November 2018

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Five accomplished people received honorary degrees from The UWI Campus at St Augustine this year in recognition of their significant contributions. They are Mrs Paula Lucie-Smith of T&T, pioneer in adult literacy teaching (Doctor of Law); the Honourable Hubert Ingraham of The Bahamas for his accomplishments as a politician (Doctor of Law); Mr Shivnarine Chanderpaul of Guyana for his achievements in the sport of cricket (Doctor of Law); Mr Winston Bailey (Shadow) of T&T for his creative calypso compositions (Doctor of Letters); and Professor Dermont Kelleher of Ireland for his contributions to medical research (Doctor of Sciences).

Three of the honorary graduates gave feature speeches at this year’s graduation ceremonies, sharing some of their experiences and giving stirring words of advice and inspiration.

‘Politics should not dictate education policies.’

Mrs Paula Lucie-Smith came out strong with her unflinching statement that politics should not dictate education policies. She said as a child of independence, when she left university she was fully engaged by the powerful vision of nation building. So she taught in state-run schools; but she soon left that path because “politics invaded to erode the integrity and quality of the nation’s institutions and made our efforts futile.”

She noted: “students continue to enter secondary schools barely able to read, and exit five years later with the same low literacy, but now with an entrenched feeling of being outside of society. Anger pervades our secondary schools; anger wrought by extreme frustration…. Without provision for those with no aptitude for literacy, universal secondary education is destroying trust in our schools, and eroding belief in the value of education. Our schools no longer engage people.”

She then turned to the example of Finland, which had an underperforming education system in the early 1970s. They embarked on a long-term policy to develop professional educators, and then turned over the decisions to the teachers, taking politics out of education, she said. Today, “Finland is rated among the highest in the world in innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity,” she said.

She asked why people always look to government to lead and bring positive change, saying it is time we in T&T build alternatives that are independent of government. She said: “ALTA is one such alternative – so it can be done.” She closed by urging the graduates to “be that small, determined group who will not give up.”

‘Learning plus performance is the foundation of success.’

The Rt. Hon. Hubert Ingraham gave graduates some pragmatic advice: he said a degree is just an indicator of one’s potential, and its worth needs to be demonstrated in the real world. He said: “Know that your degree is a guarantee of nothing. You must now leverage all of what you have learned at The UWI with real life experiences, to create real value in the world. Learning plus performance is the foundation of success.”

Ingraham next meditated on the benefits and dangers of digital technology. On the one hand, he noted it enables collaborations that can genuinely improve human lives, from better businesses to connected healthcare providers to remarkable distance education opportunities. On the other hand, he commented that “individuals, nations and regions of the world have become more disconnected. Increasingly, we retreat into silos of race, gender, class, nationality, religion and politics. Knowledge is now more abundant and easier to access, but wisdom, somehow, seems diminished and harder to embrace.”

Ingraham spoke of the vulnerability of small, open economies in the Caribbean which depend on tourism or agriculture or hydrocarbon resources, and which are “highly susceptible to external shocks both natural and man-made.” He said graduates should be mindful of the region’s problems of low economic growth, high unemployment and significant government indebtedness, and should be prepared to contribute to addressing these problems.

He encouraged the graduates, saying: “I believe that you are gifted, knowledgeable, astute and driven. Collaborating with each other and with those now seeking to address our many challenges is our best path to producing just the solutions we require for future success.” He advocated a path of genuine public service as a means of both personal satisfaction and helping to improve the lives of others.

‘Keep asking questions.’

Professor Dermont Kelleher urged all Medical Sciences graduates to value “the academic method of questioning and researching all that you do, using the literature and evidence to determine what is best for your patients – a process of constant questioning.”

He urged students to always remember and be proud of where they came from, bearing in mind that many others may not have had the opportunity of a higher education. He reminded them: “You all have had the most wonderful gift from your parents and from The University of the West Indies – the gift of education, and more importantly, a medical education.”

A man who clearly loves his job, he called medicine “the most magical of professions. It’s a life where no two days are the same and where every day when you wake up, you know that your life is dedicated to improving the human condition. It’s a life where knowledge, intuition and compassion combine.”

He reflected on why people may choose a career in medicine, and believed that the most important reason is to help improve the lives of patients, of communities and of our world: “This journey through medical school, as it turns out, is never about you — it is all about serving others.”

He also emphasized the need for doctors to continually learn, and to be generous with this learning and pass it on: “You must continue to push yourself to learn every day from every patient encounter and from every new role you take on. Continue to build on your skills, to acquire new knowledge, and remember, remember, remember to serve as a true mentor to the medical students who come after you.”