August 2017

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I am told these installation addresses are for the world to learn about the new Principal and to get a glimpse of the path the University will traverse during their stewardship. I would like to show how my life’s journey has influenced the vision I have been sharing with UWI colleagues for the past year.

I was born on St. Vincent Street in the lovely southern city of San Fernando. My parents were Ellingsworth Copeland, better known as Mack Copeland, and Eudine Forde-Copeland. My father ended his long career as a fire officer as Chief of Fire Services. My mother was a nurse who spent her years at the San Fernando General Hospital, eventually retiring as Junior Matron.

My father was also a carnival bandleader of no small acclaim, having won Band of the Year in San Fernando for five consecutive years. I have yet to hear anyone dispute his claim that he pioneered the use of those enormous costumes that are now commonplace.

In those early years, our home was his band headquarters or mas’ camp as Trinbagonians call it. As a child, I saw vignettes of the early civilizations of Central and South America, native North Americans, the Vikings, the Court of Queen Elizabeth I, the tribes of Africa, creatures and characters from Greek mythology and the Assyrian Empire of King Nebuchadnezzar come to life before my fascinated eyes. I saw their iconic shapes crafted out of wire and steel, wood, cloth, sequins, hammered copper and aluminum, paper and papier mâché. I saw art transformed from my father’s Egyptian-like drawings to fully animated real-life 3D works.

One can begin to understand who I am by imagining the impact of this rich experience on a boy still of primary school age. Until about 7 years ago I did not fully appreciate the impact of those early years on my being.

I have always considered myself a Caribbean, born on the island of Trinidad. Perhaps that perspective was the result of the fact that my mother, and her mother who lived with us, were Barbadians who migrated to Trinidad and Tobago towards the end of the Second World War. Ours was a home that was constantly filled with visiting Bajan relatives and acquaintances.

Whatever the reason, I am fiercely Caribbean at heart. I still feel extreme anguish at the collapse of the Federation and remain hopelessly optimistic that one day, despite their increasing separation, Caribbean nations will unite under a common flag. All logic supports the creation of this imaginary state, that I have taken the liberty of calling Carribea, that would leverage its greater size to build a better life for its peoples. The UWI, with its four campuses spread through the Caribbean, is critical in the achievement of this still elusive goal.

For the full address, [ click here (PDF) ]