A very good afternoon to you all!
It is good to be sharing with you in this inspiring worship service designed for the graduation of Teachers who are going to be agents of positive transformation ant teachers who are unafraid of the future. They know they can do all things through Christ who strengthens them, hence this valedictory service.
I am also pleased to be here because Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College commemorates our National Hero’s place in Jamaica’s history. The name brings into sharp focus the liberating role of the teacher in opening the minds of students, not just to knowledge, but to the real purpose of education; which is to restore in human beings the image to which they were created. It speaks of sacrifice and commitment; of taking a principled stand for what is right regardless of the cost; of striving to liberate human beings not only from physical shackles, but also from the shackles of the mind.
As you celebrate the 40th anniversary of this College, I believe that the Faculty, Staff and Students privileged to serve or study there, should proudly reflect the values which made Sam Sharpe a National Hero. Your Motto: Service, Commitment, Excellence is one that can be operationalized in your professional pursuit and also in your personal relationships. My hope is that all of us have those values very deeply embedded in us.
Someone once said that “Graduation speeches were invented largely in the belief that outgoing college students should never be released into the world until they have been properly sedated.” That could be taken as a guide as to how long the Keynote Speaker should be. Most of you already know that I have served in both the classroom and the Pulpit. So I have had many opportunities to do what Teachers and Pastors are said to do best: speak at great length. Now that I see the angst on your faces you are probably thinking that you will be here until six tomorrow morning. I recall my own graduations and so I shall not test your ability to stay awake.
College graduation ceremonies usually prompt two emotions which are similar for graduates and their adult family members: joy and anxiety. Graduates are happy that their years of hard work are all over, but anxious about the next phase of their lives. Family members are also delighted with the new teacher that they are having in their midst, but they are anxious because it does not necessarily mean the end of dependence, since jobs are not always easy to find.
This reminds me of the Mother who was trying to take a good graduation photograph of her son dressed in his cap and gown, standing beside his father. The mother said: “Come on! Look natural! Junior, put your arm around your Dad’s shoulder“. The Dad responded: “If you really want natural, then I should be searching in my wallet and he should be stretching out his hand to me.”
Off course all of you have passed that stage of course, since as adult students, you might have funded your own studies, possibly aided by student loans which you are anxious to repay. Others might have won scholarships which reduced the financial burden. Yet you have one thing in common: This afternoon you will all make the same pledge that wherever you go you will reflect the legacy of Sam Sharpe as you strive for excellence in the service you will give as teachers and as productive citizens of this country.
Another important point to note is where the valedictory ceremony is taking place and the fact that you are accountable first to God, then to your family and all these witnesses, as well as to all the students whose lives you will influence.
I hope that you will never forget that here in this church named Calvary, reminding us of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice, you accepted the challenge to lead exemplary lives both in and out of the classroom. This is very important in the calling and experience of a teacher because of the impact which a Teacher has on people is almost comparable to that of a parent. No other profession comes as close to parenting as teaching. In the formative years, apart from the family, it is the Teacher who moulds children. This places a serious responsibility on the Teacher in our society where children are having children and parenting skills tend to be poor or non-existent.
So Teachers, especially those who have had the influence of this College, should understand that teaching the requisite subjects is not enough. Education is preparing students for life, not just imparting knowledge to them. It is the development of the mental, physical, social and spiritual aspects of the student which also requires that Teachers are competent and are good role models, who in many instances are the sole constant, positive influence on youngsters.
Today I say to you graduates, Jamaica needs a generation of teachers who will accept and faithfully discharge the responsibility of nurturing children and mentoring youth. Your leadership and mentoring is required also in the wider community. You are the Educated Leader in your community! Remember that you are on the threshold of greater things. Your students are not complete. Be a model to your family, siblings and community who look up to you. Hold your head up high and let the sun shine in your face.
I charge you to hold firmly to this belief despite the frustrations you will inevitably experience: “There is nothing wrong with Jamaica that cannot be fixed by what is right with Jamaica.”
You are the fixers – as you go fort to change behaviours and reduce the anger which is often apparent in the attitude of both parents and students. In addition, your committed teaching might not always result in the desired levels of learning, but never give up. Every day should be a eureka moment for you as you learn something new. Heed the advice from Robert Louis Stephenson: “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant.”
