Dame Dr. Cecile La Grenade
Governor General of Grenada
October 18, 2014
Members of Cabinet
Principal and members of the Platform Party
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Fellow Honorary Graduand
Graduating Class of 2014
Specially invited guests
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is a pleasure and a distinct honour for me to be here to address you, the graduating class of the Cave Hill Campus of this noble and reputable institution—an essential unifying regional body; the essence and epitome of Caribbean integration –The University of the West Indies.
It is also a pleasure for me to be here in Barbados –the Caribbean island where the sun first rises!
My dear Graduates, Congratulations! You have done it! Foremost, you must feel a great sense ofpride in your accomplishment, and well you should, because notwithstanding the odds, by your own merit, and through hard work, you have attained something that can never be taken away from you.
The gift of education is a gift for life.
From a very early age,the value of education was instilled in me by my late father Alan La Grenade, and though I took a much different path than he expected, I am quite sure that today, I have especially pleased him, and here is why:-
My father was a well-known educator in Grenada, and upon completion of my GCE O levels he said to me:
“Cecile, you have just left school...Why don’t you go to Cave Hill and pursue an arts degree? Of course, I objected with sound reasons. You see, from form 2 atSt. Joseph’s Convent, due to limited space in the chemistry lab, half of our level was signed up for Chemistry, and the other half for French in Form 3. Unfortunately for me, due to a one or two points higher grade in French, I was placed in French. I objected, and humbly requested to be in the Chemistry class. That was the beginning of my lifelong love affair with the sciences—Chemistry, in particular.
So, Daddy, at long last, today I am fulfilling your dream of receiving a degree from Cave Hill.
Somewhat ironically, I received UWI’s notification in correspondence dated May 1, 2014, that I was being awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws, LLD, however, on September 15, 2014, another letter from the University arrived which stated that my Honorary Degree would be Doctor of Sciences, DSc, given my scientific background. It appears that even at this stage, I am still being encouraged to obtain an arts degree! So, UWI Cavehill, next registration week, liberal arts, here I come!
On a more serious note, I wish to record my heartfelt appreciation for the honour bestowed on me by the University of the West Indies, with the conferral of this honorary degree of Doctor of Sciences,DSc,which I am especially delighted to receive at the Cave Hill Campus today.
Noteworthy for me, is that I also share this year’s conferral of honorary degrees, with two other distinguished women, whose prolific works and magnificent accomplishments are without a doubt, outstanding examples of a resolute commitment to public service and to the improvement of humankind. Congratulations to you all and thank you for your lifetime of service to our communities.
I must also pause to congratulate the distinguished Principal of the Cave Hill Campus,Sir Hilary Beckles,on his appointment to the position of Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies. You Sir, have left an indelible mark on this Campus, and your continuing contribution and service to this great regional institution must be applauded.
Chancellor, I stand here today as a proud graduate of the University of the West Indies, and in doing so, I am also pleased to declare my full support of your mission statement, “to advance and create knowledge through excellence in teaching, research, innovation, public service, intellectual leadership and outreach in order to support the inclusive development of the region”.
Perhaps, not without coincidence, I have conducted my life’s work in keeping with the core attributes of your mission statement, (teaching, research, innovation, and public service) and so I wish to challenge our graduates, to continue pursuing the goals established by this mission statement as you return to your various countries in the region.
This will not be an easy task, and I can assure you that many vagaries and challenges lie ahead, especially in light of the uncertain economic conditions which surround us, and the vulnerability of our small island states to global crises be it social, political, environmental or otherwise.
Graduates, the overall feeling of pride must be paramount at this time, having graduated from one of the world’s, and indeed, the region’s most premier tertiary institution. You are now joining the ranks of some of the world’s best thinkers and many of the region’s most famous contributors.
There is pride in graduating from this outstanding university.
And then there is pressure.
Nevertheless, the onus is on you to take with you the knowledge gained within these walls, and to put such knowledge to practical use, and transform our Caribbean region.
You have been given a tremendous opportunity, and with it, an equally tremendous responsibility.
...SO, whether you leave here as, lawyers, doctors, historians, scientists, linguists, economists, orteachers, the onus is on you to contribute your skills to the highest level and for the greatest good of the Caribbean.
Chancellor, let me take a moment to congratulate the University of the West Indies for their ongoing commitment to the development of the human and intellectual capital in this region. Evidence of this is ensconced in the many leaders in politics, education, and business around the region.
Why, quite a few of our current crop of Prime Ministers in the Caribbean —including my own country Grenada, received their formative training at the University of the West Indies.
The contribution of the University of West Indies is therefore invaluable to the continuance and the growth of our societies—and we are high in praise and appreciation for the work that you do.
For decades, The University of the West Indies has been an intellectual breeding ground, sowing the seeds of Caribbean integration. It has done so in some of the most basic human ways imaginable.
Just think of the many marriages and love affairs between people from the different islands of the region that all began at UWI!
Most profoundly, the University has provided an enabling and fertile environment for the cultivation of knowledge and best practices, and for the propagation and transference of ideas that transcend borders.
Arguably, the University has been the single most consistent contributor to the concept of One Caribbean.
Chancellor, we need to appreciate that solving the education problem in the Caribbean is probably the single most important challenge for the region, if it is to break loose from the past,and move forward to develop a society and citizenry that are highly efficient and globally competitive.
Much of this challenge is steeped in the severe gap that exists between the Caribbean and our global competitors in the areas of primary, secondary, and tertiary education. Statistics have shown that the percentage of high school graduates having access to tertiary education in the Caribbean is well below that of the world average.
