When 23-year-old Dr Kibwey Peterkin delivered the 50th valedictorian’s address at the University of Guyana’s convocation ceremony last evening, he became not only the first medical student to do so but the first student from the Faculty of Health Sciences to have earned the honour.
Peterkin, who told Stabroek News that he was a “bit overwhelmed” at the response to his success, explained that it was the product of nothing more than dedication and persistence.
“This is a journey. All you can do is try every day to be the best version of yourself. See yourself as a work in progress and every challenge or failure as a building block. I have been on the cusp of failure many times. That has never deterred me,” he said.
Peterkin, a country boy from the East Coast Demerara village of Bachelor’s Adventure who travelled to town only after earning a place at Queen’s College, credits his success to watching his mother, Holly Stewart, conquer challenges daily.
“I don’t want to disregard the contributions my father has made to my life, because he has contributed, but I have seen my mother struggle, often alone, to provide for us. I don’t work hard for myself but due to the debt I know I owe to her,” he shared.
It is this debt which has propelled him pass all his challenges and failures. Having earned a place at Queen’s College, the young student like so many others had to contend with no longer being the most academically gifted child in the classroom.
At that point, he was not sure of what he wanted to do outside of playing cricket, which was an endeavour at which he was never more than mediocre.
His mother, who believes that she is happier than her son at his achievement, recalled her first born making the decision at the age of 12 to become a neurosurgeon after reading the Ben Carson novel Gifted Hands. She speaks proudly of the focus she has seen him display in the pursuit of this journey. “He is always humble and not that excited but I’m elated. Forget cloud nine, I’m beyond that; I’m on cloud 10. I’m just really grateful for what God has done for him and what I know he will continue to do for him as he continues to focus and keep Him at the centre of his journey,” she told Stabroek News.
Carson’s novel, which was a gift from an overseas-based villager, kindled the passion for something other than sport in Peterkin. As a result, he dedicated his energies to understanding the medical world which Carson described. This dedication saw him emerge as one of the country’s top performers at the 2011 Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) after serving as Deputy Head Prefect at Queen’s College. In that year, he was also selected Valedictorian and delivered a speech in which he urged his fellow graduates to embrace challenges and push past failure to their dreams. Not long after he would have to practice what he preached.
Though he had been accepted to the University of West Indies to pursue studies in the Bachelor of Medicine/Bachelor of Surgery Degree (MBBS) programme, the tuition was more than his family could afford and inquiries within the private and public sector did not yield any person or entity able to finance his studies.
Peterkin pushed past that challenge and enrolled at the University of Guyana. Five years later, he graduated with a 3.99 Grade Point Average (GPA), having completed 37 courses and earning 36 As and one B.
He is no longer certain that he will be a clinician beyond the one-year internship he has applied to several institutions to pursue. He might instead choose to be involved in the administrative and research aspects of medicine. He is, however, certain that he will contribute to the development of Guyana. “I see Guyana the same way I saw UG. No matter what the limitation, with hard work, dedication and persistence we can achieve whatever we wish,” he explained.