Good morning.

I have always enjoyed witnessing young people fulfil their greatest potential, so I believe it fortuitous that my first speaking engagement of the year and in fact the decade is to a group of outstanding and determined youth. Congratulations are in order for the 49 young men and women who have met the requirements for the Gold and Silver Awards of the President’s Award—Trinidad and Tobago—excelling in the categories of Skills, Physical Recreation, Adventurous Journey, Service to Communities and—for the Gold awardees—Residential Project. Your success today is testament to the old saying that ‘anything worth having is worth working hard for’ and I thank your leadership team for its tireless work and sacrifice in stewarding all of you to this point.

When Commodore Franklin first asked me to speak, hazy memories of my adventures as a participant in this programme began to resurface. I remember one particularly agonising walk from the YWCA hostel in Bacolet to the Argyle falls in Tobago, during which some friends and I thought it a good idea to indulge ourselves with plums from a nearby heavy-laden tree. Its irate owner made short work of chasing us away. We had many more experiences, many of which have been lost to memory but those which have remained are the skills, values and principles which have played a vital role in my life and overall development.

At the time of my involvement, Trinidad and Tobago was not a Republic, so the programme was still known as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, which had been established in 1956 out of concern for the well-being of young boys in a post-war world. The world has changed drastically since then and even since the 1970s when I took part. Challenges which I and previous generations never had to face, such as the pressures of social media, rampant criminal activity and the alarmingly fast rate of environmental degradation, must be tackled by today’s youth, who will one day hold the reins of power. Another difference is that the world now boasts the largest cohort of young people in its history. However, more and more youth are facing unparalleled challenges. On the flip side, young people today hold formidable demographic power. It is critical that we tap into this potential by equipping all young people with the appropriate skills and values to successfully navigate and eventually run the world.

Benjamin Franklin once said that an investment in knowledge always pays the best interest. This knowledge cannot be limited to academia. Many children pass through the school system, and emerge well read and lettered, yet severely lacking in social responsibility and awareness. Our regional university is regularly criticised for producing graduates who, though academically qualified, are unprepared for the demands of the workplace and everyday life. I have always been a fierce advocate for the teaching of life skills at school, for they are, in my opinion, as valuable as formal education. Programmes such as The President’s Award are ideal for bridging the gap between education and employment as they equip young people with the abilities, resolve and creativity to make a successful transition to the workplace and become valuable assets to their country. I have absolutely no doubt that as you move on, you will all be excellent ambassadors of The President’s Award programme and distinguish yourselves during your further education and future career paths. As part of an organisation which bears the crest of the President of Trinidad and Tobago—your solemn duty is to be excellent in all that you do.

No doubt, your experiences of the last few years will have consisted of many ups and downs, but your presence here today indicates that you were well able to overcome any obstacles and cross the finish line. Hard work brings a profit and, from my point of view, you have reaped your fair share of rewards, among them:

• Confidence— gained from performing tasks that you perhaps never thought you were capable of doing and in tracking your progress and growth from one stage to the next;

• Communication skills—through countless team exercises which ought to have made most of you adept at getting your point across as well as understanding other people, valuable tools to have as you one day navigate the world of work.

• Creativity and innovation—challenges require solutions and for this programme, you have been pushed and encouraged to think outside the box. Creativity and innovation are the drivers of development and progress of the 21st century. Take them with you and put them to full flight so that this country can find answers to its most pressing problems.

• Diligence and order—you have had to manage your usual workload at school while fulfilling the requirements of this programme. This would have required focus, drive and sacrifice, particularly of opportunities to lime with your friends. Getting your priorities straight is an essential part of being successful.

• The last and in my opinion, the most important takeaway, is a sense of civic mindedness. Through the volunteering component, many of you would have given of your time and effort to serve the wider community, for example, by helping to preserve the environment, bring cheer to the downtrodden or bring about change for the better. This country is in need of people who understand the value of contributing and giving back to society. Contrary to popular belief, the process of nation-building is not the sole remit of the powers-that-be but is the responsibility of every single one of us. I hope that having been exposed through The President’s Award to this vital aspect of citizenship, you will all continue to demonstrate due care, consideration and responsibility to your country.

These lessons on my list are among the most important that you would have learned in this life education course.

By virtue of the President’s Award you have all been well prepared to face the world. Academic achievement has its place but what makes you truly “world ready” is a strength of character which will enable you to make wise decisions and choices as you go along. The strong, internal values nurtured by this programme will serve as anchors for when the going gets rough.

My words of encouragement are not only for your benefit, but also, for that of your leadership. In these hard times, organisations have to become ever more creative and self-reliant in order to continue their good work. To ensure that future generations of young people have the opportunity to benefit from this wonderful programme, The President’s Award must endeavour to seek out non-traditional sources of funding and investment.

When I first came into office, I was met by a lengthy list of organisations requesting patronage; that list had to be rationalised and expectations adjusted to meet the reality of restrictive budgetary allocations to public offices, including the Office of the President. I thank you for your understanding and applaud your determination to move towards self-sufficiency. Of course, as patron, I remain steadfast in my commitment to assist, as able, The President’s Award—Trinidad and Tobago in realising its laudable aims and objectives.

I take the opportunity once again to congratulate all participants in the President’s Award. You have run the full distance and finished the course. Hats off to you all. Although you are at the end of the line, you can look forward to reaping the benefits of this programme for a long time to come. It is a gift which I hope you will pass on to your younger siblings and friends so that they too will have the opportunity to become world ready—committed, tolerant and civic-minded citizens of Trinidad and Tobago and the world.

I wish you every success for the future.