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The University of Guyana – Commencement Address by Dr. Vincent Adams – Nov 12, 2016
The University of Guyana ***** Commencement Address Delivered by Dr. Vincent Adams
on the Occasion of
The Fiftieth Convocation on November 12, 2016
Your Excellency President David Granger, Honorable Ministers of the Government, Pro-Chancellor Bibi Shadick, Vice Chancellor Ivelaw Griffith, Members of the faculty and staff, other distinguished guests, other attendees, friends, and most importantly, the very reason why we are here today – the members of the University of Guyana class of 2016. Congratulations!!
Let me also take this opportunity to congratulate my very dear friend and fellow UG alumnus, Vice Chancellor Griffith for first surviving his first four and one-half months in office; but on a more serious note, thank him for putting his money where his mouth is, by his returning home to serve in this most critical position of Vice Chancellor, leading the renaissance of this great institution in its underpinning of this nation’s enormous future. UG is in great hands with him at its helm.
Not only is this a distinct honor to be asked to speak before this special 50th anniversary class, but it also no doubt takes me down memory lane, remembering sitting right there in those seats 43 years ago, while being in the first degreed engineering class of 11.
This experience is very sentimental to me, for the education I received at UG is the only reason for me being who I am, and why I am here today. It’s really important also for me to say that I would not have done it, had my UG education not been free. I am a posterchild as to why no child or student should be denied an education because of lack of means. Affordable education is a basic human right. It is the great equalizer and as Dr. Martin Luther King called “the passport to happiness”. From an investment standpoint, education is the #1 test, even over infrastructure, when it comes to attracting foreign investments – a key component of any country’s economic competitiveness in this global economy.
Education is personal to me. You see, my mother could not read or write, because she was never given the opportunity to go to school. Further, I happened to have grown up in a little village called Christianburg in Linden. Christianburg was branded as being on the wrong side of the river and where most feared to tread; so, as you can tell, there were lots of opportunities for me to take the wrong road, but that village would not let me. That village raised and protected me. As dirt poor as I was, I never knew it because of the rich love, protection and guidance I enjoyed. And that’s the reason why it doesn’t matter how far I travel, Christianburg and UG will forever be home.
In those days, I never thought of going to University. My only dream was to play cricket for Guyana and the West Indies. I made it half-way there when I made the Guyana team and was on top of the world. I felt invincible, until, at the tender age of 19, my dreams evaporated with a terrible auto accident. I was lost and didn’t know what to do. But again, I was lucky to have someone like the great Basil Butcher not only as my mentor, but like a second father. He in no uncertain way forced me to go to UG. To paraphrase, he said, son, as hard as it might be to give up the short-term fame of cricket, you must focus and do the things you could control. You can control how much education you get and that will stay with you forever, but you can’t really control your cricket future, and even if you can, such a career would only last until you are maybe 30 to 35 years old. He was so right!!
Of course, I couldn’t get into UG without the generous free extra lessons and the dedicated time and attentiveness afforded me by the many teachers in Christianburg. I didn’t know why at the time, they singled me out in so many ways, good and bad. It was that young teacher by the name of Cyril Campbell who taught me how to play cricket, table tennis and football – sports which I enjoyed more than anything in life and excelled at, but he would not let me play unless I stayed up with him late at nights studying. It was the late Head Teacher Hector Parris, who benched me for bringing third place in class. I didn’t know it at the time, but they saw something in me and were preparing me for another life starting at UG.
This degree you receive today is just your learner’s permit for the rest of your drive through life. Fortunately, I still have my Learner’s permit, except it is 43 years older than yours. So let me share with you five attributes that I have learned to be absolutely necessary for you to be successful:
1. The first lesson per the famous quote is: “as you go on to eat the fruits, don’t forget who planted the trees.” Like me, I am sure you also had that proverbial village that has brought you this far. Like me, you may have been the first in your entire family, the first in your street, or in your alley, or the first even in your village to attend University. You are now viewed far differently than you were yesterday. You are now a role model. You now have influence and power. What you do or say means something. However, please use your newly acquired power, influence, and stature to be that proverbial village to raise the next generation. It’s your turn. And when it’s all over, “It’s best to not be judged by your personal riches, but rather by how many lives you have enriched.”
2. I know you must be reading these inspirational books and listening to inspirational speeches that tell you to shoot for the stars, but I didn’t plan my life the way it turned out. So, I advise a more passionate dedication to the pursuit of short term goals. Be micro-ambitious. Again, as I heeded, do what you can control, and the one thing you can control is hard work. And believe me, you don’t have to be smarter than the next person, all you have to do is be willing to work harder than the next person, and your rise and accomplishments will take care of themselves. You will always get out what you put in.
