Holy. This is described as “morally and spiritually excellent.” And indeed so it was at the University of the Southern Caribbean’s eighty-sixth graduation ceremony last Sunday. It was morally and spiritually excellent, embracing the intellectual achievements of 550 graduates from 33 academic programmes. With campuses around the Caribbean, the university’s leadership is mainly provided by a board of trustees headed by Dr Kern Tobias, principal Dr Hilary Bowman and Provost Dr Leon Wilson.
The USC first started in 1927 as East Caribbean Training School, then in 1947 became the Caribbean Training College, in 1956 the Caribbean Union College, in 1985 an alliance with Andrews University, then in 2006 as USC.
I was happy to witness how soothingly spirituality could add value to secular learning. USC is our first private, faith-based university here “determined to transform ordinary people into extraordinary servants of God to humanity.” Faced with an environment unduly toxic with puzzling selfishness and socio-economic uncertainties, this graduation ceremony was an inspiring celebration of what’s still so good in society.
Among the distinguished witnesses were Planning and Development Minister Camille Regis-Robinson, parliamentary secretary Maxie Cuffie, Deputy Speaker Esmond Forde and MP Fazal Karim. In a very inspiring address, USC president Dr Bowman urged graduates to use their university experience “to help make the world a better place, to show love, compassion and respect for others, not forgetting Jesus.” He advised: “Give service to help the dispossessed. You owe your conscience that.” His message of service is founded on the spiritual: “If I can help somebody as I pass along, then my living will not be in vain.”
Here, I reflected for a minute. Quite a few friends, even relatives and strangers have been telling me, “Professor, why yuh taking so much trouble advising dem people what to do. Yuh wasting time, dey doh take on anybody.” My answer, jokingly, now and again, is, “Well, I have my conscience to account to,” knowing full well that I am not alone.
Still fresh from the USC experience, I read a speech by the progressive San Fernando West Secondary School principal, Ronald Mootoo, whose words resonated with those from USC principal Dr Bowman. Mootoo told his 2019 graduates: “Our country needs you to put end to divisiveness and a lack of respect, low productively and a general malaise that are pervasive in our beautiful country.”
Not only does the USC “focus on the academic, but also on a holistic experience with the intellectual, moral, physical, social and spiritual that prepares students for lives of significance and service to the world”; this independent, faith-based university presents a strong argument for denominational-run educational institutions. In the never-ending debate over creation theory vs Darwinian evolution, USC clearly chooses the former and pledges community service as its gratitude. This spiritual commitment seemed willingly shared by the 550 graduates, who lustily sang along with another spiritual, “Walk on through the wind/Walk on through the rain/Though your dreams be tossed and blown/Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart/ And you’ll never walk alone.”
The commencement address was given by Guyana’s Minister of Education, Dr Nicolette Henry, whose own words followed those of USC president Dr Bowman: “service to humanity, hard work and sacrifice to achieve.”
All this – song, celebration and a well-tuned choir – inspired a realisation that with faith and effort our lives could be much better. I learnt all this not only because I witnessed last Sunday’s graduation ceremony. In my professional career, I have interviewed several USC graduates, and observed them at work too. They were special in attitude and performance. Further, I have been within USC service several times. I gave graduation addresses at USC, also delivered the Prof Simmons commemorative lecture at USC on the Psychology of Multiculturalism in a Democracy, and gave the research presentation on policing and public safety to formally open USC Week of Research.
On each occasion, I witnessed how religion – people’s faith in a mission – can enrich a secular curriculum, even for students of faiths other than Seventh-day Adventists. Indeed, it was, for a Sunday morning, an inspiration and a blessing to witness this holy graduation. And I am happy to share its message with you.