As past university students, we know a thing or two about dreaming. Most of us here have envisioned a day like this one when all the exams would have been written, all the courses passed and when group projects are but a distant nightmare. A day when we can look at our text books sitting on the shelf catching dust without a worry in the world. Or perhaps we look at that shelf and say “I wonder how much I could sell my OB text for boy?” That is of course assuming that we bought the text in the first place. Well…either way that wonderful moment we daydreamed about has officially arrived!
As university graduands we also know about having real dreams—the type you actually have to wake up each morning and work towards achieving. After all, we are all here today, and this is the University that brought to you World Champion hurdler Jehue Gordon—a UWI student just like us from our faculty who dared to dream... and believe that he could win a gold medal at the World Championships.
We can all smile as we reminisce on that race, but, keep in mind that bundled into Jehue’s 47.69 seconds of glory were years of hard work, training, sacrificing, planning, and of course believing. If there is one thing that we can all learn from Jehue, it is that: ‘To accomplish great things you must not only act but also dream; not only plan but also believe.’ Amazing that those words were written by French poet Anatole France more than eighty years ago and they are still so true today.
It goes without saying that not all of us have a world championship gold medal in our future, but we can all aspire to achieve something great.
Allow me to share for a minute a little about myself and my goal.
For the past two years I have been working towards earning a national first class scholarship that would allow me to pursue my true passion—fashion. Of course this required the usual sacrifices that we students make: long hours of studying and compromising our already limited free time. Having missed out on a similar scholarship opportunity in 2010 it was not exactly natural for me to believe that this time things would work out perfectly. And when I barely scraped through every possible deadline I faced during the entire scholarship process I began to doubt myself. But in the back of mind I knew I had to have faith and trust that the Lord was listening to my prayers. I am sure most of you will agree that nothing works like doing a degree to get you in the habit of praying. Amen?
Well, my prayers were answered. In January 2014 I begin my Master’s in Fashion Merchandising and Buying at Polimoda in Italy.
I can say without even a shadow of a doubt that had it not been for my dream dangling in front of me for the past two years, that I would not be here speaking to you today. And indeed it is a great honour to speak on behalf of you my fellow graduands from the Faculty of Social Sciences.
But what I hope you take away from my message today is that we all need to have and believe in our own dreams.
I encourage you all to dream big, set those Big Hairy Audacious Goals and Objectives that we learnt about way back in year one and use them, to motivate you to achieve greatness. As Nelson Mandela so rightly said “There is no passion to be found playing small—in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”
But always remember to stay true to yourself; your goals should really be your goals, not somebody else’s hopes for you, because it’s your effort, your determination and your passion that will be needed to get through the tough times; not theirs.
Be fuelled by your past failures, whatever they may be, ECON 1005 - Intro to Stats perhaps or English for Academic Purposes, a missed opportunity or a failure that is in no way related to academics. Nobody said the race towards your dreams was going to be easy. But, like Jehue sometimes you just need to be prepared to physically throw yourself over the finish line to take home the gold. Most importantly, you need to believe, for yourself and all the other people who believe in you. In those moments of doubt when your dream seems just out of reach, close your eyes, dip your head as Jehue’s mom said and believe.
And when your imaginings and reality finally connect, remember to say thank you. Thank you God. Thank you parents for setting the foundation for this achievement and for the seemingly small things along our way—the good luck calls before exams, the home cooked meals and the late night trips to UWI to pick us up. Thank you siblings, friends and loved ones for listening to us rant and rave on countless occasions about how UWI was trying to kill us. Thank you for not questioning our sanity and responding instead with a much needed pep talk. To the friends we made right here on campus, thank you for making the days go by that much faster. Thank you to the administrative staff of the University for guiding us from that whirlwind registration day so long ago to graduation day today. Thank you as well to the Campus Security for keeping us safe from then until now. Thank you last but by no means least, to our lecturers for all that you taught us over the years. We have utmost respect for you and what you do. We stand here today as by-products of your hard work and commitment to teaching. The passion that you show for what you do makes us all very proud to be Graduands of The University of the West Indies.
Thank you all, parents, siblings, friends, loved ones and lecturers for silently or not so silently urging us on.
Today is a proud moment for us Graduands, but as tempting as it may be to sit back and pat ourselves on the back for enduring years of lectures, course work and exams, be mindful again of Nelson Mandela’s words of wisdom, “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”
We must accept that as graduates of The University of the West Indies we have a responsibility to the communities in which we live, our country, the wider region... the entire world even, to apply what we learnt here at university to make a lasting and positive change. With the breadth of expertise built in to this one faculty, from management studies to sports management, economics, politics, accounting, finance, psychology, sociology and social work, we are more than equipped to take on the needs of our society.
We must carry with us, with as much pride as these academic learnings, the life lessons we learnt here at the UWI: how to rise after failing, how to embrace diversity, how to persevere and how to be patient.
Although our parents may joke that our first year here seemed like just yesterday. We know that for us it felt like the three, four or five years that it really was...
I would like to leave you today with one final quote, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars and to change the world.”
This is the valedictory address to graduates of the Faculty of Social Sciences, UWI, St Augustine, on October 25, 2013.