Pomp and circumstance surrounded a two-day graduation celebration of 174 students earning certificates and associate degrees from the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College.
“You have a purpose,” Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley told members of the graduating class present at last Thursday’s ceremony. “Do not fear failure. Find friends that add value.”
His speech centred around advice for the graduating class, and he finished off with a poem of his own.
“Can all you can before you kick the can. Time runs quick like sand in your hand,” he recited while students cheered from where they sat in the Eileene L. Parsons Auditorium surrounded by friends and family members who attended the nearly three-hour-long ceremony.
HLSCC’s Class of 2022 included 113 women and 61 men, Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Arlene Smith-Thompson said during introductory remarks.
Of those, 118 completed programmes in arts, sciences and general studies, while 56 completed workforce training, she said. A total of 21 students received academic distinctions: eight female and eight male cum laude, one female magna cum laude, and four female summa cum laude.
“In this class, there are 17 of the graduates from Virgin Gorda and three from Anegada,” Dr. Smith-Thompson added.
The ceremony was held over two days to accommodate social distancing as a precautionary measure to prevent potential spread of Covid-19.
Dr. Smith-Thompson said 95 degrees and certificates in 14 disciplines were awarded last Thursday, and 105 degrees and certificates were awarded during a similar ceremony the day before.
This year marked the first time the college awarded certificates in professional baking and cooking, and marine professional training, Dr. Smith-Thompson said.
‘Juggling two jobs’
For students like Damarah Calliste, the road to graduation wasn’t easy.
“[I was] juggling two jobs, being a mom, and the blood, sweat and tears to finish every semester on top,” said Ms. Calliste, recipient of the Dean’s Award of Excellence in the Workforce Training Division. “It was tough, but I did it.”
Graduates from 11 certificate programmes and 17 majors for associate degrees were congratulated by government ministers over the course of the two ceremonies.
“You have demonstrated the resilient spirit of these Virgin Islands, and I say this because it is no secret so much has happened that could have derailed or at least delayed your educational journey,” newly appointed Education Minister Sharie De Castro told graduates last Thursday. “However, you persevere — and look: You made it. So let me say congratulations to all of you.”
Keynote speaker Jennifer Potter, a business executive, explained how she persevered throughout her career to a position she enjoys as the director of operations at the law firm George Henry Partners LLP.
“I did not chart a course, so I offer you insights of a course charted without a map but not without a compass,” she said. “With your effort, the universe will offer the opportunities to achieve your goals.”
She encouraged the graduates to think about their goals in life, and said that success is a “personal destination.”
“Therefore, only you should define your success,” she added. “For me, success is the confidence to share my opinions, especially when they are different; the courage to act when I am afraid, trusting my instincts to guide my actions; and being able to honour my roots and the sacrifices of my parents by reflecting the trust that others place in me.”
Ms. Potter also shared that two months ago she ended a 20-year career in the public service to go into the private sector.
“The transition has been a great opportunity and a reminder that around every bend lies an exciting new adventure,” she said.
Similar speeches were given during a separate ceremony the day before, but there were different student respondents for each ceremony.
The student respondent on June 1 was Olivia Freeman, who said that she was ready for “this moment” of graduation.
“We can confidently say that no matter how different or similar our journeys are, the foundation we have been given here at this institution will be a strong backbone for each and every one of us,” she said.
Ms. Freeman went on to say that there were many challenges throughout the years, but that the graduates were able persevere. She also encouraged her peers to “go after their dream job,” and to remain confident in themselves.