From the Principal

Day of Returns

Graduation is truly a special time. As a campus community, a regional university community, we gather together to acknowledge the years of effort, perseverance and passion of our students. We listen to the youthful wisdom of our valedictorians. We receive the well-earned insight of our honorary graduands. We share in the pride of our graduands and their loved ones as they cross the stage to receive their degrees. What an incredible three days they have been.

But beyond the ceremonies, what does graduation truly mean? Graduation represents a return on investment, an investment in the future. It is the result of the time, effort and resources each student has given to their higher education. Many do this in preparation for adult and professional life. Adult students do it to further their personal and professional development. This might sound matter-of-fact but it is extremely important. Every investment represents either necessity, optimism or both. By choosing to pursue tertiary education at this university, these graduates placed their faith in us to meet their needs. More than that, most of them placed their faith in Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean. To invest in the future, you have to believe there will be a future worth investing in.

We are at a time in this region when concerns about the future are natural and valid. There’s no need to recite them anymore. The challenges and threats dominate the headlines and appear in even the most casual conversations. We know what we face.

I believe it is well past time for us instead to discuss what we want. What is our ambition for the future? Where do we want to be in 5 years, 10 years, 50 years from now? What kind of evolution do we want for Trinidad and Tobago. When the world thinks of the Caribbean, how do we want to be regarded? As a people, we know we want to succeed. But what does success look like?

In the current circumstance the inclination is to protect what we have and avoid further risk. However, we can and should also be operating from our imagination. Truthfully, one of the reasons we got here was a conservatism of approach, a reliance on old ways of doing things and a faulty belief in the permanence of prosperity. Nothing lasts forever. Growth and change are constant. Without them, at best we will have eventual stagnation. There is potential for much worse.

In his book, A Global History: From Prehistory to Present, L. S. Stavrianos points out the great irony of the collapse of Rome and what it meant for Europe. Unlike the other classical civilisations of the Middle East, South Asia and the Far East, the Roman Empire was toppled, sending Europe into a period of chaos. But it was precisely because of the fall of the old society that a new and dynamic society took its place.

"For this reason the West alone," says Stavrianos, "was free to strike out in new directions and to evolve, during the medieval age, a new technology, new institutions, and new ideas - in short, a new civilisation."

I say this not to assess the merits of European civilisation and its legacy, but to illustrate that we do not know the outcome of the turbulence the Caribbean society is experiencing today. We can choose to accept, with boldness, the need to imagine a better future and work towards it, throwing off the old and stultifying conformity that has not served us well.

If this were even a few years ago I would have said we need to shake things up or things will shake us up. But our society has been in the grip of "things" for some time now. We need to start shaking back.

And for our new graduates, those who have made their investment in the future, as I congratulate you for this important accomplishment on your life's journey, I’d like to encourage you to think of yourselves as members of society sharing in the collective goal of making this region a better place. After all, the best way to ensure a return on your investment in the future is to be the ones who shape it.