This is true for all of us regardless of our role in life. We all want to succeed, but although we know that the road to success is littered with failures, too often we get depressed when the outcome is unfavourable. We have to learn how to use each experience to build our character and to take us to the next level.
The success of which I speak is not necessarily monetary. There are certain vocations, of which teaching is one, which will never make you wealthy, but the rewards can be bountiful. I am sure there are many teachers here who have had the joyful experience of influencing students and other youth to choose the right paths. Your efforts led them to become caring, honest, productive and responsible citizens and that’s what you are going to be doing.
Today, many of you, the new graduates, are starting a similar journey in which you could well be the difference in the life of our youth. Once you gain their confidence, once they know that you care and have their best interest at heart, they will accept your guidance. You have got to know your students. Understand them and let them know you care.
There was once a young student whose mother told him to listen carefully to whatever the teacher said. One day, the teacher asked him if he had stuffed cotton-wool in one ear because of an ear infection. He replied: “Well, you keep saying that things go in one ear and out the other so I am trying to keep them all in!”
The power of words is a reality we should never forget or underestimate. When you stand before a class they are looking at you and they are trying to be like you. Many are the children who have been scarred by the negative words of their parents and teachers. Regrettably, Teachers have been known to set limits on children’s aspirations and fill them with insecurities by words said to them in anger or reproof.
When teachers, by their affirming words and positive non-verbal communication: help students: to be confident, to respect themselves and to believe that there is something good and valuable within them. You will lead them to believe that with hard, focused work they will excel.
We are in the closing days of Child’s Month in a year when Jamaica has borne the shame and sorrow of the murder of children at a level we have never seen before. The murder of even one child testifies of a societal disease.
The abuses which so many suffer, sometimes in silence, call for strong and urgent action. Not even in the home can their safety from predators be guaranteed and we all know about fatal attacks perpetrated by children against children even in the schoolyard.
The violence inflicted on our children reflects a moral decay and depravity which demand that every well-thinking Jamaican should unite and get into action to protect them. The Child Month’s theme: “Children’s Safety and Security: Our Priority” should resound like a battle cry right across this island.
Graduating teachers as well as teachers in the classroom; I know that teachers have always been engaged as they understand the crisis facing our society. So I am asking you to put to good use the trust which students have developed in you. Know the signs of abuse which are not only physically, but could be suspected from the child’s behaviour. Recognize when professional help is needed, whether to free the child from addictions; abusive relations or association with criminals.
As educators, it is important to know the parent or guardian of students to work with them for the solutions to behavioural problems. It is important to hold regular conversations with your class about children’s rights; alert them to situations of abuse and advise them of the protection available to them. It is not just the Deans of Discipline and the Guidance Counsellors who have the responsibility for correcting the student’s negative behaviour, but all persons in the school environment.
Some teachers may be fearful of getting involved because of the possibility of reprisals from weapon-toting family members and friends of the students whom they dare to discipline. I hope that none of you graduating today will choose to be shackled by fear. But we must do something about the crisis of our children and heal our nation. Strive to be an engaged educator who understands that he/she is called for such a time as this.
Sam Sharpe could have been afraid too but he stood up against slavery; so with courage we beat back the forces of evil which stalk our land. We have the capacity to find and implement the right solutions to the problems which Jamaica confronts.
Together, undivided by any type of differences, we can make Jamaica safe and secure for our children and bring about the peace, productivity and prosperity we all desire for our homeland.
Nelson Mandela made popular a quote from American author, Marianne Williamson: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” Williamson concluded: “We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us…And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others“.
Class of 2015: You are free. You are free to go and teach. You are free to go and liberate minds!
Go fearlessly into your world! Let your light dispel the darkness of ignorance, of mediocrity, of illiteracy and of negativity! Excellence is your password. Your task is to love someone everyday and help a wandering child find his way. Follow truth as blind men looking for light. Do your bit from dawn of day till night.
May yours be a life that will reap the reward of The Master’s “Well done!”
Thank you and may God bless you all!