The first Vusumzi Primary School classroom is dedicated to Antoinette Ragonese Cummings, a first generation Italian-American whose parents arrived at Ellis Island with no command of English, but who worked to achieve mastery of their new language and then insisted that their children surpass the level of scholarship that they themselves had attained.
Netta was born in Milford, Massachusetts, and was a 1935 graduate of the local high school. There she developed a passion for languages, studying French, Italian, and Latin. Upon graduating, Netta briefly pursued a nursing career at Massachusetts General Hospital. Motherhood was her true calling, however, and between 1949 and 1958, Netta had four children. She soon began to inculcate in her children the same respect for education that her parents had instilled in her. This mother of two boys and two girls believed that school was sacred and was never to be missed other than for illness or emergency.
Academic perseverance and achievement were expectations, but they were ones that were richly rewarded with praise and pride. The underlying, unwavering message throughout her tutelage was that scholarship was a pivotal key to happiness, which she defined as a fulfillment of the mind, not a fulfillment of the wallet. As a mother, Netta distinguished herself by nurturing the same values and behaviors that she herself embodied. She insisted on proper grammar, led by example, exhibited a fierce loyalty, disdained narrow-mindedness, read avidly, and embodied a feisty, determined spirit.
When her youngest came home from kindergarten after her first day, Netta expected a joyous report. Instead, the child announced that she would not be returning, as the girls were not allowed on the jungle gyms because of the dress or skirt requirement. Netta told her that she would, of course, be returning the next day, and she did, but this time she was accompanied by her mother and father hand-in-hand. Together the family entered through the doors of the kindergarten to request an appointment with the principal. Within 30 minutes, just moments after the four-year old had spoken, the restrictive dress code was lifted, and her little hometown took a step forward in the name of fairness. The lesson? You don't make all the rules, but you can change the ones that are unfair.
The children remember their mother saying, "You know, they can take away your home. They can take away your car. They can take away a lot of things you would never expect; but they can never take away your education." For that priceless gift of insight, wisdom, and clarity, her children honor their mum's memory by dedicating the Antoinette Ragonese Cummings classroom. Her stunning legacy, which began in Europe and made its way to North America, has now traveled to Africa.
Education truly is eternal, as is our missing you, Mummy.
Honored by her daughter, Martha T. Cummings