Minister for Education, the Honourable Sharie B. deCastro, Chair of the Board of Governors Professor Arthur Richardson, Permanent Secretary Dr. Marcia Potter, Members of the Board of Governors, Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Arlene Smith-Thompson, Vice President for Operations Dr. LuVerne Vanterpool-Baptiste, Members of the President’s Cabinet, Students, Faculty, and Staff. I am privileged to greet you at this year’s convocation ceremony.
As I’ve done before, I think it best to put today’s proceedings in context. For our purposes, convocation affords us a moment to bring us all together to mark the beginning of this new year, to welcome the newest members of this community of learning, to celebrate our achievements, and to recognise our patrons. Moving forward, it is my desire to confer the President’s and Dean’s Awards for our best-performing students at next year’s Convocation with the Student Assemblies held in the Spring. This is to ensure that Convocation is re-centred on the lifeblood of our institution – our students.
The College has changed tremendously over the past 32 years, but its core mission has not. I probably cannot put it better than the American polymath Benjamin Franklin, who said: “for the best return on your money, pour your purse into your head”. In a world of great and perilous change, one of the safest investments we can make is in the minds of the young.
Every student that passes through our gates creates an opportunity for us to impact their lives positively. It is essential therefore that we have the same expectations of ourselves that we have of them. We must be as committed to our own ongoing intellectual advancement before we admonish their attentions to their studies. As members of the academy, we must personify a dedication to the life of the mind and all that comes with it – namely, the sanctity and pursuit of truth, the advancement and improvement of knowledge, and the commitment to impart the merits of education to each generation that succeeds us.
I have lived my entire professional life in higher education, and I recognise the privilege that has afforded me, not just in providing me my livelihood, but also inculcating in me an innate desire to live a life balanced upon the foundation of those tenets I have articulated.
Before I continue, if you would indulge me, I wish to ask the faculty to stand. You are the people who keep HLSCC going, if students are the lifeblood, then the faculty are the arteries through which they must pass. I applaud you for the work you have undertaken, for your many unseen sacrifices, for each student you guided towards graduation. Thank you.
The principles I have identified deserve some measure of elaboration, as I intend to argue that they represent a sort of doctrine by which we must live our lives as scholars and operate this institution in a way that honours its founder and serves the needs of our wider community.
All around us, especially now, are examples of great falls – of people seduced by greed and power to use blatant deception as a means to gain both. Charlatans make unscrupulous, unmerited claims which weaponise our fears, our biases and prejudices against us. More and more, it is clear that the very objective reality of ‘truth’ is being fundamentally challenged. We live, unfortunately, in the post-truth era now where it seems that it does not matter when our eyes can show us when a leader lies once that leader is adept at manipulating the emotions and beliefs of their followers. But this is a poor kindle for the business of learning. We must inculcate in our students again the undiminishing value of the truth in this world. We must be assuaged that while we are each entitled to an opinion, nobody is entitled to their own facts. We must remember that it is okay to be wrong, okay to learn from our mistakes. The truth grants us this liberty, the freedom to correct our thinking, to revise, to adjust, to learn – to grow.
As I mention opinions, it is important to note that not all opinions are useful. Oscar Wilde says, “most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation”. As scathing an indictment as that is, Wilde is right in one sense. Most of our opinions have been given to us and not necessarily organically developed within ourselves based on our experience and education. Our job as educators is not to tell our students what to think, but to teach them how to think. With us, they are meant to learn skills that will bring them merit in whatever future environments they find themselves. To this end, we must first tell students the truth. Intelligence is something you can control, something you can improve. Knowing that we don’t know is an excitement, as we have identified something that we must now learn. Once you are committed to expending the time, the effort, and the energy you can improve your intellectual ability. You can get immeasurably better at thinking if you’re willing to practice thinking well. This has very little to do with the literal technical knowledge that students receive, and much more about an inherent intellectual awareness, the willingness to not accept our comfortable assumptions, and a profound desire to do the best we can with the knowledge available.
Therefore, we must constantly evaluate the knowledge we are transmitting to our students, we must assess our methods, our content, our programmes. To do this, our faculty need to be committed, not just to slavishly following the syllabus, but to research and explore more engaging and beneficial ways of designing our offerings to better serve the needs of the 21st century student. It is no use to have a curriculum that doesn’t know today’s date. Our students now are largely digital natives, perhaps a general education computer course needs to teach different skills. The gig economy requires entrepreneurs to be multifaceted, perhaps the traditionally siloed approach to academic programmes needs to be measured against potential inter- and transdisciplinary degrees.
It’s high time we started thinking big. We are now six years away from the end of this accreditation cycle – what sort of institution might we hope to grow into in that time?
The Chairman has already recapped the major accomplishments of the past year and the projected goals for the upcoming one. This year’s convocation theme is aligned to our new strategic plan, and it sets the tone for all of us over the next five years. The strategic objectives are listed as follows:
- Teaching & Learning
- Student Access & Success
- Community Relationships
- Organisational Development
- Resources & Facilities
- TEACHING & LEARNING
We recognise that online learning is here to stay. However, it is imperative that the existing structures for standards and quality control are utilised. We will continue to expand and improve online teaching through the continued investment in those resources having just this week moved our MOODLE operation to a server with increased bandwidth to better serve our students and faculty.
We are committed to providing opportunities to faculty to improve their performance. Whether this is in-house via the Institute of Education and the HR Department, or through resources accessed via professional membership, workshops, and conferences. We will always support the development of employees to the best of our abilities as this is a surefire way to improve student preparation for transfer or workforce entry. New policies governing professional development and travel will facilitate these specific objectives.
- STUDENT ACCESS & SUCCESS
We will continue to work to improve the extra-curricular activities available to students. To this end, we have made steps to procure a multisport court to be installed on the western lawn. This will enable our students to play volleyball, basketball, and futsal on a safe surface.
We also continue to invest in our student support systems, just today I have worked to complete the hire of a Student Success Coordinator to assist our students facing academic difficulty.
III. COMMUNITY & PARTNERSHIPS
The College is reliant on its many partners, donors, and patrons in order to fully fulfill its mission. We have worked on a number of projects and programmes already including a soon to be announced project with the Department of Disaster Management and the University of Portsmouth. This year we also became a Fulbright institution and launched the territory’s first full-scale literary festival. These are reputational investments that will pay off for the College in the long run.
I’m also pleased to announce here that the College has received a major gift in the form of an annual grant from the Unite BVI Foundation. This grant will service many unfunded needs of the institution including marine/maritime training and infrastructure, cultural and sporting activities, and teacher education.
- ORGANISATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
We continue to work to improve our internal assessment processes to better serve students. For example, upon review of course schedules, we realised that we need to better distribute courses throughout the week in order not to create undue pressure on our resources and clashing courses that do not help students complete their degree in a timely manner.
- RESOURCES & FACILITIES
It is our goal to revitalise the campus through the new master plan. This requires our financial capacity to be considerably improved. Thankfully, we have been raising grants and gifts at an historic rate, but there is a lot more to do if we hope to meet our 30-year projections.
We have come out of another challenging year, and the next one promises more of the same. Even so, our institution has survived greater storms, buffeted raging seas. Nevertheless, we strive on, our eyes firmly fixed on that golden sun rising on the horizon. Surely, our tomorrow begins today.
Thank you all, and God bless.