UG’s Finest – 2003
Rafael Abdulla: Crème de la crème
By Ruel Johnson
December 21, 2003
ONE common thread seems to have been running through the previous articles in this series on this year’s top achievers at the University of Guyana’s recent graduations: that of humility, even after considerable achievement. Now that we have reached the person that may be called the crème de la crème, that thread continues.
Twenty-three year old Rafael Abdulla graduated from the University of Guyana this year with a degree in civil engineering. He not only copped the top place in his faculty, but he was also the best graduating student.
Rafael was born in January, 1980, the second child of Majid and Ann Abdulla. According to his mother, Rafael was always very determined. He always set his goals and worked towards them.
He grew up in the village of Enterprise on the East Coast of Demerara and attended Enterprise Primary School. Rafael remembers his primary school days as worry-free, except, he said, when the time came for him to write his SSEE.
As was the case with some of the graduates featured in the previous articles in this series, Rafael paid homage to an exemplary teacher, an educator who went beyond the call of duty to ensure that the children in their class received a quality education. For Rafael, it was a teacher at Enterprise Primary, Mr. Bhoowal Chaitu.
At a school where the expectancy of academic success wasn’t very high, Sir Chaitu gave his students extra lessons, free of charge. When he noticed that Rafael Abdulla showed exceptional promise, he began giving him one-on-one tutorship.
&I used to actually sleep by him and learn [my lessons] up to ten o’clock,” said Abdulla.
Mr. Chaitu remembers Rafael as being an extremely dedicated student. He recalls Rafael more or less spending the entire `common entrance’ year at his house.
&If I went out, regardless of what time I came in, I would always find him at his desk doing work, waiting up for me…I often had to tell him to go to bed.”
The teacher’s dedication paid off. In 1991, Rafael earned a place at President’s College, gaining the sixth highest score nationwide. He, however, opted to go to Queen’s College instead. Academically, he performed well, moving up a space in each class as he got older. He was also involved in sports and was particularly good at middle-distance running, usually dominating the inter-house and inter-school in the 400, 800, and 1500 metre races. He never advanced to the inter-zones championships because, as he told Sunday Chronicle, the distance he had to travel from home to training sessions in Georgetown coupled with the added stress of studying usually left him exhausted.
Rafael’s dedication to his studies produced results that surprised even him. At Queen’s College, there is a system which allows capable fourth form students to write CXC Math after passing an assessment examination. Rafael, who hated the subject, was astonished when he was placed among those eligible to sit the exam. He was incredulous when he received a distinction.
So unconvinced was he that he could have possibly scored that much, he decided to sit the exam again the next year. He of course, duplicated his former results. And in addition to his second grade one, he scored grade one passes in eight other subjects.
Rafael went on to do his A-levels in Pure Maths, Physics and Mechanics. In the lower sixth form, he gained a grade one in Advanced Supplementary Mathematics, the determining test for a student’s eligibility to continue on to sitting for the Pure Maths exam.
In 1998, he entered the University of Guyana' of Technology, originally to pursue a degree in electrical engineering. Early on, in his first semester, when he heard some students speaking about civil engineering, he decided immediately to switch courses.
He took up civil engineering, and in 1998, he received his diploma and went to undertake the mandatory year of working with an engineering firm, CEMCO. Obviously impressed with the quality of Rafael’s performance, the company offered him a deal. They would pay the tuition for his remaining two years of study at UG and he, in turn, would work for them for three years after graduating.
After his year with CEMCO was up, Rafael plunged right back into the academic life at the University of Guyana and the rest is [recent] history. Rafael graduated ahead of 1,242 other students at UG’s 37th Convocation ceremony in early November. He received the President’s Award for Best Graduating Student; the Banks DIH-sponsored Peter D’Aguiar Memorial Award for Best Graduating Student in the Faculty of Technology; and an award from the Guyana Association of Professional Engineers (GAPE).
At the graduating ceremony, Rafael thanked his parents, who – as he related in his interview with the Sunday Chronicle – always urged him on, despite the circumstances.
&My parents sacrificed so much for me that I felt obligated to nothing less than my best,” Rafael said.
In keeping with his end of the bargain, Rafael is now currently employed by CEMCO. After his contract is up, he says that he plans to further his education in civil engineering.
It may be most apt to conclude this series on a note from Rafael Abdulla’s valedictory address to his fellow graduands:
We have achieved something valuable...You must decide what your achievement meant and how you want others to perceive you.”