Recent graduates of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill Campus have been urged to commit to giving back to their communities.
Some 1 515 people, mostly women, graduated in Cave Hill Campus’ class of 2017 as the institution celebrates its 50th year in existence.
And in his first address to graduating students since being appointed Chancellor of the UWI, Robert Bermudez urged graduands to “believe in yourself”.
According to the Trinidadian businessman: “Go follow your dreams. There will always be obstacles along the way, but you can overcome them.”
Citing Faculty of Law student Janeil Odle who is visually impaired and graduated with First Class Honours, Bermudez described her as a model for overcoming obstacles.
“Janeil has a visual impairment but she never allowed that to prevent her from her ambition of reading law, further she topped her class,” the Chancellor pointed out.
Odle scored the highest grade point average awarded in the Faculty of Law.
Bermudez advised: “Apart from the education you have today there is another education out there that would be given to you by people who are living their lives ahead of you.
“Strong ethical values are also of primary importance. Always define yourself by the substance of your character.”
The Chancellor, who succeeded Barbadian Sir George Alleyne, told the graduands most of whom were from Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean: “As an educated West Indian you hold a responsibility to your community to provide assistance to those who have been less fortunate.”
He added: “I encourage each of you to mentor a young person who you believe that without your help would not achieve their potential.
“That way you would make our community stronger, and our societies better.”
Consistent with Chancellor Bermudez’s theme of making societies better, there was special honouring of Kaye Foster, a Barbadian whose excellent achievements were guided by her community spirit.
UWI bestowed Foster an honourary Doctor of Laws degree.
Reading the citation, UWI’s public orator Robert Leyshon cited Forster’s own words. “The most important thing to me is that I have lived a life of service to others. And my goal is to leave the earth all used up. I believe that life is an extraordinary gift, not to be squandered.”
The former Hill Top Preparatory School and Queen’s College student went on to New York to study for a Business Administration degree and an MBA.
“Kaye’s career since then has been remarkable,” read her citation. “For over 30 years she has been able to blend her specialised academic expertise with practical application in an aggressively competitive global business environment.”
Foster’s exceptional ability took her to three of the world’s giant pharmaceutical corporations – Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Onyx.
She served as a vice-president at Johnson & Johnson and became one of the highest-ranking black women in the top 50 companies of the Fortune 500.
According to Leyshon, this achievement placed her among “the elite of the elite” in the world.
Now an independent business consultant, Foster had also served as a senior vice-president at Onyx Pharmaceuticals.
As her success grew she reached out to the New York UWI Foundation to help in the education of young Caribbean nationals.
“She was particularly fond of supporting scholarship requests for disadvantaged children in the region and is known within the UWI-USA community as a Caribbean-centred citizen,” read her citation.
Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg, Professor Ihron Rensburg also received an honourary Doctor of Laws degree on Saturday evening.
Rensburg’s story is one of commitment to the community and liberation efforts which led to his imprisonment and torture under the repressive apartheid regime of South Africa.
At that time, he was a student leader and community activist committed to social justice.
Rensburg “survived the [jail and torture] experience, went to Stanford University and completed his PhD”.
In addition to leading a university that “provides access to the talented poor and provides them with an outstanding education,” Rensburg chairs READ Foundation, “South Africa’s leading NGO that works alongside government to implement teacher training and literacy initiatives”.
Among Rensburg’s many other civic work include “co-chair of Education Dialogue SA, a forum that brings together South Africa’s leading thinkers and civil society organizations to map and support education initiatives”.
Meanwhile, valedictorian Rhyesa Joseph called on her graduating colleagues to speak out in their communities.
“We must find balance between our noise and silence,” she said in her address.
“It is our silence that provides consent to the complicity of corruption, exploitation and the underdevelopment of our people and states,” she said, adding, “Far too many are falling through cracks in our families, communities, school systems.”
“I must lament that it has been our silence which has killed more than gang and domestic violence, or suicide ever could.
“We must end our silence and speak so that activism and accountability can shape our societies for the better.”