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Listen to Yo' Mama: Ghartey-Tagoe Wants Seniors To Stop, Smile and Say Hello


By now, many seniors recognize the name of their new first class marshal, Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe '01, who was chosen out of 77 candidates in two rounds of voting that ended this week. But they've all heard her nickname: "Yo' Mama."

"All my friends like to rhyme my name with something," laughs Ghartey-Tagoe, whose middle name is Yamoaa. "It just stuck with me. My closest friends will call me Grandma."

"I'm sort of the mother of the class," she adds.

It's a role Ghartey-Tagoe takes seriously. As first class marshal, her platform is simple but unmistakable: Be nice. Wave. Smile. Take the time to say hello.

"Your smile may be the only one a person sees all day," she says. "If I don't say hi to somebody, oh my goodness!"

She certainly seems to try. In the Mather House tower where she lives, Ghartey-Tagoe introduces herself to every person in the elevator, and then introduces them to each other.

The most important job of the class marshals is to promote that kind of unity, she says.

"By the end of this year, every senior will know each other by name and not be afraid to say, 'Hey, what's up,'" she says. "That's one of the biggest things I'm shooting for. I think there is a lack of community, hands down."

"Community" is a favorite buzzword for student leaders: candidates for the Undergraduate Council, student group leaders, class marshal candidates. By that, they usually mean events, organizations, meetings, plans. But Ghartey-Tagoe is talking about something more basic.

"By the end of the year, I'm going to know all your blockmates. You're going to know all of my blockmates," she says.

Ghartey-Tagoe is the kind of person who can't walk a hundred yards without stopping to chat with someone. To call her friendly is an understatement.

Same with cheerful. The Manhattan, Kan. resident's walls are decorated with inspirational posters celebrating "Excellence," "Fitness," "Nature" and "Courage."

"Folks at Harvard aren't happy? That ain't right," she says. "Because honestly, we go to the best college in the universe."

Ghartey-Tagoe seems to have enthusiasm for everything: class marshal meetings, Play Doh, even University Health Services ("I love UHS, the way they're supposed to be there to help students").

Not surprisingly, Ghartey-Tagoe is involved in everything. She isn't tied to a single student organization--"I'm all over the place," she says--but tries to get active in a wide range of groups: theatrical productions, Kuumba, the '01 Steppers, the Women's Leadership Project, the Mather House Committee.

Every Sunday, she makes time to attend New Covenant Christian Church in Mattapan, a 45-minute ride on the T. New Covenant helps her create a spiritual foundation in her life, she says.

But it's also important to create time for little things--like cartoons.

"Every day, two o'clock, "Hysteria"--it's a history cartoon! I love it. I love it!," she says. "Three o'clock is "Dungeons and Dragons"--I just realized it's back on the air. And then "The X-Men" come on at four."

Ghartey-Tagoe takes special pleasure in history, which she says is her passion. She spent a semester abroad last year in Ghana, her parents' homeland, collecting oral histories about the slave trade; she may continue the work for a senior thesis in Afro-American studies.

After Harvard, Ghartey-Tagoe wants to keep working in history: She's applying to graduate programs in historical theater. There's also the possibility of medical school--though she doesn't intend to practice medicine.

"I just want to get the knowledge," she says.

In the meantime, Ghartey-Tagoe says she plans to concentrate on making senior year the best year possible for the Class of 2001.

"This year's going to rock--like stalagmite, granite, calcium calcite, Fred Flintstone rock rock rock!" she says.

But she doesn't have a set vision she wants to implement. Like everything else, Ghartey-Tagoe believes planning for Commencement is a community endeavor.

"This can't be about Amma's agenda, it has to be a collective agenda," she says. "We're in this together. Every senior is a first marshal to me."

--Staff writer Adam A. Sofen can be reached at

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