Dec 3, 2018

Feature Address of Major-General Joseph Singh at Saints Graduation 2018



Major General (retd) Joseph G Singh, MSS

Chairman Mr Renaldo Fleming, Principal, Ms Fazia Baksh, Coordinators Ms Lisa Henry-Aaron and Ms Samantha Inniss, Chief Education Officer Mr Marcel Hutson, Assistant Chief Education Officer Ms June Ann Gonsalves, Principal Education Officer Mr Emmanuel Bridgewater, other officials of the Ministry of Education, Chairman of the Board of Governors Mr Christopher Fernandes CCH and Members of the Board , President of the Parent Teachers Association Mr Zulphicar Hussain, President of the Alumni Association Mr Kashir Khan, and Immediate Past Principal Mrs Paulette Merell, Special Invitees, Members of Staff, Graduands, and Students - Good day!

I wish to thank the Chairman of the Board of Governors and the Principal for their kind invitation to me to be the featured speaker at this the St Stanislaus Annual Graduation and Prize Giving Ceremony 2018. I am honoured to have been asked and am delighted to accept. It is not lost on me that I am a product of Queen’s College and that last year you had another Queen’s College alumnus, His Excellency President David Granger, as your featured speaker. I don’t want to read too much into the significance of Queen’s College alumni being the featured speakers at the St Stanislaus College Annual Graduation and Prize Giving Ceremony, given my familiarity with the years of intense but generally friendly rivalry in academic performance and debating skills among the exclusively boys’ colleges of Queen’s and Saint’s and the exclusively girls’ Bishop’s High School, and between Queen’s and Saint’s on the sports fields. But it is also a progressive sign of the times and a reflection of the magnanimous nature of your Chairman and the genuine friendship, mutual respect and collaboration we have enjoyed for decades.

Having listened to the Principal’s Report on the College’s achievements during the period September 2017 to July 2018, I wish to congratulate staff and students on the performances recorded in the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE) and in particular, Kayla December at the Grade 9 Assessment, Sherlock Langevine at the CXC and Rashma Sujnarine at the CAPE. While there were outstanding individual performances, and overall good results, as with everything else, there is room for improvement. The Principal pointed out in her Report the need for additional physical infrastructure, laboratory facilities and an increase in the complement of permanent and part–time staff for this noble institution.

We must acknowledge the hard work and commitment of Immediate Past Principal Mrs Merell, those staff members who have retired, the current staff, and the sterling efforts of the Chairman and Board of Governors, the Parent Teachers Association and the St Stanislaus Alumni Association, in mobilising and garnering additional resources for the College and to constantly seek opportunities that would enhance the quality of pedagogy and the performances of students.

I congratulate all who are graduating today and the recipients of prizes. You should be proud and somewhat relieved at the completion of this phase of your education. Your disciplined approach to your studies and your diligence during school, the hours of lessons and homework, the commitment and expertise of your teachers, their mentoring, the love and support of your parents, guardians, siblings and extended family, cumulatively contributed to the degree of success you have achieved. Reflecting on the speeches made by Valedictorians of secondary and tertiary institutions during this month of graduations, we learn a lot about the challenges, hardships, sacrifices and privations experienced by students but not much about the fun, the camaraderie and personal satisfaction experienced during the years of study. I am certainly not trivialising the challenges faced by students, especially those coming from poor circumstances, or from geographically distant locations or whose parents have to work at several jobs to attempt to cover the cost of tuition, books and other expenses with which you are familiar. But using my own generation’s example, life was tough but it was fun and I have happier memories of my secondary school years than I have of the many challenges we had to face.

As Mark Twain, the American writer and humorist (1835-1910) and author of the Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn wrote, “It is indeed ironic that we spend our school days yearning to graduate and our remaining days waxing nostalgic about our school days[1].

 We had no electricity, computers, smart phones, and television but most families had battery operated radios – Grundig and Marconi from which we heard the BBC News, local programmes and international test cricket. As my generation has experienced over the past six decades, the transition from colonialism to independence; church-owned schools to state-owned schools; from slate, pencil and chalk to exercise books; common pen and porcelain ink well to fountain pen; from independence to republicanism;  plantocracy to nationalisation, cooperative socialism, and free-market economy; from General Certificate of Education - Ordinary and Advanced Level Examinations to  the CXC and CAPE, your world also will be a different place soon.

