Thompson shares memories of Olaniyan

I had planned to share these remarks at Teju’s memorial service this morning, but the sheer number of people who want to speak means that will not be possible. I share them here instead.

The Department of African Cultural Studies (ACS) was one of Teju’s many academic homes. Although we shared him with English, we always felt that he was 100% in ACS and 100% in English. There was enough Teju to go around.

This week I’ve had the privilege—a painful privilege—of hearing from many of Teju’s former and current students, my colleagues here, and colleagues at other institutions about how much he touched their lives. I’d like to use my time to briefly share one of my own memories of Teju, and then some of those others have shared with me this week.

I’ve known Teju for about twenty years, since he first joined the department of African Languages and Literature just as I was finishing up my PhD. When I came back as his colleague six years ago, he welcomed me with open arms, inviting me and my then two sons to his home for dinner. He helped us feel at home as we made a new life here.

My son M was one at the time and is now seven. He has grown up knowing Teju. When I shared the news of Teju’s death with my family, M immediately burst into tears. “He’s the one who always called me Chief!” he said.

When I shared this story with Nevine El Nossery earlier this week, she remarked, “See? Only one word from Teju was enough to make a big impression on anyone.” It’s true.

We had an event on Monday in the department to share our sadness and memories, and it was clear that Teju’s impact on all of us was immense and will be long-lasting. Current graduate students spoke of how hard he pushed them and how much better their work is because of him. Undergraduates in his course this semester reached out to share that he was the best professor they have ever had. Colleagues have shared what a generous person he was and how much he mentored all of us both explicitly and through his exemplary scholarship and productivity.

We were left only with the thought that we all owe it to Teju to keep his legacy alive, not only in our work but also in the ways we come together as human beings with a spirit of generosity and humor.

May it be so.