Graduation 2016: Bittersweet endings and new beginnings
THIS YEAR’S SERIES of graduation ceremonies was bittersweet for The UWI, Mona community.
Amidst the jubilation of the 2016 graduating class came the stark realisation that Sir George Alleyne, Chancellor of The UWI, was presiding over his final ceremonies.
It is hard to imagine a graduation exercise without the Chancellor’s clear, booming voice effortlessly repeating hundreds of names and tirelessly greeting each graduate with a firm handshake. There was also always such a warm familiarity to his voice whenever he would utter the customary words, “Well done”, to those candidates graduating with First Class Honours. This year there were 174 of them across all five faculties.
Around 3,180 students successfully completed their degrees this year, and the Chancellor greeted several hundreds of them as they walked up to collect their degree certificates in the presence of family, friends and well-wishers who had gathered at one of the four ceremonies held between Friday, October 28 and Saturday, October 29 at The UWI, Mona Campus. Of this figure, 2,414 graduates obtained first degrees and 766 received higher degrees. The University also conferred two honorary degrees this year. The Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters (DLitt) was conferred on Ms Lorna Goodison at the Friday afternoon ceremony, while the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws (LLD) was conferred on Ambassador Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce at the Saturday morning ceremony.
The reflections from the four valedictorians – Gavin Campbell, Sheldon Henry, Marlon Reid and Chelsi Ricketts – were also well received by their peers at the respective ceremonies.
But as the curtains came down on yet another memorable graduation exercise, it also signalled the end of an era for The UWI family across the region who will bid the Chancellor farewell next year when he demits office.
Having served The University for 13 years, Sir George, for his part, confessed to feelings of “nostalgia, pride, gratitude, satisfaction and a delicious sense of anticipation” as he took to the stage for the final time.
In his address entitled, “In This Great Future”, he reflected on the past, while predicting a boundless future for The UWI. Remembering his own graduation ceremony some 58 years earlier, the Chancellor recounted the charge of the then speaker, Dr Clarence Faust, Vice-President of the Ford Foundation, who spoke of the role and future of universities. “I clearly remember his admonition to us to make a life and not only a living – something I have pondered about on many occasions since, and wondered about the extent to which our graduates and particularly those of my generation have fulfilled this charge,” he said.
The Chancellor went on to list the five initial principles stipulated by the Irvine Committee for The University, while explaining how the institution had managed to excel in each area. The first principle was to contribute to developing a West Indian outlook. “I was socialised into being West Indian at Mona, and it was nothing superficial,” he began. “Our University has tried, and is trying mightily to find mechanisms to engender that outlook which does not come naturally. But I am cheered by when I hear some young graduates, especially our valedictorians, speak about the friendships they have made even through virtual academic contact,” he said.
The second principle was to fill the need for leadership. This, according to Sir George, was achieved beyond the dreams of its founders, with The UWI producing leaders in every facet of Caribbean life, among them politicians, people in the arts, sciences, business, public service, as well as the “bankers, bakers and candlestick makers”, he added wittily. Another principle from the Irvine Committee was to improve the position of women. This principle has clearly been exceeded as female graduates continue to outnumber their male counterparts.
Around 3,180 students graduated from The UWI, Mona this year
Sir George went on to note that the Committee also saw The UWI as an intellectual centre for the region, and that this principle, while difficult to measure, had clearly been achieved. “The vibrant University Press just completed its 24th annual awards ceremony and it boasts an impressive history of the publication of scholarly material by West Indian authors or about the West Indies. This is one concrete example of The University as an intellectual centre,” he continued. He then turned his attention to the final principle of the Irvine Committee which states that The University should be a leader in research. This is an area in which The UWI continues to make significant contributions. Sir George also cited examples of the annual staging of Research Days across regional campuses which serve to showcase the broad spectrum of research taking place.
The Chancellor went on to express confidence in the future of The University. “Some of my confidence depends on you and those who have preceded you. It depends on those of you who will continue in academia and uphold its time-honoured traditions, as well as those who pursue the multiple extramural careers that can lead to success.”
He also charged the graduates to be good ambassadors, urging them to demonstrate pride in being a UWI Pelican and to take care of the institution. “No institution ever suffered from being cared for too much, too long or by too many,” he quipped.