Prepare for it. Do not limit yourself by thinking that the market of today will be the one of tomorrow. We are in process of constant change and by the time you get out of university the world will be different. New skills will be needed as society and technology continue to evolve.

Last year the President reminded of the history and tradition of St Stanislaus College and that embedded in that tradition, “is the embodiment of values which are the moral principles and qualities that shape students’ character[2]. He gave his vision of the future of Guyana and the role that current and future generations will play in providing the leadership and skills to realise that vision.

Education is a continuing process. Your College Motto: Aeterna Non Caduca, is a constant reminder that the College is educating for eternity by providing you with a foundation and tools, so that if you are alert and paying attention, you will be ready when the next opportunity presents itself. Each of life’s experiences prepares us, enriches us and expands us, for better or for worse. I urge you to read widely, to observe and to converse. If you are looking for role models, you do not have to look very far. We had recently at the University of Guyana honoured four icons with Honorary Doctorates – Dr Yesu Persaud, Dr Eddie Grant, Dr Jairaj Sobhraj and Dr Laura George. The University of the West Indies also honored our cricketing icon Shivnarine Chanderpaul with an Honorary Doctorate.  You can google the websites of the Universities and obtain the profiles of these eminent Guyanese, and be inspired but be reminded by Longfellow’s cautionary:

      The Heights of Great Men Reached and Kept

Were not attained by sudden flight

                                                          But they, while their companions slept

 Were toiling upwards through the night”.

                                                                                          Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

Your own Chairman of the Board of Governors attended this College. His father, Mr John Fernandes Senior, was a widely respected and well-loved business man who earned the sobriquet ‘Honest John’. He inculcated in his children the importance of education, of sports and of their social responsibility. And there are others, including those among us in this audience who are outstanding Guyanese and who have given and continue to give selflessly for the development of our country and the well-being of our citizens.

I mentioned earlier that we are in a state of constant change and evolution. Many of us are old enough to acknowledge that the system of education has evolved over the past sixty years and I have little doubt that this evolution will continue.

Dr Didactus Jules, former Registrar of the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) and currently Director General of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), in his paper titled: “Rethinking Education in the Caribbean”, published on Sep 3, 2015, asked the question, “What is Education for and what do we expect education to achieve at each crucial stage?”. “The answers to these questions”, he wrote, “will help us to ensure that our educational systems are actually producing the quality of persons with competencies required to put us on a path of Sustainable Development in a ruthlessly competitive world[3].   Dr Jules reminded us that as far back as 1997 (twenty-one years ago) the Statement of the Ideal Caricom Person was adopted by the Caribbean Heads of Governments but has not been aggressively promulgated.

The four Pillars and Foundations on which the Ideal Caribbean Person will be shaped comprise:


There are many things that need to be fixed and fixed urgently but the preparation of the next generation is one of those responsibilities and challenges that cannot be postponed. “And this”, according to Dr Jules, “ultimately is the urgency and necessity of reinventing education”.

To you the graduands, now that you have completed your secondary education, what matters now is the work you put into your life, not necessarily what you accomplished in College. Nobel Prize winning St Lucian economist Sir Arthur Lewis, when he was appointed Vice Chancellor of the then University College of the West Indies, in his address to students on October 7, 1960 said: “We have to justify ourselves not just by passing exams, which we could do anywhere, but rather by giving our minds to the problems of our country and doing all we can to solve them – whether problems in science, in engineering or politics or aesthetics, or any other branch of knowledge. If your generation does not accept its responsibilities but confines itself to passing examinations and seeking the best paid jobs, you will deserve to be written off as parasites[4]. Strong words indeed but of relevance today.

