Introduction It is truly a pleasure and an honour for me to be here at St. Mary High School for your graduation ceremony. Some of you may be aware that I worked in this parish as a teacher and Principal for eleven years, and have sent several students to this school by way of the Common Entrance Examination, the Grade Nine achievement Test, and Athletics Scholarships. They have done well and kept the tradition of excellence for which Mary’s High is noted. Many past students of the school have done well for themselves and their country. This is evident even on the platform this afternoon in the person of the MP and former student, Dr. Guy and the Honourable Robert Montague.

Lady Allen and I are always happy to come to St. Mary. This is the parish in which she was born and grown, and for me it is like returning home.

I am very pleased to see this vibrant and energetic group of bright youngsters who believe in themselves, understand the value of education, put in the hard work, remained focus and completed their high school requirements for graduation. You should be very proud of yourselves this evening. Congratulations, Class of 2010.

I encourage you to follow your dreams, as I have followed mine, even though I did not have the opportunities that you now have. But I am a living proof of what education can do for you if you believe in God, believe in yourself, work hard and keep your eyes on your goal.

You may be interested to know what I found about your school on Wikipedia. The entry describes the school as having “an enviable academic and athletic record and is one of the most sought-after schools for GSAT students in North Eastern Jamaica.”

Not only are you doing well academically, but the impressive profile of the school shows outstanding performance over the years in:

  • Sports: table tennis, track and field, football, cricket, netball and rugby
  • Public speaking & Literary Debating
  • Science & Agriculture
  • Schools Challenge Quiz
  • Cadets
  • Academic: High percentage of passes in CAPE & CSEC

Such achievement does indeed take faith and courage on the part of students and teachers and I commend you for the high standard and success.

Before I go any further, I need to also say ‘Thank you’ and ‘Congratulations’ to your parents, family members and relatives who are here celebrating with you. They gave you a solid foundation of love support and encouragement, and we need to applaud them for that.

The Start of a Journey

Between June and July of each year, some 39,000 students graduate from Jamaican high schools. It is estimated that of this number, only 14,000 will go on to tertiary level education and 25,000 will have no employment. These are not very encouraging figures.

There is no denying the fact that we are in tough times, and many of you are worried about the economy and what job opportunities there may be. The global economic crisis has affected us in Jamaica in every sector of society.

There are challenges for those who are going into the work force. With the scarcity of Jobs and the daunting possibility that some of you will not readily find employment, it will become necessary to seek alternative means of gainfully occupying yourself. And I want to encourage you, do not hesitate to start your own business. Seek opportunities in the agricultural sector (this parish is well known for its record of agricultural production), or seek other creative and uplifting approaches to utilize your potentials. You must be engaged and adapt to a changing world while not betraying the values that were instilled in you.

For those going on to further studies, you will face the daunting reality of increased tuition at the tertiary level, because the reality is that these institutions have to keep their doors open and ensure that they maintain the quality of education. One thing you must keep in mind is that despite the challenges, education is not an option, it is a requirement. There is no other way out of poverty and ignorance, but to get an education. According to Horace Mann the father of American education, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance”.

The best investment that you can make in yourself is to get an education. The best investment that your parents can make in you is to ensure that you are educated. The best investment that the state can make in you is to ensure that there are quality places of learning. We do have universities, colleges, skills training centres, and HEART Trust/NTA – to ensure that you are equipped with skills to function in society.

However, your future is in your hands. You must decide that you have a part to play. You are the future politicians, teachers, doctors, computer scientists, engineers, musicians, and other professions that do not exist now, but will come on the radar in the next ten or so years. I was speaking to a relative of mine recently who has completed his first year of college and told me he wants to minor in video games creation – the possibilities are endless.

You are leaving SMHS with the basic tools – the template for building knowledge that is rapidly increasing in every possible area. Some of what you have learned will become obsolete in a short while, so you need to adopt the mantra that ‘learning never ends’, and make yourself relevant by being a life-long learner

Recently, I was browsing the web and read an article which observed that more unique information will be created this year than in the previous 5000 years. The top ten jobs that are in demand today did not exist in 2004. Fisch observes that whereas it took 38 years for radio to reach an audience of 50 million people, it took television 13 years to reach that same population, the internet 4 years, the ipod three, and Facebook two years. And you can bet it will take Twitter less time than that, if it has not already done so. I am sure many of you are already on Twitter and Facebook.

What is this saying to you smart visionary students? That technology has to be a tool to make education accessible and affordable to this 21st century generation. You may not have to leave home or your job to continue your education. Opportunities will be available through technology. You will therefore have to be au fait with, and adept at using what is available, and what is in your hand, your cell phones, your laptops, your ipods, your access to technology.

This might sound alarming, but you should not be intimidated to the extent that you do not embrace the challenges ahead. Believe in yourself! One thing is certain – things will not remain the same, there will be changes and we should be prepared to embrace them and not resist them.

I believe, dear graduates, you have the tomorrows of opportunities and limitless possibilities ahead of you; the possibilities of achieving your God-given potential with creativity and success – despite whatever odds you may encounter.

Strive for excellence, continue to hold fast to the qualities of faith and courage that you learn so much about at SMHS, help others to sustain the legacy of this school and make a difference in Jamaica and in the world. Your Principal, Teachers, Family and Friends have faith in you that you will be successful in your new life.

Thank you and God bless you all.