Good morning to all, and especially to my dear Graduating Class of 2023!
I cannot begin to tell you how delighted I am to be present at today’s event. There are at least two reasons for this. The first is that Grant Memorial Presyterian is the primary school that all of my siblings and I attended. So, Grant Memorial is my ‘alma mater’. And the second reason is that not only is Susamachar Presbyterian Church the church that I grew up in, but it is also the church in which I got married. So for me, there could not be a more perfect combination of school and church than we have today!
But, as delighted as I am to be here today, I know that it can’t possibly compare to how happy and proud you, my dear students, are, and the delight that you and your teachers and your parents must all feel, at your having made it to the end of your primary school experience. What a truly wonderful accomplishment this is. You have worked extremely hard to get here. And now that you have made it to your Graduation Day, you deserve both to celebrate, and to be celebrated.
I have asked to have put up today, a picture of myself on my Graduation Day from Grant Memorial. This isn’t because I think that I look good in this picture (in fact, it’s quite the opposite), but because I wanted to show you, and I wanted you to see for yourselves that, many years ago, I stood exactly in the shoes that you are standing in today, as someone who was graduating from Grant Memorial. I know that sometimes young people feel that we older folks can’t understand what you are going through, and so, I wanted you to see this picture of me, getting my scroll from the School’s then Principal, Mr. Maconald Tikasingh. And I want you to understand, from that picture, that I know exactly how you feel today, because I was once exactly where you are today.
And as I look upon your faces this morning, and I consider the theme of today’s Graduation – “Embracing The Endless Possibilities” – and then, as I look at that little girl in this picture, I ask myself – what do I want to say to her, now that, decades later, I have returned to my alma mater, as an older and hopefully wiser person – as all of you will be some day.
The first thing I would say to that little girl in that picture, and the first thing that I say to all of you this morning, is – enjoy the occasion and stop worrying about the future. You see, I was one of only 3 girls from Grant School who went on to St. Joseph’s Convent in San Fernando that year, and I was scared and worried about that. All of my friends were going on to Naparima Girls and I was scared and worried that I wouldn’t see my friends anymore, and I might not make new ones at Convent. And what do you think happened? I went on to make, at St. Joseph’s Convent, San Fernando, some of my best friends in life, many of whom I still hang out with to this day. So, I would tell that young girl in the picture – and I say to all of you who are graduating today – not to worry, you are going to make new and wonderful friends. I would tell that young girl in the picture that I know that change can be scary, but that it can also be exciting. And I would tell her that while she might be apprehensive about going to a strange, new school, that she should be excited about how much she is going to learn at her new school and about how many different and wonderful people and subjects she is going to get exposed to there. I would tell young Christine, and I tell all of you this morning, “Don’t be afraid”.
The next thing that I would tell that little girl in the picture is that she has a tremendous advantage in life – and that is, that she received a great education at Grant Memorial. I would tell her, as I tell each of you today, that the academic foundation she received at Grant Memorial will allow her to adapt quickly to her new subjects at her new school. I would tell her that she will adjust smoothly to the demands of secondary school, as I know all of you will.
I’d say to her, though, that she needs to be careful not to measure her worth as a human being by how well she does in exams. Being successful in exams doesn’t make someone a success as a person. Nor does failing an exam make someone a failure as a human being. I would remind that little girl in the picture of the time when, decades later, she failed an exam in Law School for the first time in her life, and how devastated she was. She was working during the vacation at her father’s Law Office then, and when she got the news that she had failed that exam, she was so distraught that she had to leave work for the day. I would remind that little girl how her father himself also left work that day to come home and be with that little girl and how he spent the day comforting her. That little girl, by then a grown-up adult, re-wrote the same exam a few weeks later and passed it. But what she will always remember about that experience is the love and support of her father and of her family. You, too, will fail at things in life, because none of us is perfect. With all of the advantages we are given in life, including that of having attended Grant Memorial, all of us will still make mistakes and all of us will, at some time or the other, fall short of the goals we set ourselves. What matters in times like that, is not that we have failed, but that we are loved. I would tell that little girl that she should be grateful that she is loved. And so, just as I would say to young Christine, I say to all of you this morning, “Be Grateful”. Each of you is loved. Your parents, your teachers, and your friends all love you. And when things go wrong in life, each of you needs to remember that. Some of us have heard the popular reading when we go to church that goes “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love”. I would tell that little girl in the picture that the most powerful tool in her life, is the knowledge that she is loved.