You are the future leaders and technicians of Guyana. You are the torchbearers for the generation after you. Your future is here, not building someone else’s country. We have a country that is blessed with resources, diverse and spectacular landscapes, hardy, pioneering people who have sought their fortunes in the gold and diamond fields, in the bauxite and manganese mines, in the agricultural, forestry and fisheries sectors, in the construction industry, and in the manufacturing and services sectors. However, the times are changing and so is technology, the competitiveness of international trade, and the requirements of the market place. The advent of oil and gas sector is catalysing local content, the diversification of our economy, introduction and application of appropriate technology, and research and development of new, economically viable and sustainable businesses with low carbon footprints.

The need for connectivity and efficient logistics is driving infra-structure development. Demographic population shifts are spawning service-oriented businesses.  The sports, cultural and entertainment industries seek to impact positively on the tourism sector and complement stewardship, conservation and sustainable management of our wonderful biodiversity and ecosystems. The phasing-in of renewable energy, and enforcement of tighter environmental laws and regulations, need to be integrated with our efforts at mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate change.

These initiatives require a knowledge-based, academically equipped, and technically versatile managerial and skilled work force. To deliver and sustain such human resources competence requires the reform and retooling of our academic and technical education, ensuring health and nutrition security, and, the acquisition and transfer of appropriate technology.

 Graduands, think of all the career and business opportunities to be exploited using the facilities and technology already available or coming on stream. I challenge you to think creatively and futuristically at what should be the drivers for your career path and I respectfully posit that your decisions should be influenced by your answers to the following questions:

·         Where can I make the greatest contribution to the wellbeing of the human family – our human capital, and to the conservation and wise management of our natural capital – Guyana’s rich and unique biodiversity and ecosystems;

·         Where can I make a sustained impact in eliminating poverty, disease, and functional illiteracy;

·         What qualifications and experience do I need to promote peace, social cohesion, and to celebrate our diversity through the media of art, sculpture, music, literature, poetry, photography, film, sports and culture;

·         What contribution can I make towards interpreting the past through research into our archaeology and anthropology, capturing oral history and institutional memory so that lessons of the past can help to inform the way forward;

·         What research and applied methodologies can better prepare Guyana and our Region in climate mitigation, adaptation and resilience, in reducing emissions, promoting renewable energy, in food and nutrition security, the design and implementation of sustainable physical and social infrastructure, and increasing Guyana’s competitiveness in trade, through more efficient branding and marketing, processing, packaging, warehousing, and logistics by land, sea and air;

·         With what knowledge and skills do I need to equip myself so that I can play a transformational role in my community, my neighborhood, my district, my region, my country and this planet we call home;

·         How can I inspire and mentor the younger generations to strive for excellence beyond what our generation has achieved?

Ladies and gentlemen, we adults – policy makers and shapers, parents, administrators and staff also have an important role to play in mentoring, and providing career guidance and counselling to ensure our graduates are aware of the opportunities, and also of the pitfalls and challenges. Lessons learnt and shared are vital to avoid re-inventing the wheel or duplicating effort. Aligning placement opportunities with relevant training and mentoring will avoid frustration, make efficient use of resources and assist graduates in realizing their true potential. Character building and inculcation of values are vital if our youth are to maintain their focus, avoid the distractions of the material culture and truly build professionalism, social responsibility and an ethical society. 

 Finally, Graduands of St Stanislaus College class of 2018, patriotism, respect for authority, for our plural society, for elders, our women and children, and a commitment of your unselfish service to the development and wellbeing of our people, provide you with context and a framework for the application of your individual and collective knowledge and skills in service to Guyana and our people. The advice I offer you is to break out of the cocoon of a life which to date has been circumscribed by home, school and your immediate circle of friends. Become an extrovert and embrace the complex diversity around you. Never forget your College school friends but make as many friends as possible. Be open to new experiences but ensure you have goals which are signposts on your life’s journey.

What lies behind you and what lies before you are small matters compared to what lies within you[5].

Congratulations, Good luck and Blessings of the Almighty!                

[1] Twain, M (1835-1910): Adventures of Tom Sawyer
[3] Jules, D (2015) Rethinking Education in the Caribbean, CXC
[4] Lewis, A (1960) Excerpt from address to New Students at UCWI
[5] Emerson, RW (1803-1822): The Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson

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