The just over 1 300 graduates of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill Campus have been told that despite whatever ways they allow themselves to be defined by the ongoing pandemic, they must embrace change and challenges.
Speaking this evening, during the Campus’ first virtual graduation ceremony, Principal, Professor Eudine Barriteau, told the academics that they are the Class of 2020, forever shaped by the experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She told them that she was confident that as they emerge from a life of screens and social distancing, they will use their life-defining experiences to fashion a future for which they will hold no fear.
“You have navigated studying during a global pandemic, and now you are more than ready to navigate whatever new environment awaits you,” Barriteau said.
She added: “Always be willing to try new things and accept the reality that as you grow older, your range of interest and acquisition of skills will evolve. In other words, do not limit yourself to the confines of what you believe are the dictates of your current degree. You have been instilled with a particular set of skills but we have also tried to nurture within you, the skills of critical thinking and the belief that you can conquer any challenge”.
Professor Barriteau also took the opportunity to salute the 400 Cave Hill students who juggled their studies in February to offer selfless and invaluable assistance to the national cause of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, through the UWI-Government of Barbados COVID-19 Evaluation and Testing project, which is commonly known as Operation Seek and Save.
She indicated that for over two weeks, while thousands sheltered under mandatory stay at home orders, the brave young women and men ventured into communities across Barbados on a mission to gather information that could save lives and produce better public health policies.
“They were joined by colleagues who took part in national data gathering and processing exercises to inform various public health interventions. These UWI Cave Hill students, whom we affectionately call our Blackbirds, all represent a brand of Cave Hill heroes and civic-minded individuals who are all deserving of our highest praise,” Barriteau said.
Nevertheless, the Principal reminded the graduates that while there has been some abatement in the current health crisis, accompanied by the roll-out of potentially life-saving vaccines, the pandemic has not yet been beaten. Therefore, she urged them that while they move forward fearlessly to their future, they must not be reckless and abandon all the caution in their daily living to negate all “we have been urging over the past year”.
“You know the mantra about covering your face, maintaining adequate physical distancing, and ensuring proper hand washing to stop the spread of the dreaded virus. I know our university will continue to play its role in helping this region bounce back from the social and economic ravages of the pandemic,” she said.
Meanwhile, Valedictorian and outgoing President of the Guild of Students, Thacher Loutin, reminded her fellow graduates that in March 2020 they were thrust into uncertainty as a result of the global pandemic, which resulted into Campus activities coming to an abrupt halt. Loutin said there was uncertainty about the completion of the semester as many became concerned about whether they would be able to finish their degrees.
However, she reminded the graduates that they are the first class to undergo the rigors of fully online learning and assessment, and to experience graduation in its online format.
Commending the graduates for accomplishing their degrees amidst personal challenges and high points, Loutin indicated that just as the pandemic has forced students to pivot and embrace new ways of doing things, they must challenge Caribbean leaders to do more in ensuring that the excellence of the region permeates.
Loutin encouraged her peers to use their voices to inspire scholars and experts to occupy spaces of global influence, while using their degrees not just for themselves, but also for the benefit of others because that is what the Caribbean needs.
“Many regional leaders walked through these very halls and sat in the same lecture rooms. And when it is your turn to lead, remember that we must be honest leaders bringing positive change. Innovators who create for the welfare of the people, and dreamers who make a positive impact in the lives of all,” Loutin said. (AH)