On Friday, eight months later than planned, students from the Virgin Islands branch of the University of the West Indies Open Campus finally were honoured for their achievements.

Graduates of the University of the West Indies Open Campus—from left, Jermaine Agard, Latoya Winter, Dionne Liverpool, Sky Henley and Johniese Cohen—take the alumni pledge after receiving their degrees on Friday. (Photo: CLAIRE SHEFCHIK)

Dr. Phyllis Fleming-Banks, the Anguilla-based manager of the Open Campus, said the graduates, who completed their degrees via online and in-person courses, would have been recognised in a ceremony in October 2017, but last year’s hurricanes threw a wrench in those plans.

“These past two months have challenged and stretched all of us,” she said. “So this ceremony is a fitting combination of the hard work and sacrifices of our seven newest alumni.”

At the ceremony, Johniese Cohen and Sky Henley received their Bachelor of Science in management studies; Lisa Joseph and Melanie Sanderson
received their Bachelor of Education; Dionne Liverpool and Latoya Winter received their Associate of Paralegal Studies; Jermaine Agard received a
postgraduate diploma in management studies.

Continuing education

Honoured alongside the graduates were 31 participants in UWI’s continuing and professional education courses in both customer service and supervisory management.

Student Marsha-Ann Gumbs received her certificate in Supervisory Management I.

“Many of us, if not all of us, had to deal with the Irma and Maria, whether we were separated from our families, homes being reconstructed while we’re
still living there, displaced in our workplace, our cars broke down and had to catch a ride to class sometimes,” she said, adding, “It all happened. But with help and support we were able to keep our goal in mind.”

Dr. Fleming-Banks added, “The fact that we are here today is also a testimony to the resilience of our Caribbean people. Today we present evidence that
despite the odds, the UWI Open Campus in the British Virgin Islands is fulfilling its mandate.”

Open Campus

The VI is the newest site of
the Open Campus, which launched in 2008 in order to expand access to UWI courses to Caribbean students through both in-person and online courses, and now hosts 20,000 students through 50 sites in 17 countries.

Ms. Winter urged her fellow graduates to look at their education as an investment.

“At some point we all just wanted to give up, pull out, do other things,” she said. “Sad to say, some of us have done that. Honestly, at times it would have been an easier road if I’d said, let’s give up. [But] we can raise our heads high, for we have overcome the challenges life has thrown at us over the past years.”

Socially conscious education

Keynote speaker Deputy Premier Dr. Kedrick Pickering, a graduate of the UWI Cave Hill Campus, told the graduates that his experiences at UWI in the 1970s were a major reason he entered politics, saying the rigour of his education broadened his horizons to the world around him.

“I ended up where I ended up because of the discourse that I had,” he said. “You couldn’t be a student at the University of the West Indies and not be socially conscious, because there was so much happening.”

He recalled that in Barbados in 1976, he witnessed firsthand the explosion of Cubana Airlines Flight 455, which was blown up after takeoff by Cuban dissidents. He said the event opened his eyes, and urged the graduates to be similarly aware of the challenging world they will enter.

“The world was dominated by the Cold War. But your world is dominated by Trumpism; it’s dominated by Brexit,” said Dr. Pickering,w ho recently
returned from representing the territory at Brexit talks in London.

“We live in a post-Irma world. The BVI is now pre-Irma and post-Irma; there’s no running away from that.”

He urged graduates to draw on their challenging life experiences.
“Be analytical and critical,” he advised, adding, “Participate in intellectual discourse; do something to help the community.”

More cooperation with VI

Dr. Fleming-Banks said that UWI’s collaboration with the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, which hosts the campus, has strengthened after the hurricanes, and that the university has been working to help rebuild the territory in general.

This month, she noted, UWI teamed up with Sagicor Financial Corp. and FLOW to hand over the $100,000 raised from the Rally Round the West Indies Celebrity T20 Cricket Hurricane Irma/Maria Relief Benefit held at the university’s Cave Hill Campus in Barbados.

A portion of those funds has been designated to help rebuild Elmore Stoutt High School and replace lost computer equipment.

“We at UWI are excited about the way forward and discovering new areas of mutual cooperation in the months ahead,” she said.