I have just read about the passing of legendary educator and professor Dr. Patrick L. N. Seyon. As members of the Golden Class, the first class to gain post-war admission at the University of Liberia under Dr. Seyon in 1995, we had been informed of his terminal ailment several months back. This sad news of his demise imbues in us a sense of profound national loss but also a sense of fulfillment in an accomplished life well lived and in exemplary service to country of the highest order. Dr. Patrick L. N. Seyon was more than a teacher and an administrator; he inspired a generation and a nation.
As in impressionable freshman student at the UL, I found Dr. Seyon to be quite an interesting character. To my amusement he spoke perfect English in well structured sentences. My first brush with him was during Freshman registration in 1995. A grey-bearded man, glasses rimmed professorially over his nose like an Oxford don, sat in an arm-chair at the head of long queue of freshman students jostling to enter the business office. He was entertaining students with pep talk on order and discipline, those being the virtues needed for success at any university. I remember blurting something out to him but can't recall actually what I said. But his response lives with me to this day: "Young man, to register you have to stand in that line."
And in that line we stood, passing by him, one by awestruck one, on our way up the business office, enjoying the sight, presence and guidance of a revered figure nudging us toward a path of greatness, ultimately imparting in us a feeling that our long wait for the famed UL entrance was worth it.
Over the succeeding months I had several encounters with Dr. Seyon as President of the freshman class. Fondness for being in his presence motivated many a trips to the President's office, sometimes to plan the Freshman Debut ceremony (do they still have this?), other times to complain about or discuss any number of things. In one meeting he chuckled back at me with the words " you take this Freshman President job to be very serious young man."
Dr. Patrick L.N. Seyon was committed to fostering a culture of excellence even in a post-war setting where many expect the erosion of standards. In fact, it may have been this motivation that prodded him to accept what was truly a daunting task: to attempt to restore the University of Liberia from the rubble of war to pre-war glory. Gone were the Fulbright professors Dr. Seyon had known when he served as Vice President at the UL in the 80s. Destroyed were the libraries, laboratories and equipment that enriched learning. Paltry were the resources from an interim national Government which was itself locked in a frontal, internecine, almost existential battle against rebels of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia. Despite these ungainly features of his job, Patrick L. N. Seyon accepted the offer to rebuild the University from the debris of war.
For Dr. Seyon, excellence is never adulterated or dampened by environing circumstances. War or no war, education had to be pure, dignified and honest. Academic fraud would not be allowed to glide under the canopy of social disorder. It was these values that led Dr. Seyon to boot out more than 600 students who had illegally entered the university. This action endeared him to the hundreds of freshmen who had burnt the midnight oil just to behold that LUX IN TENEBRIS! In my estimation, the bar of academic honesty at the UL set by Dr. Seyon may never be exceeded by any post-war President of the UL.
Reflection on his commitment to serve in a difficult period and on his general service to country brings into sharp relief the words of John F. Kennedy: "The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were."
Patrick L. N. Seyon was one of those men. He will be remembered as one of those men who taught a country and inspired a generation to change Liberia.