3. Your lives, like mine, will be littered with disappointments, failures/setbacks, sorrows, you name it; but what you become afterwards will depend on how you react to these adversities. As the Japanese proverb goes, “fall down seven times, get up eight”. Sometimes though, no matter how well you prepare, how hard you try, or how well you perform, you will still end up failing. It’s just the realities of life sometimes, not fair at times; but step up when the times are toughest and as Shaggy says “Never, ever give up.” Setbacks can lead to the greatest success which is humility and learning. What’s important is that when you fail, don’t fail to learn the lesson. As one writer sagely puts it, “the thing you must remember and realize is that nobody else is paying as much attention to your failure as you. You are the only one who is obsessed with the importance of your own life, so just move on!!”
4. You have to be prepared for the one thing in life that is as certain as death – that is, change!! So you must be agile, flexible, and versatile to adopt to changes. I never planned my circuitous path through life starting from being just this little shirt tail boy in Christianburg, to becoming a national cricketer, to a groundwater hydrologist, to a petroleum engineer, to an environmental engineer, and now, to reaching the unthinkable heights of being a member of the Senior Executive Service Corps running the day to day operations of the most powerful country on the planet. You must expect the same several career changes more-so in today’s world of a global economy, so you must learn and think more like a generalist and acquire all the skills that entails. You must continue to educate yourselves.
Even when I was doing well and being well positioned in my jobs, I still took advantage of every opportunity for training to broaden my horizon. My colleagues would often times refer to me in jest as the professional student. The new paradigm in a highly competitive global economy is that for the dedicated, high achieving individual, school will never be out. Learning is an attitude, not a destination. The people being hired these days are not those with certain degrees, but those with a desire to succeed, a desire to achieve. As Shakespeare says, you have to be ready to “take the current when it serves or lose your ventures.”
5. And here is my last, but what I deem to be the most vital of all attributes that you must have to be successful in life – both professional and personal. This attribute, you guessed it, is called ATTIDUDE! I realize that as UG grads you have high IQs and good grades, but please let it be known that attitude is a far better predictor of your success than your IQs and grades. You could be taught math, you could be taught science, or you could be taught literature, but you cannot be taught ATTITUDE. Let me let you into a little secret. There is a reason why employers conduct interviews. It should be obvious that it can’t be to see who is the smartest among the lot, because guess what, all of that smart information is already in your resume which they have studied. Interviews my friends, are mostly to discern your ATTITUDE! That cannot be detected from your Resume, your IQ or your grades.
As the great poet Charles Swindoll said: “We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play the one string we have, and that is our attitude…life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. We are in charge of our attitudes.” And “No matter what happens in life, always ask yourself what am I grateful for? No matter what is happening, there are still things in your life that are going well. It is important to stay grateful for what you have and look at life from an attitude of “abundance”. Also, no matter what is happening, ask yourself: What can I learn from this? Any tough situation is a chance for you to grow and learn.” Or, as my better half tells me whenever things go badly, “honey, everything happens for a reason and for the best and only God knows best”. And low and behold, she is proven to be right every time.
Finally, at the risk of sounding somewhat hypocritical, I would urge that you stay home in Guyana to take advantage of the opportunities that I foresee on the horizon. Notwithstanding the great opportunities I see ahead for your future in Guyana, the times have changed gravely since my generation left these shores for greener pastures. And if you have been following the elections in the US and Europe for example, you should understand what I mean – we are not welcomed like we used to be.
Guyana now has the potential to become one of, if not the richest country on the planet – but you are the ones with the tools to lead the way in making this a reality. The discovery of oil is a game changer in a big way towards this reality, but it’s just the start in making this country a power player in the world economy.
But it is not about oil alone. Oil only opens the door for the abundance of long term sustainable business opportunities. Oil will most definitely bring rapid attention to this almost un-heard of country, but when people learn of its beauty and great potential they will come in droves. My absolute favorite, even more than oil, is food production; since the demand for food does not fluctuate like oil. It will continue to move in one direction – UP and UP!! There is predicted by the UN, to be a very horrendous food crisis whereby global food output would have to almost double by 2050, only 30 or so years from now, or face a global society collapse as food output falls permanently short of consumption for the nine billion population.
The good news is that Latin America is pegged as the region that will have to serve as the critical source of food for the rest of the world, and Guyana is in as good a position as any to be a global food power. Even now, in all of the big supermarkets in the US, I see all kinds of products from Jamaica for example, such as frozen cassava, patties, sliced yellow plantains, plantain chips, and I say with puzzlement, why can’t we do the same with 20 times more land space, abundance of water, etc.?? So, Class of 2016, our brightest minds, I ask, who else is more equipped than you to remain here, create the ideas and spark the vision to take advantage of the unlimited opportunities through your innovation and entrepreneurship in building those capabilities?
Class of 2016, you are today beginning your journey through life. It will not be easy. But, after all, you are the class of 2016, so anything is possible. Your being here wasn’t just to get grades, it was to get an education to be innovative and to be an independent thinker. As the saying goes, “You may have earned a grade for taking a math test; but you have gotten an education for understanding that mathematical models can help us fly.”
I promise that if you do these things I ask of you today, what started here will indeed have changed not only your lives, but those of your family, your friends, your community, your country and the world, for the better. If this little boy from Christianburg can do it, so can you. Yes you can!!
Thank you, and again, Congratulations Class of 2016!