Some years back we had a celeb Mzee called Kimani Maruge. He became so famous that a movie was made in his honour. The reason for his fame was that he enrolled in primary school at the age of 84. He actually holds the Guinness world record for being the oldest person to start primary school. His classmates were the age of his grand kids or maybe even great grand kids. Asked why he went to school at such an old age, he said one of the reasons was that he wanted to be able to read his Bible. Mzee Maruge is a classic display of what resolve and the human spirit can achieve. It didn’t matter what age he was. Once he got an opportunity to go to school he jumped at it. His age was just a number like the other numbers he was going to learn in class one.
I now know how it feels to be the oldest student in class. I recently felt that way in my photography class. Most of the teachers were younger than me. Over the last two months I’ve had the opportunity to see the world through the eyes of a millennial. In one class last week Regina Re was taking us through personal branding and how to use it to enhance our trade. At some point so as to illustrate a point she asked how old everyone was. We were seated in a semi-circle because the class was small. She began on the far right and I was seated second to last on the left. So the answers started coming, 21… 23…. 22…25… then it was my turn. I mumbled under my breath 45 then it ended with Mwangi next to me at 24. I was tempted to lie and give my metabolic age of 29 instead hehe.
This was the first time I was hesitant to state my age. Was I trying to fit in? I wonder. I felt like a younger version of Mzee Maruge. Even some of the teachers gave me special attention. Maybe I was that slow student who needed more help to keep up with the class. Despite the slight discomfort, I have enjoyed being in class with millennials. Photography is in the creative arts which is where many of our young people thrive.
I was startled though by the casual nature the classes were conducted in. Some of the young walimus would start teaching in English and soon after switch to sheng. I found that amusing. What I didn’t like though was the lack of time keeping for some of the teachers. They would show up even an hour later and just start the class like nothing was amiss. I adjusted fast and decided I’ll give feedback at the end of the course. The other fascinating thing was that every now and then the teacher would pick a call or reply a text on his phone while conducting a class. I wondered whether this was lack of respect or an accepted norm in the millennial world?
Despite the bad manners displayed (I’m sure millennials would pick a few bad tabias from folks at 40 too) I admired how engaged some of these kids were. One could easily tell that most of the students were in class because they want to do photography full-time. I met a kijana called Kanda who did the course last year and has since done some big gigs with his photography. He’s only 21.
This confirmed to me that the only education that makes sense is the one that is done out of interest and passion. That ensures the students are self-driven and because they love what they are learning they are bound to excel in it. May I remember this when my baby shark comes to tell me he or she wants to be a DJ or a dancer.
I also got a glimpse of why there is this great misunderstanding between the wazae (as I was called once) and this young generation. I felt like some of the older instructors bashed them a bit too much by going on and on as to how the millennials are unserious and lack character and follow through. While that may be true of some we should still have celebrated their courage to follow their dreams with confidence at an early age. Even attending class to confirm whether to pursue this interest or not takes courage. Many of us sat through years of a course we felt nothing about but could not dare raise an objection to our parents.
When asked what holds them back in one class, one of the kijanas in a matching red cap and sneakers said they are seen mostly as jokers and irresponsible yet he really does want to excel in his trade. I felt sorry for him kidogo. Unfortunately, he has to work extra hard to prove that stereotype wrong. Same way we had to fight these leaders – of – tomorrow narrative that we grew up being told.
After this course I have reconciled the fact that for me to excel in my photography, I have to embrace millennials, give them a chance and hopefully change my attitude about them. There are skills like editing that I found tedious yet most of my classmates enjoyed it. So I have to find a way of collaborating with them to enhance my work. For me I just want to learn how to take captivating photos and sell them for a pretty penny.
Interacting with millennials got me out of my comfort zone and brought me down from fourth floor to second floor (though it sometimes felt like mezzanine floor) to see what the view outside looks like. I can confirm the scenery has changed much since we folks at 40 were on second floor. For starters the cameras we used then were film and you could only see your shots after you processed them in the studio. Today it’s all digital and feedback is instant and that’s why some of us have gone back to school. I hope this interaction makes me a better parent and human in general. Plus, a great photographer too.