I am pleased to be here with you on this very special occasion in the midst of your celebration of- the 70th Anniversary of Knox College!
I applaud the Board of Management, principals, staff and students - past and present - for inspiring that limitless optimism in the present and aspiring students, and for keeping the illustrious and vibrant Knox tradition over the years. I also use this occasion to congratulate the Community College for the exceptional vocational programmes it has been offering, and the Junior School for reaching their 70th Anniversary milestone as well! Your Founders, Reverend Dr. Lewis Davidson and Mr. David Bent, would be proud that the Knox Complex/Group of Schools have come this far, and are continuing in the fine tradition of excellence, with the holistic educational experience you offer to students. The 2014 National Education Inspectorate (NEI) Report, rated Knox College as, "good with exceptional qualities”. This is a great honour to the memory of the Reverend John Knox after whom the schools are named.
Today is a demonstration of the Culture of Excellence that is being nurtured here, and I applaud the teachers for helping to engrain that keen sense of corporate social responsibility in each student. [The decorum - the esprit de corps among students, the ‘duty of care’ towards each other, the exhibitions from the various clubs, the synergies in the performances…] and the undeniable religious undergirding. Knox College has had an indelible impact on Jamaica in the number of graduates who are making outstanding contribution in the areas of medicine, religion, academia, law among several other vocational areas.
I note with pride your current initiative to establish the Sixth Form Block, to serve students of central Jamaica. Continue to pursue that dream until it is realized for the countless number of students who will be beneficiaries. One of our National Heroes, Marcus Garvey, reminds us that, "Education is the medium by which a people are prepared for the creation of their own civilization."
Ladies and gentlemen, students - education is the most important tool or acquisition for young people to move from Rags to Riches, Rustic to Urbane, Ignorance to Knowledge, Typewriter to Computer-Based Technology, or even “Banger” to Smart Phone!
INSPIRING CHANGE IN THE TECHNOLOGICAL ERA
I am cognisant that we are living in ‘rapidly changing times’ - including the constant change of tech gadgets and apps. I read somewhere that, “The number of text messages sent and received every day exceeds the number of people living on the planet.” These are times when Social Media has monumental impact. In an instant, you can connect with the world through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat or Whatsapp.
Education has to provide the template that allows our young people to navigate cyberspace and make decisions that are their own and not just mere reflections of other people's thoughts. I am aware that as young people, you see daily, through these media, what the societal challenges are. I know that you may even be perplexed and concerned about your future in the smorgasbord or raft of choices that present themselves– can I be successful in this competitive and constantly changing world?
Today, I assure you, that many person’s achievements were born out of difficult periods when they decided that they must defy the odds and succeed. Dare to stand alone if needs be! I can readily think of National Heroes - Paul Bogle, Sam Sharpe, Nanny of the Maroons; and on the global scale, Civil Rights Leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, and the successful entrepreneur and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey among others.
Let me tell you about forming something of worth out of difficulty. The Pearl. This precious gem is only formed when a foreign matter such a grain of sand enters the shell of the oyster. During the process the internal substance of the oyster is irritated. In trying to cope with this intruding matter, the oyster starts to deposit a substance around the object. Overtime, the oyster continues to apply several layers of substance to the grain of sand which eventually turns into a beautiful pearl.
Students, amidst the challenges, amidst your irritation you are being formed for your future role in society.
Your pearl within is being formed! Everyone of you expects to be successful in life!
Let me tell you about someone, in the present, in Jamaica. Former President of the senate, Mr. Floyd Morris, has a remarkable story which you may have seen on social media or in the newspaper:
Mr. Morris left high school without passing any subjects in CXC because his sight deteriorated significantly. In his Facebook post he said that during this low period, he experienced "despair, hopelessness and stress every day”. Most of his friends had moved on in their career path and were excelling, and he was left behind pondering his future. He cried, he prayed and he moved to Kingston, where at the Jamaica Society for the Blind he restarted school and learned Braille. Through discipline and commitment, he successfully obtained seven CXC subjects and then went on to the University of the West Indies where he obtained a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree. He later became the first blind President of the Senate and two weeks ago, he defended his Dissertation and will graduate in November 2017 with a Doctor of Philosophy degree - Dr. Floyd Morris!
Students, like Mr Morris and several others, there is no reason you who have sight, brain, hands and feet - cannot do well regardless of any challenge that you face. In addition, you can tap into useful and reliable resources in your teachers, parents and mentors, and your own attitude towards following rules, embracing positive values and with the help of the Almighty all should be well!
MORAL VALUES AND THE IBI
Ladies and gentlemen, students, I hasten to say, that in spite of all the technological advances, the greatest gifts we can give our young people are:
• sound moral values,
• a strong family base,
• loving, caring parents
• abiding faith in God,
• belief in self and pride in your country.
It is for this reason that I created the I Believe Initiative which is part of the Governor-General’s Programme for Excellence, in 2011 – to help instill confidence in our young people, to believe in themselves, to achieve their potential and join the committed Jamaicans, who are using the ‘good things about Jamaica to fix the things that are wrong.’
We have a committed cadre of Jamaicans in the classrooms teaching every day, giving extra lessons, serving in Government, Civil Service, the Police Force, the Judiciary, Private Sector, Churches, Social and Welfare Services, Academia, starting businesses and working hard to build our nation.
There are many young people like you, working in the trenches ‘Inspiring and Energizing Communities to Serve’ through the values and vision of the IBI. I think of Abrahim Simmonds who along with three other University students, in November 2013, established JAYECAN to empower young people through culture, Arts and Nationalism. Abrahim is the first IBI Summer of Service winner, who in addition to being an IBI Ambassador, became one of this year’s ‘Queen’s Young Leaders’ award Winner. The QYLA recognizes inspirational young people who are transforming their lives and the lives of others.
Students, the future that you are training for is your future, not ours!
Be an Ambassador of the IBI and help to spread positive values and ‘gleams of hope all across our country.’
SAFETY AND THE PROTECTION OF CHILDREN
We have seen in recent times an escalation in Jamaica in the abduction and abuse of our children and women. Let me use this opportunity to remind you to be alert and aware of the spaces you are in, at any particular time, the places you visit, the people with whom you associate and with whom you come in contact.
All of you must be careful about the transportation you take. Stay in groups where possible. As you go out, keep your eyes and ears open; observe, look, and listen, you are not too young to be careful and learn to protect yourself. If you are in a situation and you do not feel safe, move away from it and go into the company of individuals you trust. You cannot be too careful.
I also encourage parents, teachers and the wider community to continue upholding our African tradition, where the entire village is involved in raising and protecting our children. It is everybody’s business to 'shun the negatives' within homes, schools, communities and even our churches.
As you contemplate your 2017 theme: ‘Celebrating Excellence, Inspiring the Future’, I hope it will provoke constant reflections on your achievements and stimulate discussions and actions to guide the way forward.
The mould of your future is in your hands:
seize the moment!
Niti Servere Neque Cedere (To Strive, To Serve and Not to Yield)!
God Bess you!