I would also tell young Christine in that picture to hold on to the values that have been engrained in her at Grant Memorial, as she goes through life. I would tell her to always remember the difference between right and wrong. We always know the difference in our hearts – we always get that uncomfortable feeling in our hearts when we do something that we feel isn’t right. I would tell the young girl in that picture, as I tell all of you today, to listen to your heart and let your heart help you discern the right things from the wrong things. When friends are encouraging you to do something that your heart is telling you isn’t right – listen to your heart. I would tell her to keep an open line of communication with her parents, her relatives and her teachers, so that they can advise her when she gets confused, as all of us do sometimes. Think of yourselves as the Managing Directors of your own lives, and think of your parents, relatives and teachers as your own personal ‘Board of Directors’, to whom you can go for advice and guidance and support, as and when you need them. I would tell young Christine, and I tell all of you this morning, “You are never alone”.
So, “Enjoy Today”; “Don’t be Afraid”; “Be Grateful”; “Don’t Define Your Success as a Person, by Your Success in Exams””; “Know that You are Loved”; “Remember the Difference Between Right and Wrong”; “Listen to Your Heart”; and “You are never alone”, are some of the things that I would say to that little girl in the picture. The little girl in that picture is no greater and is no smaller than any of you who are graduating today. The little girl in that picture is all of you. The only difference between that little girl and all of you who are graduating today, is Time.
That little girl has so many wonderful memories of Grant Memorial — like running around in the schoolyard; collecting marbles; buying snow cones and ‘Chilli Bibbi’. That little girl remembers how she felt when she sat her final primary school exams—back then we called the SEA ‘Common Entrance.’ That little girl remembers how nervous she was, while she waited for her Common Entrance results. When that little girl found out that she had passed for St Joseph’s Convent, she felt a range of emotions all at once – happy and frightened; relieved, but anxious; excited, yet a bit apprehensive.
You will feel all these emotions because now, you know that after you graduate from Grant Memorial today, your lives will change in a big way, and the thought of change tends to cause all sorts of feelings and emotions in people. That little girl, like you, had to leave her friends, her teachers, her classroom and step out into a whole new world. That little girl wasn’t even aware that she was doing it at the time, but by enjoying each day; trying to be as brave as she could be; being grateful for all – and very often, the little – that she had; by not defining her success as a person, by her success in exams; by remembering the difference between right and wrong; by listening to her heart”; and by remembering that she was loved and that she was never alone – that little girl “embraced the endless possibilities” in her life and now, here she is, standing before you as President. My dear Graduating Class of 2023 – what all of this goes to show is that life is full of possibilities that we can’t even begin to dream of. My heartfelt wish for you, is that you all embrace the endless possibilities that life will offer you as you graduate from Grant Memorial.
Before I end, I would like to just say a few words to your parents and teachers. Parents and teachers – hats off to you for your tireless efforts in preparing these students for their exams. I know that you have shed the proverbial blood, sweat and tears to bring them to this point. Today is undoubtedly bittersweet for you as well – you are sad to see them go, but at the same time excited to see what they will accomplish in the future. As President, I thank you on behalf of our nation for your care, your effort and your sacrifice.
Graduands, you are off on an exciting and exhilarating new journey. All the very best to you. I know that you will take it all in your stride. Embrace your new school. Embrace your new friends. Embrace your new subjects, as difficult as they may be. Embrace the hurdles you have to overcome, knowing that you will be all the better for it. Embrace the endless possibilities that life has to offer.
Thank you and Good Luck!