As I looked through the entire lists of awardees commencing in 1994 I recognised that this year the diversity of our group is unparalleled in the history of these exercises. My colleagues and I are all first timers to these awards but I have no doubt that each of us in some way has been celebrated in the past for our achievements. Yet, this is the first time that we have come before our University of the West Indies community in this manner to be celebrated for our diverse achievements.
The list of prior achievers of this award is full of colleagues who have distinguished themselves and is drawn from all the departments and disciplines housed or practiced at The UWI. However, this is the first time that a person in the field of sports has been so honoured and it is the first time in fifteen years that there is an awardee in the field of performing arts/culture.
So on behalf of my colleagues and co-awardees, we thank the Selection Committee, for your bold choices that have led us to being recognised. The range of work that is acknowledged by these awards showcase the burgeoning diversity of educational pursuits at The University of the West Indies. Indeed, our current diverse slate of awardees is a meaningful start to the recognition of broader approaches in academia that are now resident within the hallowed walls of our institution. We urge the Selection Committee to continue to execute their duties with this level of diversity and inclusivity.
While putting my thoughts together for this occasion, it has crossed my mind that while we are outwardly diverse – by disciplines and interests, we might not be diverse in the path we took to this level of community wide recognition. I think we are primarily driven by our students – that we believe that their success as human beings is equally composed of social and emotional needs that are important to their academic, athletic, and artistic endeavours.
We are constantly aware that our own successes in our discreet fields allows us to be profiled as role models and we are under constant scrutiny by those in our charge. And yet, we have to, at times, let our guard down to allow students to know that we too do not always get it right, that we are after all ‘human’ and we empathise with their own struggles to achieve excellence. We know that our research does not always yield the desired result when we wish it to; our teaching methods, which are under constant revision, do not always yield the desired results to diverse student populations; our attempts at social outreach do not always yield fairy tale results. I can tell you that some performances will draw polite, even bored reactions from audiences followed by other days with raucous enthusiasm. Yet, it is the sum of our drive to be constantly better - to always regard a new project as Brian Lara would - after every century nnings we start back at zero. So, how did we even reach our desired goals and levels of expertise in these diverse fields?
Professor Verene Shepherd of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies shared that she, “always wanted to be a historian.” Professor Shepherd further stated that she liked the subject in school and liked it even better at UWI after she met Kamau (known as Edward) Brathwaite. She stated that it was his lyrical and dramatic style of teaching and his interest in using the past to explain the present that piqued her interest. She also said, that “the History Department always had a mission to use scholarship for the good of the people and so outreach was taken for granted in the tradition.
Professor Jayaraj Jayaraman mused that, “since my childhood I had two career options; to become a doctor to serve the community; [and] if not, be a good scientist to do research on real-life problems and use science for obtaining sustainable solutions.” He further stated that “he gets eternal satisfaction whenever he finds that his research outcome has addressed a problem.” He concluded that “he does not regret missing medical school but rather feels blessed to work as a researcher on core issues on human health. He is doubly happy for being a good scientist and an effective teacher.” I believe that Dr Farid Youssef who was honoured tonight for excellence in teaching in the Department of Pre-Clinical Sciences would concur whole-heartedly with the totality of this statement.
Professor Jennifer Knight-Madden decided to be a doctor at age five, because she wanted to own an ophthalmologists’ chair and thought it was great. Her mother informed her that only doctors had such chairs, and she therefore made her career choice! She further stated that playing and enjoying hockey, with little talent, she learned to be persistent and committed and it led her eventually to make the national team. I know that our colleague Floyd Reifer, the first awardee for excellence for University service in sports is simply saying “I told you so”!
I, myself was torn between the world of science, economics and music. However, like honoured colleagues here including the vast provide of educational services at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, I was always passionate about teaching. Strangely enough, even though I come from a family of teachers (both of my parents were teachers) I was warned by my late mother, Sylvia Murray, an eminent educator, to think about commitment to this field because I was told that the gains from it would pale in significance to those of my so called ‘upward bound’ peers. I pondered on her advice and still made the decision to be a teacher in the performing arts. It is a rare privilege to be both a performer and a teacher helping to build on the nascent efforts of my predecessors in ensuring that The University of the West Indies recognises that two performance disciplines: sports and arts/culture are brought into full recognition.
Certainly, our Vice-Chancellor has been leading the way on many fronts inclusive of the need to recognise the value that our sportsmen and women bring diverse and inclusive University experience.
My colleagues and I recognise that this singular honour afforded us this evening in all of its splendid diversity is an affirmation of years of dedicated work supported by many colleagues and the wider University community. Each of us had a Head of Department, a Dean, a Principal, and many, many other colleagues who have supported our work. To each and everyone of you – we say thank you! You have a share in these awards! Professor Knight-Madden summarises this succinctly and powerfully when she intones “This award is special to me. It is recognition from my alma mater. Despite having attended others, UWI is MY university; three generations of women in my family have graduated with diverse degrees and gone on to serve their country and region. It recognises my work and the great teams that I have been part of over these years.”
In closing and at the risk of being repetitive, the primary driver towards these awards is working towards the betterment of our students. I can only imagine that it is they who will cause us to continue to exert the effort towards other and greater achievements.