Address: Presentation of President’s Medals for Achievers in Education

Address by His Excellency Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona ORTT, SC President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
at the Presentation Of President’s Medals for Achievers in Education
at SAPA – March 15, 2016

Young scholars, future CEOs, doctors, attorneys, politicians, diplomats, labourers and maybe even, a future President of our country, my heartfelt welcome.  Youthful success and excellence spring hope eternal.  My dear students, a strong progressive Nation is often girth with good and honourable men and women who engage in critical thinking adhering always to a philosophy of selflessness and service to their fellow men and women.  Holistic education remains the critical tool that will ensure that you, the next generation, fulfil this mandate because education is the key that opens every door of opportunity.

You may recall, at the Ceremonial Opening of the First Session of the Eleventh Parliament 2015, I challenged all Parliamentarians in their stewardship of this Republic and as part of their social contract with the citizenry, to employ the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed to by the United Nations for a new development agenda for the next 15 years.  These United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) emphasize the importance of the social, economic and environmental aspects of development to the true national development of States.  As a global villager, you must acquaint yourselves with these Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) because as our future leaders you will have to chart a sustainable course of action to transform this society of ours.  I particularly wish to reference goal number 4 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which states, “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”  Parents, teachers, politicians and citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, continue to be guided by this roadmap in your dispensation of service to our Nation’s school children both abled and differently abled.  Teachers, you are tasked with the job of delivering a Socratic service in schools sometimes located in environments that are deemed hostile but continue you must, to inculcate game changing values in your charges giving them both a sense of real vision and ambition.  It is really simple, this thing called education, not to make you a greater man or woman in the eyes of all but rather to make you a better person.  Many of you here today are truly or genuinely engaged in this process but sometimes this process of reformation and upliftment is unfortunately undermined and dismantled when your students go home and are confronted by words of discouragement, a lack of vision and a lack of adult ambition and family care.

Zones of conflict and discord are neither discriminatory nor geographic.  They are everywhere, in the classrooms, offices, streets or homes.  As a society, we have become novices in resolving conflict.  The time has come for Mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) techniques and curricula to become available and mandatory to everyone beginning in the primary and secondary schools.  We simply need to retool how we do things in the education system.  For example, we need an educational system that will provide solutions and not merely state the problems.  We need ideas that are implementable immediately and we must engender an atmosphere that stimulates critical analysis and critical thinking to trigger the appropriate solutions to our social and educational problems.  The urgency of now demands it.  We love to beat up on soft targets and let us not fool ourselves, student misfeasance or misbehaviour is often a reflection not of the school, teachers or principal but rather a debilitating and dysfunctional social and family environment.

I have grown weary hearing about how it takes a village to raise a child and I have to ask myself, is this village of ours called Trinidad and Tobago looking on and merely seeing the child grow?  What is this village doing about the levels of adult delinquency and the profligate adult bullying taking place in the community, on radio stations and on social media with great impunity?  What value system is this village inculcating in the child who listens and experiences the growing malaise of man’s inhumanity to man?  For our children’s sake, we must have and create a proper image of ourselves, and the actualisation of that image, must be transformational and possess some quality of selflessness and service.  In other words, what is your person project?  What is your village project?  What is your country project?  If you have not gone beyond a personal project as opposed to a person project, then you may well be living a very selfish life, one that will not transform those around you and the society at large.  What greater person project, village project or country project there is, than genuine volunteerism?

Why this obsession with national service when the panacea is in our faces?  Why create a plan of action at great cost when there are proven structures in place more so in these recessionary times?  Genuine volunteerism is about service.  My dear students throughout Trinidad and Tobago, why not join the Red Cross, Cubs or Boy Scouts, the Diabetes Association, the Cancer Society, the Cerebral Palsy and Autism Association, the Guide Dogs Association, the Children’s Ark, Vitas House, St Vincent De Paul Society, the Blind Welfare Association or the Girl Guides Association.  Get involved and make a difference by building your sense of humanity.  My Wife, Her Excellency while speaking at the launch of an Educational Fair hosted by the Trinidad and Tobago Girl Guides Association on 27th February, 2016 stated, “As your patron, I am reaching out to citizens from all sectors of our society, can you for one hour a week encourage a young girl to realise her potential and her ambition, can you for just one hour a week empower a young girl to build confidence and self-esteem and keep her on track.”  This is the power that genuine volunteerism wields.  I wish to implore you all to heed the call of Her Excellency to join and support the different causes and NGOs we have here in Trinidad and Tobago, assist to make someone else’s life comfortable, easier and more worthwhile.  Students take time out of your schedules to volunteer during your school years because you can make the difference.

