When 22-year-old Marcel Adams graduated with a BEd degree (cum laude) from Stellenbosch University (SU) at the Faculty of Education's December graduation, it was much more than an academic achievement. His degree also bears testimony to his immense courage and strength of character.
The trajectory of his life could so easily have taken another turn after he experienced a number of family tragedies at an early age. First his uncle was killed in 2009 when he was just eight; then his eldest brother, who was the main witness in the court case that followed, was shot dead in 2010.
His father was killed two years later, when Adams was 11 years old. Along the way, his other brother became involved in a gang and ended up in prison for five years after he was framed – yet another casualty of gang warfare in Elsies River, where the family lives.
“But," says Adams, the youngest of the three brothers, “I decided to persevere and make a breakthrough – for me and my family."
He developed a love of learning while at Goodwood College in Ruyterwacht, where he matriculated in 2018. He credits his high school teachers, in particular, with playing a key role in his life.
“They stood by me," says a grateful Adams. “They believed in me and pushed me and moulded me." That is why he decided to become a teacher himself. “I wish I can be that teacher for just one learner."
Making an impact
Adams registered as a student at SU in 2019 and immediately threw himself wholeheartedly into various student activities. In his first year, he served on the Education Student Committee (ESC) and was also the class representative.
He remained on the ESC for the next three years, serving in its social impact portfolio. In 2021, he chaired the ESC and automatically served on the University's Academic Affairs Council, which consists of the student councils of all faculties.
“The greatest pleasure over the past four years was serving our students," says Adams. “I enjoyed the leadership role – taking the initiative and running with ideas and giving students a platform. Sometimes it was stressful, but I will never forget that experience."
During the Covid-19 pandemic, he says, the ESC did not sit still. Beyond Education – a programme he created in his second year as part of the ESC's social impact portfolio – made workbooks for schools to keep learners stimulated and provided schools with masks and sanitisers to help ensure a safe environment.
But, Adams admits, the pandemic created a very difficult period for him and he was forced to move back home when the University closed. “There was shooting and violence in the area while I needed to sit and study," he recalls. “It was difficult, but I had to believe in myself – that I could do this."
Yet, on the whole, Adams treasures his four years at the University. “There are so many opportunities to enrich yourself. I really made use of these." For instance, he completed several courses at the Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert Institute for Student Leadership Development.
He also made time to enjoy the nightlife of Stellenbosch and to visit new places – especially those close to nature – while a student. “I enjoyed my student life at Stellenbosch University. And now, look at me – finally graduating."
He plans to continue studying part-time at SU for an honours degree over the next two years. “Despite all my activities, I was good at academics," he says.
Adams also eagerly looks forward to taking up a teaching post in Elsies River next year. “There are still a lot of social issues in the area," he says. “But I live to make a social impact. If I have to go out of my way to make circumstances better for someone, I will do it."
He adds: “It's easy to be in a 'larney' school. You walk in and there's a computer and a white board and a projector." But, he says, he wants to make a difference and his teaching post will offer him that opportunity. He clearly intends to remain an agent of social change.