November 2009

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Create leadership,look beyond yourselves

This is an abbreviated excerpt of Honorary Graduate, Angela Cropper’s address to the Graduation Ceremony, Faculties of Science and Agriculture, and Medical Sciences, The UWI, St. Augustine, October 30, 2009.

I appear before you as a graduate of this University, within which I have had my grounding at the Campuses of St. Augustine and Cave Hill, and from which I have taken my bearings. I thank the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, and of Barbados, whose taxes bore the cost of my education. I am still trying to find a way to give something back to this region that could possibly be commensurate with that investment.

I regard this honour as the culmination of my mother’s decision, taken more than half a century ago, to make it possible by whatever means to allow and enable a ‘girl child to get education’. I became the first among her twelve children to have the opportunity for secondary schooling and in due course also for university education. And throughout my life I have been conscious of that privilege, and tried to shoulder the responsibility and meet the expectations that came with that investment in me. Likewise, I will see this honour by the University as another investment in me against which I still need to deliver.

At this Campus I had the further privilege of being tutored by Lloyd Best, and I pay tribute to him for expanding my horizon from that of a rural village girl to a sense of identity as a Caribbean citizen, and a perception of aCaribbean replete with possibility. This certainly laid the foundation for my own evolution as a global citizen.

The University, and this Campus in particular, is associated in my mind with more than my intellectual development and philosophical outlook. It brought John Cropper to the Caribbean through its offering of a Diploma in Tropical Agriculture. He then served his entire professional life in this region, most of it through the University or other regional institutions. This Campus brought me in contact with him, and he became my life partner and my compass for 34 years. His support, encouragement, counsel, and subordination of his own interests in favour of my professional opportunities were unwavering.

I acknowledge the respective contributions of these three major influences to the course of my life and personal development.

Fortunately for me, not everyone who has had a hand in the shaping of Angela Cropper, such as she is, can be described as ‘late’. There are many others still available to me, some here in this audience, who have guided, encouraged and assisted me along the way, whether as teacher, colleague, mentor, or friend. I thank them all.

My fellow Honorary Graduand, Mr Robert Riley thinks that “the real failure of the Caribbean is leadership in all its spheres.” His statement echoed the words of Lloyd Best to me some 40 years ago that “the first obligation of leaders is to create new leadership.” These words still ring in my ears. Mr Riley also said that at bpTT they are “developing people whose duty is to look beyond themselves.”

I cannot think of any combination of insights that could better serve as inspiration and motivation to a graduate of The University of the West Indies, than those I have just cited. Create leadership. Look beyond yourselves.

The creation of The Cropper Foundation nine years ago reflects similar inspiration and motivation engendered in me by others.

Its creation is our way—John Cropper’s and mine—of giving something back to the Caribbean and to this University, and of facilitating others to do so.

From my mother who could always “feed another mouth,” as she would put it, however slender our resources, I came to understand that philanthropy is not about how much one has, but it is about what one does with what little one has.

The Foundation’s rationale embodies these insights of demonstrating and creating new leadership and looking beyond oneself. I remain ambitious that we will better manifest these values as we go along. The Foundation is also a mechanism for continuing engagement and collaboration with University colleagues. I am encouraged by the University’s commitment to such a relationship as evidenced in our Memorandum of Understanding, and I am pleased by the interest of this Campus Principal and the Vice-Chancellor to deepen this relationship.

I and the Foundation are guided by the maxim that “Life is about more than personal advantage.” This guiding line was suggested by the first awardee of the Devanand Cropper Memorial Award which is offered at the London School of Economics, in recognition of students who have contributed to the wider community of LSE and beyond. Everything comes together in that tag line. It echoes Mr Riley’s motivation to “develop people who understand that their duty is to look beyond themselves.”

So how can these snippets from my modest story be made relevant for the Medical Graduands?

You have an opportunity through your own practice to contribute to leadership, and to be an example for our Caribbean leaders in their role to orchestrate the economic foundations, the cultural and social conditions in which we might realize that sea of Caribbean possibility of which Lloyd Best used to speak, and which has been a template in my mind.

Why do I say that? Because our economies and societies are sick and are in need of intensive, creative, compassionate and holistic care. Because patients are to you what the body politic is—or should be—to the leaders. Because your vocation exists to serve and sustain your patients’ health and well-being, and analogously, so should theirs.

How might you contribute such example to other realms of public service?

I expect that your training would lead you to take the extra effort to address the underlying causes of an ailment, not just the patient’s symptoms—that you would focus on prevention and counsel your patients towards routine cultivation of well-being, in order to avoid the need for emergency treatment or for life support systems. That you would practice early intervention in order to avoid later distress. That you would assist your patient to look within— at life style, at personal practice, at responsibility for oneself—and enlist the patient’s capabilities in the healing process.

For the Graduands of Science and Agriculture: Your patient is the Planet.

It is a living organism. It comes to you already in very bad shape. It needs a similar kind of intensive, creative, compassionate and holistic care. But there is no life support system outside of itself that you can offer to it. It also warrants attention to the root causes of its problems, not just to its symptoms. So it needs diagnosis and prescription and practice based on an understanding of the whole organism, and of the entire pathology.

You also might approach your duty in a manner that gives example for leadership elsewhere. The approach addressed to the Medical Graduands is equally applicable in your domains.

I expect your training would lead you to exemplify “the duty to look beyond yourselves.” That you would be guided by the sustainability imperative “to meet our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.” That your horizon would be the needs and interests of the next generation, as distinct, analogously, from looking just to the next election. That you would be good stewards of the patrimony of this region, its natural capital, which could be its enduring asset.

You all have a duty of care. We all have a duty of care— beyond ourselves, for others, for the health and well-being of the citizens of this region, for our collective regional future, and for this Planet without which humankind will have no home.