President David Granger: Thank you, please be seated. Chairperson of the Demerara-Mahaica Region, Ms. Genevieve Allen; Principal of President’s College, Ms. Carlyn Canterbury; Regional Education Officer, Ms. Lauren Par; Members of the Board of Governors of President’s College; members of staff; parents and guardians; President of the Student Body, Ms. Hooper; students; special invitees; members of the media.
It always makes me feel young to come here. I first entered Queen’s College when I was eleven, sixty-one years ago, (you didn’t hear that, in 1956); so coming here among all of you young people reminds me of my own entry into secondary school. Today we celebrate the 32nd anniversary of this College, which I would call the youngest princess among the queens.
A few days ago I was at Queen’s College which was established 173 years ago in 1844. So I think President’s College, being one of the youngest in the family, we had Saint Stanislaus College, The Bishops’ High School, St. Roses High, St. Joseph High, but being young doesn’t mean that you have to be the lowest or the slowest; it could mean that you could also be the best. So my own personal recollection of entering secondary school is mixed with my pride in being here as patron of the youngest of the queens; youngest of the leading secondary schools in Guyana.
I’m very happy to be here to hear again. What sometimes many people in this country do not hear, the other schools, the leading secondary schools tend to be concentrated in Georgetown but being here at Golden Grove people regard you all as rural country, but the sprit you have is central to our vision for this country; for the whole country. There is nothing about hinterland here; there is nothing about being rustic, there is nothing about being backward. Everything about President’s College is about leading this country forward and I asked the Principal for a copy of the credo; as you know, credo is the Latin word which means- I believe. It is your creed, it is what you believe and it is important to have a credo; of course it is important to believe what you are actually saying, not just repeating the words, but you have to believe in those very words, your credo.
And in this regard I would like to refer you to another Latin word. You know people use Latin because the meaning doesn’t change. Latin is an old language that people used two thousand years ago but people use Latin words because the meaning doesn’t change. It is frozen in time, so my own secondary school, we still have a school song; it is written in Latin; the name of the school Reginae Collegium and of course the school song, “Laude gratemur scholae, Nostrae conditores”: we remember that because the meaning doesn’t change. But a particular word which is important for you to remember comes from the Latin word diˈsīpəl; diˈsīpəl refers to a disciple; you know Jesus had disciples – twelve disciples; of course you know one of them let him down; one of them betrayed him, he ended up with eleven. But a disciple is not only a follower but it is also a student and a disciple should evince the qualities of discipline and discipline comes from the same word diˈsīpəl – discipline, disciple.
So you, as students, must inculcate or the teachers must inculcate in you that value of discipline if you are to be a good follower, a good disciple and I just want to leave some of those words with you; not all of them are in Latin. We use Latin all the time and we don’t even know; I see people being referred to as ‘alumnus’ – that is a Latin word meaning a student; particularly in English language now we speak of alumnus as being a former student and we used to refer to the word alumina as being a female student but nowadays we call everybody alumna – unisex, everybody is one sex you know, but an alumnus is a former student; again we use Latin and that doesn’t change, but let me come back to the word diˈsīpəl.
When I was in school we studied Latin and the teacher would address us in Latin and when he comes into the class he’d say Salvē! And we’d say, “Salve tu quoque magister”. Salvē! is the greeting and we’d say, “We greet you also teacher”. He’d say, “Sede” which means sit down and we’d say, “Tibi gratias ago tibi domine diversi generis multa nimis”, thank you very much sir. So a lot of our Latin class was actually conducted in that way but people don’t worry with that anymore, but the point I would like to make is that it is important for the notion of discipline to be inculcated because your conduct is the most important part of your credo.
You know secondary school education takes place at a critical and sensitive time of your life; when you are discovering all sorts of emotional and perhaps social experiences and that is the time of your life when you are most excitable, that you need the most discipline because to come to President’s College, your parents have to make sacrifices. You have to achieve a certain academic level at your National Grade Six Assessment and within the space of six or seven years you have to achieve some other benchmarks; some other criteria, some other qualifications. So if within this six or seven year period you do not have the discipline; you do not have the common sense to adopt to a certain code of conduct, it could damage the rest of your life. It could damage the rest of your life, so this is an important part of your life and I urge, first, that you understand the need for discipline.
And in my school, I had the benefit of going to a ‘boys’ school’. I don’t know if that is a benefit at all, because when you look around you see some pretty faces, you say, I wish I had gone to a co-ed school, so you can see some beauty; no point looking at boys whole day and I’m sure that girls will feel the same; no point looking at girls all day. In those days Bishops’ was a girls school, so QC boys had to ride half way across town to see the other half of the population, but today both sides of the population are represented right here in Golden Grove. But what it meant to us is that discipline did not have to be enforced by the teachers with wild canes. Discipline came from your peers, your equals and sometimes it would just take a look; it would just take a look from the other students in the class for you to know that your behaviour or conduct was out of order.
