Of my many and varied duties as President, feature addresses at graduations are my most rewarding because they allow me to imagine the unlimited possibilities for the young graduands. They give me hope for the future. I must therefore thank Archdeacon Baldeo and Bishop Anstey High School East for the opportunity to witness this significant milestone in the lives of these Bishop’s girls.
C.S. Lewis, my favourite author, once said, “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” Graduands, a vast expanse of life is spread out before you. Whether back at school, in the world of work or searching for employment, you have all embarked on a new journey. Having completed a period of rigorous study and academic testing and now facing new realities, you might be inclined to disagree with C.S. Lewis. But as an old hand at moving from one stage to the next, I can assure you that the saying is trustworthy.
Having left familiar and predictable routines—your comfort zones—you may be a little nervous to absorb what lies ahead. Those of you who have moved on to 6th form have commenced a different, more intense, level of study and are now largely responsible for your own learning. The young ladies who have entered the world of work must undergo the discomfiture of adjusting to new environments and rules and those whose job hunt is still in train may feel an overwhelming sense of frustration and discontent.
A verse from the book of Jeremiah may put things into perspective—words spoken to a people who like you found themselves in unfamiliar territory: ‘For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ (Jeremiah 29:11) Every new phase has its ups and downs and highs and lows and although you may be buffeted by circumstances, this stage of your life can be a rich and gratifying one—if you adopt an optimistic and resolute attitude anchored deeply in faith.
You are now at a juncture where you can look both backward and forward. The successes of your past can be a platform for your future and any previous failures do not determine your destiny. They are simply a vantage point from which to understand what, if any, role you played in your disappointment and to strategize how to anticipate, avoid, and if not, survive any future setbacks.
As you look into the rear-view mirror, consider the words of French poet and novelist, Anatole France said, “Nine tenths of education is encouragement” and so I encourage you graduands to remember the efforts and sacrifices of the great company of people who have supported and cheered you on.
Parents, pat yourselves on the back—your children’s accomplishments are also yours. You were by their side on the rollercoaster that was secondary school and the last two years may have been the most dizzying. And now, like new mothers, as I have been told, you cease to think of the labour pains and bask in the glow of this new birth. Since the messenger is often shot, I will not mention that the ride may not be over.
I tip my cap to the teachers who were tasked with stewarding this graduating class through Forms 1 to 5 and rose handsomely to the challenge. You clearly understood and adopted the wisdom of C.S. Lewis, himself a teacher, when he said that, ‘“The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.”; the individual personalities and spirits of your charges remain intact even as their knowledge base and perspectives have been broadened. Bravo!
Earlier this year, my form class had its 45th year reunion. Hilarians congregated from every corner of the globe to reminisce, share and celebrate our life experiences both at and since leaving Bishop Anstey in the 1970s. I realised then that for the vast majority of us, a great deal of the values and ideals that had been cultivated during our time at Bishop’s remained evident in our characters, actions and lifestyles; we were just more mature versions of our youthful selves. I suspect that you will have the same experience.
Ladies, you have been exposed to a comprehensive system of learning which has facilitated your academic, personal and spiritual growth. The holistic programme offered at Bishop Anstey did not have a singular purpose but rather was designed to equip you with the necessary attributes and tools to become valuable members of the national community. Everyone is possessed of potential but potential is wasted unless it is infused with the right values, trained in the right direction and used for the benefit of others. Academic success is admirable, but after five years of an Anglican-grounded education, you are also expected to embody empathy, generosity and dedication to duty—the critical attributes of a good and productive citizen.
How do we unpack the concept of good and productive citizenship in the context of Trinidad and Tobago? Good citizenry is not an academic qualification. Poor students can be excellent citizens and brilliant students can be ignoble citizens.
A good citizen is an asset, not a liability on the community. She does not give with the expectation of receiving. She sets high standards and patterns her behaviour to suit. Good citizens are good stewards of the environment; they volunteer their time and effort to improve the lives of the less privileged. They embody our nation’s watchwords: Discipline, Tolerance and Production and abiding by them, they are well-placed to contribute meaningfully to their country’s development.
Gratitude is another hallmark of a good citizen and sometimes our blessings need to be identified for us to appreciate them. I am a member of the Platform for Girls, a group of twelve world leaders tasked with promoting and ensuring a minimum twelve years’ quality education for girls in developing countries around the world. Among the group are leaders from countries such as India, Kenya and Pakistan. If you were to hear what obtains in those countries with respect to girls’ education, you would be more than grateful for the quantity and quality of instruction that you received.
In India, a significant number of girls as young as five are forced to engage in various forms of child labour and as a result, miss out on their education. In sub-Saharan Africa, boys are afforded more school placements than girls, thereby stymieing girls’ access to education. Moreover, less than half of their schools have sufficient sanitary facilities, causing girls to lose an average of five days’ schooling per month during their menses.
In many countries, secondary education is not free and parents often need to choose whether to educate the boys or the girls and because girls are easier absorbed into the workforce, especially for domestic and sex work, they are forced to curtail their education.
Unlike many global counterparts, schools in Trinidad and Tobago are generally modern, many with superior facilities. Trinidad and Tobago scores 100% in the UNESCO’S Global Education Monitoring Report 2016 dealing with the percentage of schools with basic sanitation facilities or toilets. Girls enjoy full and equal access to education at primary, secondary and tertiary levels with boys.
Additionally, you have benefitted from at least twelve years’ free education, with a number of state subventions. It is incumbent upon you now to pay it forward ensuring that you in some way give back to the system from which you have profitted.
An ideal way to repay the investment in you is by service to your countrymen. According to Mahatma Gandhi, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” This is patriotism in action. The motto of Bishop Anstey High School East—Selflessly serving our community —reflects this philosophy and describes good citizenship in a nutshell. If you are to fulfil your greatest potential and make a lasting impact on this nation, you would do well to keep your school motto close to heart as you continue on life’s journey and embark on your divers academic and professional pursuits.
The general public often takes a dim view of young people and their willingness and capacity to make a meaningful contribution to society. Fortunately, as graduates of Bishop Anstey High School, you will be part of an illustrious sisterhood and shareholders in a remarkable legacy of female leadership and potential. You are part of the powerful group of glass ceiling smashers and understand fully that not only can you do anything that a man can do but are further empowered to go boldly where no man has gone before.
Consider how your present and future accomplishments can contribute to our country’s development. It is never too early to turn your mind to that question. Everyone has a part to play, none is too small or insignificant. The hopes and dreams we all have for the future of this nation will not come about by happenstance, only with the input and contribution of every one of you.
I have the same warm and fuzzy feelings at every graduation. I look out on the young and eager faces. I feel the energy. I am aware of the vast promise and I know that correctly harnessed, it can make Trinidad and Tobago a happy, healthy and productive nation. And so ladies, I salute you, release your potential!