From: Joe Bartuah, Report-at-Large
As a child growing up, Ms. Marina Seyon frequently wondered why her highly educated dad with impeccable credential and competence was not fond of seeking highly paid jobs abroad. “I really never understood why this very educated man who could work anywhere in the world chose to work at the University of Liberia. He had offers in the United States, all over the world”, Ms. Seyon recalled last Sunday, March 12th in Lowell, Massachusetts, during an honoring program for Dr. Patrick L.N. Seyon, former President of the University of Liberia.
The program, which was organized by the Massachusetts Alliance for the Restoration of the University of Liberia (MARUL), in collaboration with the Alumna Association of the University of Liberia, was in recognition of Dr. Seyon’s outstanding contributions to the educational development of Liberia, Africa and the world at large. MARUL groups alumni, former students and friends of UL residing Massachusetts.
Ms. Seyon who spoke on behalf of her dad, who could not be present due to ill health, said in her adolescent years, she saw her dad’s passion and his struggle, as he strived, in collaboration with other members of the faculty and administrative officials of UL, to ensure the independence and academic integrity of the University of Liberia, especially during the hectic days of the military regime in the 1980s.
Also alumnae of UL, Ms. Seyon said following the August 22, 1984 invasion of the university by soldiers upon orders of then Head of State Doe, she thought to herself that the situation had by then reached a tipping point for her father to leave the country. Even before that time, Dr. Seyon had had his own encounter with the defunct People’s Redemption Council, as he was sent to jail for unexplained reasons by the junta.
Marina said even though her father later left Liberia for the U.S. in the wake of the senseless war, once the first round of the upheaval subsided, Dr. Seyon, the nationalist was again on his way back to the war-torn country. She narrated that on one occasion in the early 1990s, she had called her father in Liberia and asked why he had to abandon job opportunities in the U.S. and take the risk of going back Liberia.
To that query, Ms. Seyon noted that her father’s response at the time was, “I just want Liberia to have the same opportunity that other nations have”. She said because her dad was so committed to the academic development of Liberia, he never aspired to seeking lucrative government jobs, or amassing wealth for that matter.
Further recalling her own experience in Liberia, she added that years later while attending the University of Liberia, she began to appreciate her father’s contributions to society when many people didn’t know personally would greet her, saying “This is our UL baby; this is Dr. Seyon’s daughter; thank you for what your father did”.
Marina, speaking on behalf of the family, commended MARUL for publically acknowledging the contributions of her father to the national development efforts of Liberia and promised to convey the kind sentiments expressed at the program to her parents and other siblings who were not present at the program.
In remarks, a one-time Education Minister during the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU), Dr. Levi Zangai, lauded Dr. Seyon’s “invaluable contributions to the University of Liberia”, especially in his capacity as the first post-war president of UL. Dr. Zangai who flew in from South Carolina, said personally for him, it was difficult to pay tribute, having personally observed the current health condition of the veteran educator.
He noted that during their University of Liberia days, he had known Dr. Seyon to be an avid jogger, adding that even when he was president of UL in the ‘90s, Professor Seyon, along with other faculty members, used to jog from UL campus all the way to the Ducor Palace Hotel. He said pathetically when he recently visited his former colleague and benefactor, Dr. Seyon could barely climb his own stairs, which was instructive to him that the veteran educator’s health was declining.
Speaking further, Dr. Zangai, also former chairman of the Business Administration department at UL, maintained that by returning to UL in the 1990s, Dr. Seyon demonstrated unsurpassed patriotism, because by that time, the institution had suffered “horrific physical damage.” As the first post-war president, when he took over, “there was no electricity, no chairs” he recalled, adding that books—the entire library—laboratory equipment had all been damaged, looted or destroyed when Dr. Seyon volunteered to go and salvage the institution.
For his part, another professorial colleague of the honoree, Dr. Woodard described Dr. Seyon as “an elegant gentleman, a revolutionary Liberian” who has made this world a better place through his priceless contributions to society. He said besides the University of Liberia, Professor Seyon “has an existential impression” on many outstanding institutions of higher learning, including the University of Michigan, Stanford University, Harvard University, Boston Latin Academy, Boston University and the Roxbury Community College among others.
Melvin Howard, National President of the University of Liberia Alumni Association (ULAA) acknowledged the “dedicated, invaluable services” the honoree made during his academic sojourn in Liberia, as a professor of social sciences, vice president for administration and subsequently president, adding, “Dr. Seyon served as an inspiration to many of us.” He said rather than being an arm-chair administrator, Dr. Seyon cultivated a leadership style that put premium on directly interacting with the students and other members of the university family.
The President of MARUL, Mrs. Baindu Barclay-Brown, in an introductory remark, recalled some of the tough times during the heydays of the military regime in Liberia, when the junta was frequently issuing draconian decrees to the consternation of many UL students. She said on many occasions, some students were arrested and taken to prison for being publicly critical of the PRC regime, “but Dr. Seyon stood with the students, side-by-side, breast-to-breast to negotiate” with the authorities at the time and ensure the academic independence and integrity of the university.
She said it was in recognition of such selfless sacrifices that MARUL decided to give Dr. Seyon his flowers while he’s still alive to smear the fragrance. Mrs. Barclay then told Leticia and Marina Seyon, two of Dr. Seyon’s children who graced the occasion, to convey to their dad the overwhelming appreciation of her organization in a typical Liberian parlance, “Thank you plenty, plenty yaa…”
During the program, Dr. Seyon and his wife, Barbara Greene-Seyon were gowned in absentia while Mrs. Seyon was given a traditional Kru name, Munah in recognition of their contributions to the Liberian society. A plaque in recognition of the honoree’s contributions to the Liberian society was presented by Reverend Jeremiah Menyongai, Jr., while Mother Menyongai also presented the gown for Mrs. Seyon and a special “Thank You Card” signed by many alumni and former students to the Seyons’ children.
Dr. Seyon, 79, is class of 1961 at the University of Liberia. A recipient of two Master’s degrees, he earned his first graduate degree in 1967 from Kansas State University. Between 1972 and 1977, Dr. Seyon was a Fulbright scholar at Stanford University where he obtained another Master’s and his PhD.
In 1981, Dr. Seyon became vice president for Administration at UL during the administration of the late Dr. Mary Antoinette Brown-Sherman and from 1991 to 1996, he served as president of UL. The eminent educator has been Visiting Scholar, Center for International Affairs, Harvard University; Research Fellow, African Studies Center, Boston University and member, Association of African Universities among others. He had also served as an educational consultant to the World Bank and the Ford Foundation. In rent times, Dr. Seyon’s health has been declining, for which he was not present at his honoring program.
A cream of topnotch universitarians, family members, associates and former colleagues of the honorees attended the program. Mr. William Ponder, a veteran of the UL Chorus rendered selections while Dr. Samuel Nyeon Beh, MARUL’s board chairman, served as master of ceremonies during the program.