So discipline did not have to be imposed by harsh punishment from the teachers but it came from yourself, from your peers and of course from what took place in your home. So years after you left school, as I have done, you know, over fifty years ago you still have that idea of discipline which was inculcated while you were in school. So everything around you, you will learn to cherish and I particularly welcome the newcomers who have passed National Grade Six Assessment and are here for the first time and I say goodbye to those who would be leaving us, who would have passed their CXC or CAPE. But you’ll always remember what I just heard, the purple blood – you will always remember the school colours and the school tie.
You will always remember your duty; that it’s your obligation to do what you ought to do; not what you are told to do, but what you ought to do. Your behaviour, is your behaviour, is your conduct appropriate? Which school did you go to? That is one of the first things that you ask an adult. Which school did you really go to? When you see the person behaving in a certain way and you can tell to a large extent which school that person went to by his or her behaviour because of the prevailing values of conduct in the school. Respect for one another – and that is one of the benefits of going to a co-educational school; that boys learn to respect girls and girls learn to respect boys and teachers learn to respect boys and girls – to respect property.
Many schools are not like President’s College, many schools do not have the infrastructure, the physical resources of President’s College. In fact, you are quite lucky and one of these days perhaps you will discover how much it costs to keep one student at President’s College compared to keeping a student at St. Joseph’s or anywhere else – you all expensive bad, you all expensive. So coming out of that conduct must be the respect for the property you have here, your grounds, your laboratories, your dormitories, your libraries and as your Principal has said, you know, I have committed to assisting wherever I could to maintain the high standards of President’s College but a lot of it depends on your own conduct. You have to care for the infrastructure and for the facilities and utilities of this school.
The second thing I would like to leave with you concerns your culture. Do not believe that this credo, the school song, the school motto, the commitment to excellence is just ornamental; just superficial. They are very deep values which you’ll keep for the rest of your lives; there is something like a President’s College culture and throughout your adult life you’ll remember the values, you’ll remember the culture, the songs, the friendship, the camaraderie, the sports, the daily activities that you participated in. All of that forms part of the President’s College culture and if some of you were to come back as teachers and if some of you are to go to other institutions you will try to inculcate those same values, those same cultural values, in your students; in your peers- the people with whom you work.
So don’t disparage sport, don’t disparage clubs, don’t disparage College traditions; all of these help to form the third word that I will leave with you, that is, character. A character refers to the moral qualities which we possess as human beings; qualities of integrity. You know, sometimes you speak of somebody with a bad character; he’s a thief man, a thief man – bad character. Equally, people can have a good character in which they display the qualities of integrity. So no matter which office you go to as a Headmistress or a Principal, as a Minister of the Government, as President of the country, as the General Manager of an enterprise, as a private entrepreneur, you will remember that your character has been formed on the bases of integrity and identity; that as somebody who went to President’s College, nobody mustn’t come to you and say “How come you smoking cocaine boy?” How come you become such a bad character?
It comes back to character and when you look at the school’s motto, strive for excellence, you will realise that there is no place in anything that you have learnt in this school for people of bad character. So what you are undergoing here is the best form of upbringing that any Guyanese student could enjoy. And finally, I would like to leave another word with you and that word is “country”. Again, I’m very impressed with the frequent references to Guyana. You know from time to time, as you grow up you may find yourself going to other countries. Guyana has a huge diaspora. When I go to North America I say “You know, Guyana is divided in two, half living in North America, half living in South America”. So when we have seven hundred and fifty thousand Guyanese here and, believe me, we have seven hundred and fifty thousand Guyanese outside; the real population is 1.5 million.
Yesterday you would have seen from the newspapers, I received the Letters of Accreditation from the Canadian High Commissioner. She said there are two hundred thousand Guyanese in Canada alone and now we have had the storm in the Caribbean and every island that has been touched, Guyanese get touch, Saint. Kitts and Nevis, Tortola, British Virgin Islands, Cuba, The Bahamas, Antigua and Bermuda. There is a huge Guyana diaspora, but the country that we live in is a fantastic country. Guyana is the biggest CARICOM State; it is bigger than any other island in the Caribbean, bigger than Cuba, bigger than Puerto Rico.
Guyana is the most beautiful CARICOM State; it is the most bountiful CARICOM State. We have scores of islands in the Essequibo; the three largest islands, Leguan, Wakenaam and Hogg Island, are the size of the British Virgin Islands. So we are a country of islands. We are a country of grasslands, the intermediate savannahs in Berbice and the Rupununi Savannahs. The Rupununi Savannahs alone are bigger than Costa Rica. The Rupununi Savannahs are bigger than the Republic of Costa Rica. We have wetlands from which our famous Canje Pheasant come. We have the highlands which most of you have never seen; some of them when you stay afar off all you can see is clouds because they are so high, so cold, so cool. We have the most beautiful waterfalls in the world, scores of them, some of them you don’t even know by name or even recognise.
