UWI 60th Celebrations Begin
by Marcia Erskine
“Let the celebrations begin”, that was the signal from University of the West Indies (UWI) Chancellor, Professor Sir George Alleyne on Saturday, January 12, 2008, at the UWI 60th Anniversary Interfaith Service at the historic St. Mary’s Church, Bridgetown, Barbados –the first event of a year-long celebration to take place throughout the Caribbean and the Caribbean Diaspora in the U.S.A., Canada and the U.K.
The church service, followed the formal declaration of “UWI Day” on January 7, 2008, by thirteen of the region’s Governors General and Heads of State acknowledging the first meeting of the Provisional Council of the University College of the West Indies (UCWI) on January 7, 1947, when the decision was taken to establish the first campus of the UCWI (now UWI) at Mona, Jamaica.
The UWI, which was established that year as a University College in special relationship with the University of London and given its own Royal Charter as an autonomous university in 1962, is the oldest, fully regional institution of higher learning in the Commonwealth Caribbean.
Supported by fifteen Caribbean countries, the UWI is the leading research institution in the region and has since its establishment, produced more than seventy thousand graduates in various disciplines including several of the region’s Prime Ministers and Governors General.
With the pomp and ceremony befitting such occasions including a flag procession by the Barbados Cadet Corps and trumpet fanfare by the Royal Barbados Police Band, the church service in Barbados saw presentations from Sir George; UWI Vice Chancellor Prof. Nigel Harris; former Principal & Pro Vice Chancellor, Sir Keith Hunte and UWI Cave Hill Principal Sir Hilary Beckles. Mona Principal, Professor Gordon Shirley and St. Augustine Principal Clement Sankat, were also in attendance.
Prof. Alleyne described as “an illustration of our success” the attendance at the service of UWI academic and administrative staff and alumni from various campuses and the joint choir combining the voices of UWI Mona’s University Singers, UWI Cave Hill’s Cavite Chorale, Voices of Montserrat and the USA’s Duke Ellington School of Arts.
Borrowing from a popular Bob Marley song, he said, “we feel the natural mystic flowing through the air as we celebrate 60 years of the University of the West Indies as a place of light, learning and liberty.”
Professor Harris traced the beginnings of the University since June 7, 1947 noting that “as we look back with pride at where we have come, we can say that in truth the Gods have befriended us.”
“We have produced leaders of Government, Heads of State, outstanding academics, businessmen and women, physicians, nurses, engineers, lawyers and many more. We have produced Nobel Prize winners and dozens of Rhodes Scholars. We take special pride in the countless civil servants, technicians and practitioners in all disciplines we offer, who have ensured the stability, growth and development of the Caribbean. The rich product of people is visible not in one, two or three Caribbean countries, but everywhere in the English-speaking Caribbean. Many have also spread across the globe and contribute to their communities their disciplines and professions and to building a new world for future generations.”
Despite those achievements however, Prof. Harris said that the UWI will not “be content to wrap ourselves in flimsy gowns of self congratulation and boastfulness about our past” but will spend time reflecting on the future and in “retooling those lofty dreams of our fore bearers.”
Sir Hilary, welcomed worshippers at what he said was a celebration of “the UWI celebrates the achievements and hard labour of those who forged from the rubble of colonization, this noble institution.”
He congratulated all who had worked to provide the good leadership which had made UWI “a global brand recognizable everywhere.”
The weekend of celebrations in Barbados came to a fitting close on Sunday, January 13, 2008, with a gala concert at the Frank Collymore Hall in Bridgetown featuring a cast of celebrated groups –the University Singers, the Cavite Chorale, Voices of Montserrat, the Duke of Ellington Alumni Vocal Ensemble and the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica.
Other events will be held throughout the year in Barbados, Jamaica and in Trinidad where the UWI has campuses, as well as in the other 12 contributing countries – Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, The Bahamas, Belize, The British Virgin Islands, The Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Christopher (St. Kitts) & Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent & the Grenadines.
Preparations are advanced for the highlight of the year, “Convocation Week and the Gathering of the Graduates” at Mona from July 12-19, 2008, which will be attended by alumni and supporters from all parts of the world.