The fifth Vusumzi Primary School classroom is dedicated to Bernice M. Ward, a woman of Irish descent, who was born and raised within walking distance of many of the world’s finest universities. As the youngest child in a large family, Bernice could never attend any of those schools, despite her membership in the National Honor Society and her having received a high school diploma with honors.
Following in the path of her sisters, Bernice began working full time the day after she left high school to help support her family. Despite not being able to continue her education at the university level, her curiosity and desire to learn continued throughout her life, attributes she managed to instill in me, her only child. She had the foresight to know that a dedication to lifelong education was one of the greatest gifts she could give me. It was she who first made me aware, when I was quite young, of the value of education, and the effort necessary to acquire one.
After I had finished my master’s degree, my mother often commented that my decision to devote so much of my life to education, first as a student and later as a teacher, had made her quite happy. Even though I often told her that it was her example that had informed so many of my own choices, I don’t know if she ever fully appreciated the degree to which that was true.
I can say with complete certainty that Bernice McCarthy Ward would be simultaneously surprised, humbled, and delighted to know that a classroom for the children of Vusumzi school will be named in her memory, and I can think of no better way to honor her.
Honored by her daughter, Mary W. Burns