If I were asked to identify an experience that has had the greatest impact on my life, the answer would unhesitatingly be: Education and in particular – Christian Education.
Today, I share some thoughts with you on:
· The value of education.
· The value of Christian education, and,
· Why an institution like the University of the Southern Caribbean should be supported.
THE VALUE OF EDUCATION
Education is a priceless gift. There is an old American Proverb which says that: ‘Education is a gift that none can take away.’ Through education, many persons have been propelled from poverty and obscurity to fame and influence. USC exists, and we are here this morning, because we are all convinced of the value of education.
We know and agree that education:
· Prepares individuals for life.
· Unlocks the door to freedom.
· Helps in the formation of character.
· Teaches persons to think intensively and critically.
One of the best summaries of education I have read is from Ellen White, who in the book Child Guidance says: ‘True education means more than taking a certain course of study. It is broad. It includes the harmonious development of all the physical powers and the mental faculties. It teaches the love and fear of God and is a preparation for the faithful discharge of life’s duties.’ (p. 293).
THE VALUE OF CHRISTIAN EDUCATION
I think it is with this objective in mind that 88 years ago, the East Caribbean Training School was established. Through its various stages as Caribbean Training College in 1929, developing from a junior college to become the Caribbean Union College in 1956, and the addition of a four-year bachelors degree programme in theology 1970, with the addition of other disciplines in 1985 – the goal has been consistent.
Receiving University status and accreditation in 2006 cemented this institution’s place in the educational landscape of not only the Repuplic of Trinidad and Tobago, but of the entire southern Caribbean and Latin America. And every year, hundreds of students, faculty and staff walk the halls and grounds of this campus because they believe in the value of education — Christian Education.
For any institution to have lasted 88 years is a significant achievement. President Valley, I congratulate you on this notable accomplishment, and acknowledge the work of the Board, Administration, faculty and staff in strengthening the work of the university.
I’m sure you have Faculty members here who can tell of the satisfaction they receive from watching a student develop academically and mature spiritually. This makes it worth all the time and effort.
· You demonstrate and model Christian principles.
· You are educators who are authentic and genuine.
· You invite and challenge your students to be engaged in a relationship that can have lasting impact on their academic, personal, and spiritual development.
· You are guided by the words of St.Paul when he told Titus: “In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned . . . (Titus 2:7-8)
There are some persons who think that Christian schools are designed for brainwashing. However, you have successfully integrated a Christian understanding of life into every academic discipline, and indeed, into every heart, while still allowing independent thought. “The function of a University is not to give the right answers but to ask the right questions”. Cynthia Ozick, 1928. This campus is empowering persons educationally, and also holistically. Your Vision Statement says it all: ‘A Seventh-day Adventist University fully reflecting the character of God through spiritual, intellectual, physical, social and cultural development.’
Public schools are necessary and have a role to play in a country’s educational system. However, they may not effectively prepare a student for a fruitful, Christ-centred life. In the Christian classroom, students learn to search for truths which are necessary for living balanced Christian lives.
I know many students face severe financial hardships and geographical inconvenience to attend USC, but they make the sacrifice, knowing that there is a greater reward at the end of the journey. They should never leave this institution feeling that their sacrifice was not rewarded. Focused and committed faculty and staff who have bought in to the University’s vision will ensure that they have a rich and fulfilling experience.
I hope you are all proud to be involved with USC as an educational institution that has proven itself to be up to the challenge of providing forward looking education that is preparing students to compete on a global scale now and in the future.
The December 2011 issue of Christian Educators Journal contained the summary of a Cardus research study, which examined the role that Christian education plays in furthering the spiritual formation of its graduates. Researchers interviewed current students and graduates of both public and Christian high schools in Florida (USA), and found that students who graduated from private Christian schools were: ‘Significantly better prepared to defend their faith intellectually than students from public schools.’For many of the students interviewed, their experience attending a Christian high school helped them solidify the spiritual components of their identities, by challenging them to examine what they believed and why. Similar situations are played out daily at USC and other Christian universities around the world.
I am who I am because of Christian Education. The values and lessons taught by my parents, who were my first Christian educators, and later at Andrews University, have indelibly impacted my life. I am sure I was selected for the position I now hold today because of those experiences and the examples that were modeled for me, which became a part of my lived experience. You of course, are well aware that ‘example is always more efficacious than precept.’
Leaders, at any level, are expected to be upright and it is expected that the Head of State will espouse good morals and values. It was felt that there was need for somebody who could best epitomize what a nation ought to be. He or she should be a person who individuals could expect to model good conduct and behavior. In seeking for that person to give the moral leadership and model for the nation, the search ended in the church. There is absolutely no reason why the nation should not look to the Church for the kind of leadership it needs. The big concern for me then, and the question I will allow you to ponder is: “How does one transition from being a Pastor to becoming a Head of State?”
I humbly request your prayerful support that I may effectively accomplish this mission. When news of my appointment was broadcast, the appreciation, admiration and inquiry about the Church and its institutions peaked, as also the apprehension and doubt, expressed by my conservative faith community. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to serve my country in this way. It has been simply phenomenal, eye opening and I can attribute the ability to do so as deeply embedded in the values learned through Christian Education.
The parallels between Northern Caribbean University in Jamaica and the University of Southern Caribbean are very similar. Your early beginnings and process of development is astonishingly alike, and shows that the Seventh-day Adventist Church has not veered from its initial goal of providing holistic education. At one period in my life, I had the honour of serving as chair of the board of the NCU. That University has become highly valued and recognized as an important institution in Jamaica, and continues to play a significant role in nation-building.
WHY USC SHOULD BE SUPPORTED
The construction and maintenance of an institution such as the USC is no small undertaking. The loss of your auditorium by fire two years ago must have been a devastating experience. However, like the phoenix, you will rise from the ashes, and I am confident that in time, the auditorium will be rebuilt – maybe even bigger and better.
Onlookers, even well-wishers and stakeholders may ask: ‘Why should USC be supported? What’s in it for me?’Faith-based education may not be glamorous. Some may even argue that it is time to rid the country of institutions that promote a Christian worldview. Thankfully, we still have religious freedom in the Caribbean, and that is a right we must vigorously seek to protect.
Yes, there are students who go to Christian schools and still rebel or depart from the teaching and values they have learned, but that is no reason to discard faith-based education in favour of public education. There is value in a Christian education that not only seeks to impart knowledge, but also strengthens one’s relationship with God. And this is where the support of caring friends, alumni and others are needed. However, I have no doubt you will succeed in your goal.
In conclusion, I challenge you to keep the standard flying high. Your 2012-17 Strategic Plan – “Embracing the Vision – Fulfilling the Dream, admirably sets out where you want to go and how you intend to get there. So you embrace your Vision of ‘Fully reflecting the character of God through spiritual, intellectual, physical, social and cultural development,’ may God grant you His grace to ‘Fulfil the Dream’ of going – ‘Beyond Excellence.’
To the administration, faculty and staff of USC, I say:
Believe in your dreams.
Together, YOU can make USC a truly great institution.