“You name it—the talent, the know-how, it is all here. President Granger, I hope you’re watching this because all the skills you require to build a sustainable country are right here!” this year’s University of Guyana (UG) Valedictorian Elsie Ann Harry declared yesterday on the occasion of the institution’s 51st convocation.
Now the proud holder of a Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations with a perfect 4.0 Grade Point Average, the 25-year-old Harry utilised her achievement as valedictorian to rally for the development of Guyana.
“Take a good look at the young men and the young women in this audience, we, not the oil, are literally the future… Jomal Bacchus graduating in absentia today from the Faculty of Technology designed my mother’s house and her restaurant. He could have easily designed any of the new buildings on campus or around Georgetown. Just like all of the graduates here today, he is exceptional… among the graduates here today, there are young entrepreneurs; web, graphics and fashion designers; chefs; poets; singers; electrical engineers; accountants; and future presidents!” she told the audiences at the two convocation ceremonies that were held hours apart yesterday.
“We are replaceable. The void we leave in any place, perhaps except in the hearts of those who love us dearly, can always be filled, just like putting your hands into a bucket of water and removing it… our service to the world is mirrored in our ability to ensure continuity. We do this when we share our knowledge, share our skills, when we share our vision, when we help others to reach their highest potential, when we have learned to serve, not ourselves, but our communities, our countries, and our humanity. Then, we would have completed our renaissance,” she added.
Unlike all previous years, a decision was made to host two separate ceremonies. The first ceremony was held at 10 am at the National Cultural Centre for the 49 students graduating from the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry; 37 from the Faculty of Earth and Environmental Sciences; 132 from the Faculty of Natural Sciences; and 190 from the Faculty of Technology.
The second ceremony was held at 4.30 pm at the National Exhibition Centre at Sophia and catered to those 402 graduates from the Faculty of Education and Humanities; 603 from the Faculty of Social Sciences and 380 from the Faculty of Health Sciences, according to the UG Convocation programme.
Like valedictorians before her, Harry also took some time to admonish UG for its shortcomings, as she made mention of what she considered to be its “general culture of indifference compounded by a general sense of malaise.”
“I’ve wasted many days because too many people didn’t know where to find what and didn’t care enough to ask someone who did. This is the highest institution made for our country. If this is not the standard of excellence, then what is? New buildings will not transform the University of Guyana, a change in attitude will!” she remarked.
“UG, in my opinion, is a microcosm of Guyana. Therefore, the same inefficiencies can be experienced in the country at large. My advice to everyone listening is simple: stop it, just stop. It has to end and we must end it. These are the issues that hinder the renaissance of too many students of our university and too many citizens of our country,” she charged.
In the same breath, Harry encouraged her fellow graduates to be the agents of change that not only the University of Guyana needs but the country as a whole.
“Everyone, this is your wake up call. Regardless of what office you sit in, sales clerk or politician, pastor or president, student or teacher, having your renaissance means being able to facilitate the renaissance of others. Be efficient, be courteous, be caring, please, be colour-blind. Do not focus on ethnicity, focus on character. And simply offer quality service because it serves your country. When you do better, your country does better. When you achieve your renaissance, your country will achieve its renaissance,” she said.
With the aspiration to one day become President of Guyana, Harry also encouraged the graduates to work towards the development of Guyana, as they will, at some time or the other, become the faces of the country.
“Graduates, do not think that you have done your duty to this country by simply graduating with your degrees and diplomas. Do not fly out and abandon Guyana. I need you to dig deep within yourself and figure out today, what can you do to accelerate your own renaissance,” Harry remarked.
“Those of you who have sat passively and let things happen in Guyana and at UG that you are less than proud of, stop it…this is my admonition to you, you are the bright faces that will eventually lead this country; the hearts that will mend the holes in the fabric of our society; the hands that will mold future generations into future leaders and the feet that will tread to the area of divide and sow reconciliation into the people… This is your renaissance, own it and dare to complete it,” she charged.
Not wanting to forget her parents, whom she credited for her success, Harry expressed her gratitude before making special mention of her father, who could not attend the ceremony.
“He used to say, ‘You know, Elsie Ann I am happy you’ve gone to UG because I have always wanted to go but I never got the chance.’ Well congratulations W.E Harry, not only did you graduate today with a degree in International Relations but you are valedictorian,” she said.
In addition to receiving the President’s Award for the Best Graduating Student, Harry was awarded the Council of the University Prize for a graduating student who has attained at least a “Pass with Credit” and who in the opinion of the Scholarships Committee has made the greatest contribution in other areas of the university’s activities; the Dennis Irvine Award for the student who has made the greatest contribution to the cultural life of the university; and the Dr Harold Drayton Alumni Award of the University of Guyana Guild of Graduates, Ontario, for a graduating student who has achieved the highest grade point average in the Faculties of Natural Sciences, Social Sciences and Education & Humanities and who has demonstrated leadership through practical involvement in community and/or social services irrespective of sex, race, religion, creed or political persuasion.
Meanwhile, UG Vice-Chancellor Professor Ivelaw Griffith encouraged the graduates to always remember and support the University of Guyana in years to come. “You are on the cusp of a moment that might conceivably lead to considerable change in Guyana. With the discovery of oil and potential resources linked to this find, there is the possibility of financial resources coming to Guyana in an abundance, perhaps never seen in our country’s history. With imaginative, creative, honest and daring leadership, all our people can benefit,” he remarked.
It is important, he added, that once these new resources do materialise, those in a position to lead mobilise them to address some of the adversities that plague the country, including poverty and racial and political divisiveness. “You can be the instruments of change-and I hope you will garner what you have learned here as well as summon your creative skills to capitalise on any new opportunities that may come Guyana’s way. It will be in your power to link with your colleagues to address some of the challenges I mentioned… I hope and pray that 20, 30, 50 years from today, future generations of Guyanese can look back and say that you and those of you in your generation engendered the changes that enabled a more prosperous and peaceful Guyana,” Griffith added.