Farooq A. Kperogi
When, in 2009, Weekly Trust reported that I won the top Ph.D. student award here at Georgia State University in Atlanta, a number of my readers started to address me as Dr. Farooq Kperogi. But I hadn’t fulfilled all the requirements to deserve bearing the title of doctor; I had only just completed my doctoral coursework and passed my written and oral comprehensive examinations. In order to forestall any misconception, I felt compelled to quickly write an addendum to my column sometime in 2009, which I titled “Not yet a doctor.”
I wrote then that I had two more hurdles to cross before I could legitimately be called a doctor: I had to write and orally defend my prospectus (a formal, extensive written outline of the doctoral dissertation) before a committee of five professors. I also had to research and write a 300-plus-page dissertation and orally defend it before the same committee. On February 23, 2011, I fulfilled all those requirements, and I can now officially be called a doctor.
But this crowning accomplishment of my graduate studies in America has stirred mixed emotions in me. Strangely, I felt no sensation of elation when my advisor, Professor Michael Bruner, shook my hands on February 23 and excitedly said, “Congratulations Dr. Farooq Kperogi! That was a brilliant and masterful defense. The committee was very impressed and has approved your dissertation without any amendments!”
The anticipation of an accomplishment, it would seem, is more exhilarating than its actual attainment.
Well, perhaps, my excitement was tempered by the overpoweringly wistful memories of my late wife that welled up in me. She had looked forward to this moment with an eagerness that was rivaled only by my dad’s consuming desire for me to obtain the highest possible attainable educational qualification. But more than any anybody, Zainab gave her all to make this dream come through. Without her encouragement and blessing, it would certainly have been impossible for me to achieve this. That is why I had no second thoughts in dedicating my dissertation to her.
As my adviser told me that my doctoral dissertation committee had accepted my dissertation and my oral defense without even a single suggestion for revision or improvement, I immediately thought of Zainab. I visualized how she would have jumped in wondrous elation and sung that cryptic yet mellifluous song she often sang each time I relayed news of my triumphs and accomplishments to her.
Zainab’s absence made the attainment of the Ph.D. seem utterly empty and purposeless. For many years, the pride and joy she derived from my accomplishments, however insignificant they were, was the biggest motive force in my life. She would have thrown a party in my honor, as she did when I completed my master’s degree atop my class and when I got the top Ph.D. student award.
So I didn’t think there was anything to make a song and dance about—well, until my Facebook inbox and wall were suffused with a profusion of impassioned and delicately phrased congratulatory messages from scores of my friends and fans after I casually wrote that I had successfully defended my doctoral dissertation. Since 2005 when I signed up for Facebook, none of my status updates has elicited as many contagiously enthusiastic responses as this one.
The gush of goodwill messages that spontaneously overflowed on my Facebook page in the wake of my two-sentence status update, which I’d thought would attract only a few “likes” and comments, made me realize that I had other reasons to appreciate what I had just achieved.
Plus, Sinani, my daughter who lives with me here in Atlanta, was incredibly ecstatic when I told her that I had now become a doctor. She sort of knows what this means because, two weeks earlier, my adviser had explained to her, using the American grade system, what a Ph.D. means. He asked her what grade she was in. She said she was in First Grade, which is the equivalent of our Primary One in Nigeria. Then he said, “Well, your dad would be completing his 23rd grade, and that is the last grade ever.” It made sense to her. “Wow! 23rd grade? That’s a lot of grades!” she exclaimed and looked at me admiringly.
When I came home after my defense and told her that I had just completed my 23rd grade, she hugged me passionately and said she was proud of me—repeating what I say to her when she does well in school. Then after reading the cornucopia of congratulatory messages on my Facebook page, she turned to me in excitement and said, “Daddy, since everyone is saying doctor before your name, and I can’t call your name, can I now call you doctor daddy?” I can’t tell you the intensity of warmth and good cheer that that charming, child-like question radiated in me. It at once reminded me of her mom and the fact that I, after all, had a reason to cherish my accomplishment.
Now, because she knows that calling me “doctor daddy” provokes hysterical laughter in me, whenever she entreats me to pamper her and senses reluctance in me, she never fails to add, “Pretty please, doctor daddy!” It’s her new way to weaken my resistance!
What is more, this is what my dad had always wanted me to become. He has only a diploma in Arabic from Kumasi in Ghana, which the Kwara State government didn’t recognize when he presented it for employment eons ago. It was only after passing a Western adult education certificate that he was employed to teach Arabic and Islamic Studies at a primary school from where he retired a few years back after nearly four decades.
Right from my primary school, my dad (who is one of only two of my grandfather’s male children who have no post-secondary Western qualifications) chose to vicariously pursue all the qualifications he could not obtain through me. Each time I came tops in my class, he would always boast that I would never stop until I got a Ph.D. At that time, I had no earthly clue what he was talking about. When I understood what a Ph.D. meant in my secondary school, I was often afraid that I might let him down. And my anxieties appeared to materialize when, after my bachelor’s degree, I worked for a fairly extended period.
But he never stopped to remind me that he wanted me to get the Ph.D. — for him. So when I called to tell him that I was now a doctor, he was predictably overcome with incommunicable joy. He said he would be a fulfilled man were he to die that day. That reaction filled me with both delight and trepidation. How could a simple act of getting a mere degree—whatever the worth or social prestige of the degree—inspire such passion, such strong emotion?
Well, although Zainab is not here physically to celebrate with me in ways only she could have done, I am consoled that this accomplishment has given my daughter a new fun way to address me, has imbued my dad with such inexpressibly vicarious fulfillment that I could almost “touch” his excitement millions of miles away and, above all, it has shown me the capacity of fellow humans, whom I might never physically meet till I die, to be genuinely happy over another person’s success. I am at once wistful, delighted, and humbled. Alhamdulillah.