I find him? Of course not. When has my life been that easy?

Just as I had suspected, our notes have similarities. No matter, I’m a copywriter for a living. Back to my room.

My dress fits. Fatumata zips it up and says, “Oh Oh.”

What do you mean oh oh. I don’t have time for oh oh.

My zip has burst.

Change,” she says.

Have you met me? When I decide on something I’m immovable from it. So of course I’m wearing this dress. I threw a jacket over it and went to the venue.

I arrived on time and checked in.

For my next act, I’ll make myself disappear.

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So here I am sitting in the loo naked trying to fix my zip armed with just my teeth and my nails. Voilà! It’s fixed.

Who will zip up my dress?

How many jobs did you have? Just one. You had one job.

I threw the jacket back on and went back to the venue.

I sat there networking with my table. I know what it means to chew like you have a secret. I didn’t want my zip to burst so I couldn’t chomp down on the food like my barbarian self would. Fatumata came by and zipped up my dress. In retrospect, if she’d burst it again I would’ve done it to myself.

Augustine went up and gave his speech. Of course he’d made changes. Nothing about what we’d agreed. Can’t dwell on it now. It’s now my turn to get up there. Augustine set the stage, it’s up to me to follow through and finish strong.