In the past, we have all lived humble lives and some of us came from poor neighbourhoods but we never walked around with this on our backs demanding that society owed us or was unfair to us.  Parents made sure that good home values, a proper education and ambition were the way out and it is against that background they preached eternal lessons, the sanctity of human life and the worth of the human being.  My dear school children, compassion and kindness should never be regarded by you as weakness but rather as an important feature in the crystallisation of a society that produces good men and women.  I have listened and we have to deal with juvenile indiscipline, but we must have at its core a simple maxim, “No child must be left behind” and I will add further, to those seeking solutions, no child must be stained or shamed for the rest of their lives.

I am concerned about our sense of self-worth and the ignorance we often display about our capacity to be a great Nation.  Often we speak of Patriotism and a sense of national pride quite glibly and do not consider the fact that this should not be a one day affair after our sporting teams have won a tournament but rather it should be ingrained in us, a way of life.  We should be prepared as citizens to honour and serve this Trinidad and Tobago of ours.  I am appalled at what I perceive to be the specious reasoning that comes with suggestions that for example, our highest award has nothing to do with patriotism and a sense of national pride; if the peddling of the highest national award in any country worldwide has nothing to do with diminishing  one’s sense of patriotism and one’s sense of national pride then, if I may use the vernacular, we in this ‘Peewat’ country have been given the opportunity to set new standards, call it rules of engagement when it’s comes to dispensing one’s highest national award.  I am telling you children, do not let any under achiever in any way discourage you from attaining noble heights or garnering an armour of great human values and by the way if home is not the home that you desire or if your parent is dysfunctional, then become the standard in your family and by extension your neighbourhood and your community but do not trump and follow suit.

To the President’s Medal winners 2015:

  • Anusha Saha, a graduate of Grant Memorial Presbyterian School, San Fernando (President’s Medal for Primary Education Gold)
  • Riyad Rajan, a graduate of San Fernando TML Primary School (President’s Medal for Primary Education Silver)
  • Riyad Khan, a Graduate of Presentation College San Fernando, my alma mater (President’s Medal for Secondary Education Gold)
  • David Craig also a Graduate of Presentation College San Fernando (President’s Medal for Secondary Education Silver)
  • Ashisha Persad, a graduate of Naparima Girls’ High School San Fernando (President’s Medal for Higher Education Gold) and I need to “big her up” because she was the recipient of the President’s Medal Gold for Secondary Education two years ago.
  • Shivrani Prabhudial, a graduate of Lakshmi Girls’ Hindu College, St Augustine (President’s Medal for Higher Education Gold)

Having dialogued with all of you, I recognised that the hallmark of your success is grounded in genuine family love and good parenting.  Many congratulations to all of you, and continue on this path of excellence.

Students, you got the power!  And it is not the power of the crowd but the Power of One.  That is a power that lies within each of us.  You can singularly make a change.  You have the ability and more so, the responsibility to use your intuition, skills and other resources to bring about progressive change in this society.  We all want to save the world when confronted with its pain and afflictions and in our moments of despair, we feel we cannot do anything but we can surely save part of it by influencing in the right way, the person next to us, the person in the mirror, the community we live in and hopefully that personal outreach can transcend to the country and region we live in and who knows, maybe the world.  This is how we must begin to save the world.

Only recently, I received correspondence from a young student of Melville Memorial Girls’ Anglican School, Belmont, expressing her desire to assist homeless people and animals on the streets of Port of Spain.  Standard five student Ishizu Callender penned, “As a young child growing up in my community, my parents taught me to be kind to people and animals.  Whenever I am taken to Port of Spain by my parents, I cannot help but see the many street persons either begging or sleeping on the pavement.  I see cats and dogs in between people in the city as well.  I believe this is not healthy for both the people and the stray animals.  I believe as human beings we must be kind to one another, care for each other and take care of dumb animals.”  Ladies and gentlemen, students this child has not even written SEA exams as yet and requested audience with the President to discuss her concern and additionally she was prepared to produce a detailed proposal outlining a plan of action to literally save us from ourselves.  I had an audience with her at the Office of the President and I further advised her however, to focus on her SEA exam and after we will pursue the requisite action.  Ladies and gentlemen on the adoption of animals, a suggestion was triggered by her, that because of a lack of space in the city, and this I have not heard from any adult or organisation, why not have persons living in the country with lots of space, adopt a dog or a cat so they can have a home.  Yes ladies and gentlemen from the mouth of babes cometh great wisdom.  This is the power of one. This is the power of one child.

My final admonition to you all, to you flowers of this great Republic, whatever you do, you must do it with passion and commitment.  If you are happy and passionate doing what you do, you will end up being very good at what you do, even exceptional.