A school is like a musical round — first one group starts and when they move onto the second section, then the next groups starts and so on. Eventually, the first group finishes, the second group starts their final round and a new group joins in. This is life at ALA. With our first class having finished their final round, a new group of students enter with their voices and tempo.
There’s always a rush of energy when the new school year starts; The returning students are arriving with the confidence that comes with knowing the challenges ahead; the new students arrive with excitement and nervous expectation; faculty slowly wonder in from their various and sundry vacations and adventures, planning the great academic adventure that will be 2010-2011, complete with scholarly works, extraordinary social initiatives and entrepreneurial lessons all grounded in the African context; even the year-round staff have a renewed vigor.
First, to bring everyone together and focused on our goals, the commencement of the new year needed to be honoured. In this, ALA is both traditional and iconoclastic, and our welcoming of the new students walked that fine line. First, the students were introduced by country, greeted with song, dance and applause as they walked into a symbolic Kraal — an African homestead, joining the ALA family. Then, more traditionally, the students paraded through a path of burning torches to an inner circle, where the flame was passed, both symbolically and literally to this new generation.
ALA Founder Fred Swaniker noted how different this welcome was from other institutions, “Most boarding schools around the world welcome their new students by ‘hazing’ or with initiation ceremonies that are degrading and often humiliating to the newcomers. At ALA, our newcomers were welcomed with nothing but overwhelming love and affection.”
The formal part of the evening was followed by a unique ALA tradition — a party featuring Vusi Mahlasela. Vusi, a world-renowned South African musician, has kindly helped welcome each and every ALA class to date, and the students responded enthusiastically to his performance. The night also featured a performance by the school choir, ALApella and Thatohatsi Sefuthi performed Auld Lang Syne on her flute accompanied by members of the ALA student band.
Properly vetted, the incoming class grasps just how big the shoes are that they need to fill, but they should be up to the task. Drawn from an applicant pool of over 2300, 103 young leaders have been chosen to accept the challenge. Representing 33 African nations, this class includes first-time entrants from Guinea, Tunisia, Rwanda and the Gambia. Combined with the returning class, ALA now has 185 students from 37 nations. Among their members are a celebrated AIDS activist, a young woman who makes jewelry from ammunition used in the Liberian civil war, and an award-winning young filmmaker.