This week I sit down with a remarkable gentleman who started in Africa and has risen to become the Headmaster of the Groton School. Although you may know Groton as one of the iconic symbols of New England elitism, you may not know that 3 years ago it hired Temba Maqubela who is one of the most dynamic chemistry teachers from another prep school, Andover. Thanks to a Groton School quarterly article (Fall, 2013) much of Temba’s back story can be learned: Temba Maqubela and his wife Vuyelwa created a family whose heritage includes at least 15 South African educators. Their families acted as the local post office for their villages, built schools and churches, and supported non-violent ways to change South Africa. In the midst of this, Temba and 3 friends were arrested in the biology class, at the age of 17. They were detained for several months, escaped to Botswana and then to Nigeria and completed their education. So when he says, “Fear was just wasted energy,” his strength of purpose shines bright, and his will to struggle against the prevailing culture is clear (Groton School Quarterly, 2013, p. 14).
Just as interesting as his story is, Vuyelwa’s story of partnering with Temba is equally compelling. Her family of educators entwined with Temba’s were also a part of the intellectual foundation for changing the culture of South Africa. She and Temba met just two years before he was arrested and she was harrased by the police for her knowledge of the doings of her future husband and his friends. Along the way Temba courted Vuyelwa by mail for over ten years. After turning down recruitment efforts to be a spy for the police, she moved near the border of Botswana and finally was able to see Temba at a New Year’s Eve party. It was love at second site. When Temba and Vuyelwa finally married, more than a 1000 people showed up proving that many people with the right intent will finally change the culture and love will defeat apartheid (Groton School Quarterly, 2013, p. 17).
This remarkable family has now come to Groton and here is why the Board of Trustees thought this was the right choice:
Board President James H. Higgins summed up the search committee’s decision last October: “Groton’s leader must have intellectual depth and curiosity; be decisive yet dedicated to collaboration; engage the School community warmly, as family; possess a comforting core of spiritual grounding and discovery; and exhibit unceasing drive for excellence, open access, and an appreciation of the world around us,” he said. “Temba Maqubela is such a person” (Groton School Quarterly, 2013, p. 20).
When they came to America to live on food stamps, they studied for their teaching certificate exams and passed. In the hustle and bustle of New York they met at the subway station in Times Square to trade the baby while one came off work and the other was just going on. Their 26-year journey at Andover School saw them stabilize their living, build community, lead their schools and give thanks for their families’ early educational values (Groton School Quarterly, 2013).
Temba frequently uses the word “inclusion.” “Boarding schools of course can be considered elitist,” he says, “but at their most fundamental they’re about community—about how to start a village where children are never lost, where no one is a stranger. Everyone belongs. We’ll be continuing and building upon Groton’s excellence and the sense of belonging and inclusion here” (Groton School Quarterly, 2013, p. 21).
That’s what education does, it gives us hope. Temba’s last name means, “progress,” (Groton School Quarterly, 2013, p. 21), and the family of Groton is lucky to have the “hope of progress” as their community leader.