We have powerful rivers; most of them running from south to north emptying into the Atlantic- most of them run from south to north. And I don’t know if they have shared out some books, some exercise books. Anyhow, if you don’t get them now, you will get them later. We have some exercise books with the Giants of Guyana… Let President’s College see what the giants are like. These exercise books which I give to you free, why you laugh? I’m the patron of President’s College, so when you check your dictionary you will see the connection between patron and patronage and of course patronage comes from the word patron, which means “father”, but I don’t have so much pickney.
But when you look at that exercise book cover, you’ll see twenty of the rarest animals on earth, not in Demerara- Mahaica or Essequibo – on earth. The largest freshwater fish on earth is the Arapaima; the largest snake in the world is the Anaconda – comes from Guyana. The largest anteater in the world comes from Guyana. The largest rodent in the world comes from Guyana. The largest eagle in the world comes from Guyana. The largest spider in the world comes from Guyana. So this is a country to love and to possess and that is why when I was here last year and that is why, as your Principal mentioned, I will continue to support Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) throughout this country and in fact after my first visit here at President’s College I was determined to create a special financial allocation called the NEST- The National Endowment for Science and Technology, and I think President’s College was the beneficiary of part of that endowment.
I will keep helping President’s College to make sure that, especially in the teaching of Science and Technology, the laboratories and the availability of laboratory equipment and more importantly the availability of staff should be the recipients of the best possible funding so that when you leave here; I like the songs, I like the dances … songs and dances are good but I want highways and bridges. I want to see people coming out, students coming out of President’s College who also are interested in protecting our biodiversity. These animals that you see on these exercise books, they live in our forest, they live in our swamps, they live in our grasslands and as I might have told you before, the Amerindians have a saying, “The trees hold up the sky; if you cut down the trees, the sky will fall”; so that is one reason why we speak of conservation of our forest, the protection of our forest, because the forest help to protect our biodiversity.
Guyana is located almost at the heart of what is known as the Guiana Shield. The Guiana Shield runs from Colombia in the west right through to French Guiana, what people call Cayenne, and it includes part of Brazil. So the Guiana Shield includes parts of Columbia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana and Brazil but that whole area is bigger than Greenland; look on the map and you see Greenland and the Guyana Shield is bigger than Greenland. The Guiana Shield is part of the lungs of the earth.
We help the earth to breathe, Guyana helps the earth to breathe because we absorb carbon dioxide. We absorb more carbon dioxide than we emit. We absorb carbon dioxide, some of the noxious gases. We are a source for fresh water. I once spoke to a certain diplomat from a foreign country. I can’t name the country; he went away and he’s back in a week; I say, “Why you back so soon?” “Fresh air”, fresh air, so these are important values and qualities which emerge from our biodiversity. So it is not a joke; when I speak of the environment people say, “What is he going on about now?” The ‘green state’ and when I speak of the ‘green state’, I mean a country that protects its biodiversity, protects its environment, establishes protected areas, protects its rain forest and ensures that there are practices for solid waste disposal which ensure that our solid waste does not become an environmental hazard.
You know, sometimes people all over the country, they have malaria; they get filaria which some of us know as ‘bigfoot’; they get dengue fever; some of them now get chikungunya and other forms of diseases which are vector-borne. What are vectors? Mosquitoes are vectors; they carry disease. Where do these mosquitoes breed? Stagnant pools. The people who like to collect old tires – mosquitoes realise that old tires have been there for six months, six years, they start to breed there. So most of the mosquitoes start carrying disease; so although we almost eliminated malaria, fifty or sixty years ago, it is now coming back because of poor environmental practices. So all of this comes under the umbrella of a ‘green state’ and I want all of you, despite your purple uniforms, to accept that necessity for making Guyana a ‘green state’, helping to protect our biodiversity, helping to keep us safe. So you have inherited a rare and precious gift from your parents and grandparents and I urge you, regardless of your affection for culture, for poetry, for song and dance and music to also bear in mind the necessity for Guyana to become a more scientifically conscious country in order to protect its biodiversity.
Boys and girls, I’m very happy to be here to celebrate this 32nd anniversary with you. This College was established with very high ideals in order to achieve a high standard of academic performance and you are proud to aim at excellence; but in aiming at excellence, I urge you to remember these watchwords.
Your credo which represents your core beliefs; your culture and wherever you go after you leave the walls and the halls of President’s College, look out for the alumni, not only those of your generation, but those who went before you and those who will be coming after you. Maintain the character, the pride of having been here at President’s College, your good conduct and discipline that good with that good conduct and, most of all, this beautiful country which God has given us, the Cooperative Republic of Guyana.
May God bless you and happy anniversary to you all!