April 2011

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More than a 50-50 experience : Alumni awards reveal the essence of UWI

By Omega Francis

Chief Justice Ivor Archie, Dr. Lise Winer, Dr. Hollis Liverpool, Mr. Selby Wilson – the names speak for themselves – these are the cream of the crop, the top-rung players in their profession of choice and they are all graduates of The UWI, St. Augustine Campus.

These accomplished people once walked the halls of St. Augustine; spent all-nighters in the Main Library, had raucous conversations in the cafeteria and took part in the most top-secret hall activities. These are also the names of only a few of the 50 who were recognised for their contributions during the inaugural UWI Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumni Awards held on Saturday 2nd April 2011 at the Faculty of Engineering’s Lecture Theatre.

The gala was a special 50th Anniversary celebration honouring 50 Alumni, chosen from the multitudes of St. Augustine graduates throughout the past 50 years, who have set themselves apart in their various fields, locally, regionally and internationally. The ceremony was well attended by friends, family and well-wishers who wanted to have front-row seats for this notable occasion that honoured alumni ‘while they were alive’ as Ms. Catherine Kumar, CEO of the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce so wittily asserted in her awardee response.

The night did not only include speeches and awards; the honorees were asked to reminisce about their time at UWI, and to recall that one event that still stood out in memory. Many seemed wistful as they remembered, and all agreed that their time was well spent and included three of the best years of their lives. They acknowledged that without their UWI experience they would not have been the persons they were today. Catherine Kumar declared that her time on Milner Hall helped ‘toughen her up’ and made her evolve from the timid first-year student to the leader she is today.

Ewart Williams, Governor of the Central Bank said he was named student of the year in 1967 and he wasn’t sure what to do, so when he learnt that he had won a trip to Jamaica, he simply turned up at the Airport without the necessary documents (like a passport), thinking the process was as simple as hopping a bus from San Juan to Port of Spain. This experience opened his eyes to the effect of socialisation and world-views. Coming from a small village, he said, had limited his experiences and this affected some of his decision making. This small-village socialisation did not hinder him though, as he took every experience to be a learning one.

“UWI was the best experience that I could ever have gone through. In fact, UWI made me into what I am today. I did both my first degree and Master’s at UWI and then went off to Washington where my colleagues were amazed at the level of confidence I had coming from a small university that was, at that time, not yet known to the world,” he said.

Chief Justice Ivor Archie’s story was a bit more typical. He spoke about being a ‘former inmate’ on Milner Hall and after returning from classes one day to find his dorm room emptied and perfectly reassembled outside on the lawn and his hall mates standing aside waiting for his reaction.

“I suppose it was because I was considered to be the most lively and miserable of the ‘grubs’ on Hall that year, but it was all very good humour and everyone helped me put my things back. This was a typical example of the camaraderie that existed on Hall and these were the same people who helped me through some of my most difficult and despairing times before exams,” he said.

He said his UWI experience helped him forge a sense of a true Caribbean identity and the relationships that were cultivated at UWI have endured over the last 30 years and are those that now make him feel at home wherever he goes in the region because these are the people with whom he has formed very deep bonds and endured hardships and fun times.

Not all the memories were filled with camaraderie and ‘toughening up’ experiences though. Sandra Marchack, former Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, told of a passionate French lecturer who became so upset with the class not doing an assignment that he began to bang his head against the wall, saying, ‘that is for being so stupid as to have a class like yours.’

For her, this was both a memorable and shocking moment that showed the level of dedication, passion and expectations of perfection that her lecturer had for his students. Many former UWI students have memories of the actions of their lecturers; whether they are as shocking as Ms. Marchack’s or not, they were influential.

Cheryl Greaves, who was the key person behind the establishment of Bishop Anstey High School East/Trinity College East, spoke of such an experience when her confidence was boosted by Lloyd Best, who quoted her constantly after a quiz in Economics.

“I had never done Economics before, so all my answers were common-sense answers and he quoted me profusely. What it did for me made me realise that you didn’t have to learn Economics out of a book and that was a major foundation for me because after that my career has been one of creativity.”

There were many choice anecdotes, but that is no surprise, given the calibre of the recipients. Choosing the 50 was anything but easy, each candidate had to fill certain primary criteria; most notable of them was ‘service to the university, including alumni involvement.’ Nominations were sought through advertisements posted throughout the region as well as the international UWI Alumni Association (UWIAA) chapters located in Florida, London, New York, Toronto and Washington. After nominations, a bipartisan committee had the pleasure of chosing the final 50. A hard task for the committee, as UWI, at 50, has already produced prime ministers, presidents and CEOs at a rate comparable with any Ivy League university.

ProVice Chancellor and Campus Principal, Professor Clement Sankat opened the ceremony and mentioned that he looked forward to this being an ongoing venture of the UWI Alumni Association. Feature speaker, His Excellency, President George Maxwell Richards, and former ProVice Chancellor and Campus Principal of the St Augustine Campus, pressed the importance of well-trained students who are innovative and become a part of the wealth of intellectual capital that the world can rely on and use to move forward in an increasingly technologically savvy world.

“The concept of a liberal education must not be allowed to die. Rather, an updated version is needed, one which envisages competent professionals with sufficient insight, adaptability, and vision to cope with social and technological change,” he said.

At the end of the night, Bevil Wooding, Chief Knowledge Officer of Congress WBN was able to sum up the complete UWI experience.

“It really struck me when I arrived at the St Augustine Campus of how rich and diverse a Caribbean people we truly are. The ability to go through the undergraduate programme and share not just the educational experience, but the social and also the community experience with so many of my now colleagues and friends from across the region was really and truly special for me.”

  1. Mr. Sasha Addo
2. Mr. Justice Ivor Archie
3. Mr. John E. Arnold
4. Dr. Rollin Bertrand
5. Prof. Jacqueline Braveboy-Wagner
6. Brig. Edmund Dillon
7. Mr. David Dulal-Whiteway
8. Ms. Stephanie Elder-Alexander
9. Mr. Hayden Ferreira
10. Mr. Sterling Frost
11. Mr. Colin Granderson
12. Ms. Cheryl Greaves
13. Ms. Hyacinth Guy
14. Prof. Tisha Harper
15. Mr. Carlos Hee Houng
16. Mr. Ronald Hinds
17. Mr. Larry Howai
18. Mr. Rodney Jagai
19. Dr. Carol James
20. Mr. Malcolm Jones
21. Dr. Esau Joseph
22. Mr. Prior Joseph
23. Mr. Jason Julien
24. Mr. Khafra Kambon
25. Ms. Catherine Kumar
26. Dr. Hollis Liverpool
27. Mr. Mark Loquan
28. Dr. Kumar Mahabir
29. Ms. Sandra Marchack
30. Mr. Lutalo Masimba
31. Mr. Jerome Maxwell
32. Dr. Safeeya Mohammed-Bhagan
33. Dr. Karen Nelson
34. Dr. Compton Laurence Paul
35. Mrs. Angella Persad
36. Dr. Nicole Laurine Phillip
37. Dr. Krishna Pulchan
38. Dr. Dyanand Raj Kumar
39. Mr. Jwala Rambarran
40. Sen. Subhas Ramkhelawan
41. Mr. Simeon Sandiford
42. Mr. Keith Smith
43. Mr. Suresh B. Sookoo
44. Mr. Sookoo Sonnylal
45. Mr. Eugene Tiah
46. Mr. Ewart Williams
47. Dr. Lise Winer
48. Mr. Selby Wilson
49. Mr. Peter W.B. Williams
50. Mr. Bevil Wooding