The Caribbean challenge therefore must be to fill that skills gap by expanding the pool of knowledge workers with general problem-solving competencies as is developed through tertiary education.
By so doing, our region can be converted into a globally competitive one, and our citizenry will be fully literate, and properly equipped to confront the global challenges which we now face; such as climate change, poverty, emerging infectious diseases, and crime. No one can deny the value that equal access to tertiary education will bring to this region.
Therefore, The University of the West Indies must be in the vanguard of that expansion of knowledge efforts, to ensure that our present and future leaders are equipped with the skills to combat the social ills, as they exercise good governance, and create resilient environments that enable economic sustainability.
This is a Caribbean, I am sure, we will all like to see…and it is possible. The time is NOW, to act, and seize the opportunities which lie before us.
I am of the firm belief, that the University must fully embrace the mandate of being a leading research institution, and take the reins in addressing our present small island states development needs, such as ensuring food security, addressing climate change, and preventing the spread of viral diseases.
The education meted out by our premier tertiary institution must also be in line with those very urgent demands in industries such as tourism, health and wellness, education, and agriculture.
Speaking of agriculture, you must forgive me, but I have to touch on my favourite subject, food! We have heard it so many times, and I reiterate here today: it is time for us to properly invest in value-added products; research the myriad of fruits and vegetables with which this region is endowed, to find medicinal and other properties that can propel us onto a world market.
I am reliably informed that in the United States, the organic foodsbusiness is a US$40 billion dollar industry, and exotic teas a US$10 billion dollar industry. We must ask ourselves, what are we doing to tap into this enormous economic potential?Are we not fully capable of producing these products, especiallygiven the fact that 80% of the bio-diversity of the world lies in the Caribbean and Latin America?
How can the University of the West Indies take the lead in propelling the emergence of such non-traditional revenue generating industries in the Caribbean economy?
This is a living example of how UWI must walk the mission statement - research, innovation, intellectual leadership, and outreach.
Ladies and Gentlemen, as simplistic as it sounds, in these our small island states, we must grow what we eat, and eat what we grow. I am convinced that our regional high food import bill continue to suppress and retard our economic growth across the region. And I verily believe that Sir Hilary will agree with me.
I want to take this opportunity to concretize a few basic and actionable suggestions as to how the University of our West Indies canadvancewith the times in getting our collective populace and region up to speed with the developed world, and in the words of the Grenada Boys Secondary School song, “create a truly great West Indies”
There is an urgent need to address the question of access to the tertiary education of which we speak. Universal education must be a right of every human being. Our University, UWI, needs to revisit and broaden course offerings, not only to place them in line with our developmental thrust, but also to reverse the perpetuation of the brain-drain. If students have to go abroad to study, then more often than not, many of them will remain abroad.
In-depth research needs to be conducted on the educational needs of our students, and the direct impact of those needs on our societies. Encourage, for instance, more offerings in agricultural science,economics, healthcare, tourism, and ICT, as opposed to the popular fields of law and medicine.
Of course, I mean no disrespect to my legal and medical friends, (family included) but those fields which I outlined are in my view, indispensable for regional growth and small island state survival within the global economy.
Most importantly, if we are to truly compete on the world stage, UWI has to take the lead in embracing Information and Communication Technologies. The Information age has been upon us for some time now; and our children will be marginalized, if they are not given the proper tools to compete globally.
I am certain that fellow honorary graduand, Nicholas Brathwaite would be more than delighted to assist you in this strategic endeavour.
No longer can we afford to be paper-generating machines when around the world, electronic communication is the order of the day. It is incumbent on us to ensure that ICT is fully used in our pedagogy, and that its use is wholly accessible to our human capital.
Chancellor, finally, and this is one that is very close to my heart—the University and its graduates need to place more emphasis on service to the public, by expanding its reach throughout the region, and offering “borderless”initiatives that will promote and develop best practices, knowledge, skills, and services across our societies.
Most importantly, the professionals who work at the University must also be actively encouraged to remain in the region, by being offered attractive and competitive remunerationthat is based on competence, accomplishments, and performance; not on politics.
And now, my dear Graduates, as promised, I present my challenges to you:-
I challenge you to be innovative. I challenge you to break free from the barriers of tradition.
Be pioneers. Be forerunners.
I expect that from hereon after, you will move forward confidently, doing great things for yourself, your country, your region, and yourGod.
The foundation has been laid for you to excel in this ever-changing world in which we live. But, as you excel, let it be for the benefit of our region. (Pause)
Do not be afraid to dream...andthen _follow those dreams.
The barriers and difficulties that you will face are never insurmountable, and those will only serve to form your character.
I urge you to embrace challenges as defining moments and turn them into opportunities for greater success.
Quite often, the difference between those who overcome challenges and those who succumb to them is primarily one of attitude and perspective.
Remember that the learning curve is steep, and life is a continuum of learning, growing, and developing.
Do not be deterred if your decisions appear out of line with modern trends.
Do not be afraid to lead. Dare to be different.
Learn to accept differences of opinion and culture. Learn to embrace change.
Never pretend to be wiser than you are. Always remain open to new learning, new insights.
Always remember that a life of service to others is a life of true purpose.
And above all, hold fast to the virtues of compassion, honesty, loyalty, kindness, and generosity of spirit.
Dear Graduates: Grab the reigns of leadership, Rise to the challenges, Transform the Caribbean!
I thank you.