Distinguished guests, members of the Board of Governors, my friends and colleagues on the faculty and staff, our indomitable students, donors, and corporate partners, fellow alumni, community members, supporters, and to all those joining us virtually; my sincere thanks to you for choosing to spend this moment with us today as we celebrate H. Lavity Stoutt Community College. I am honoured by your support, your trust, and your presence today.
Thank you to the eloquent speakers who preceded me today, and for your kind words of encouragement and congratulations.
Last year, we celebrated thirty years of this institution, twenty-six years ago this campus opened on this absolutely magical piece of land, and today it is a wondrous feeling to be standing before you twenty-three years after I walked onto this campus for the first time as a student.
Before I continue, I must recognise the incredible work performed by the investiture committee, our donors, facilities, staff, and vendors who have put today’s programme and events together. Please join me in giving them a round of applause.
In the months since my selection as president, I have relied on you all in every way possible. I reserve special gratitude to past presidents O’Neal and Dawson who have extended every courtesy and support as I pick up the mantle they have carried before me.
I thank also my regional colleagues as well as my supervisors from my almae matres for their kind words of congratulations and encouragement. I have no doubt that if not for these mad times in which we live that you would have been present.
Thank you to my mentors and teachers, many of whom are here today: Dr. Sauda Smith, Dr. Almein O’Neal, Dr. Patricia Turnbull, Mrs. Verna Penn Moll, Mrs. Jennie Wheatley, Mr. Cedric Turnbull, Professor Emerita Sharon Harris, Professor Matthew Francis, Dr. Sam Solomon, and Dr. Denise deCaires Narain. Without these several guides holding my hand, my journey could not have brought my feet to this podium.
Lastly, I must give heartfelt thanks to my family. My parents Will and Esther, who instilled in me a faith rooted in wonder, a reverence for curiosity, for learning, for the written word, and a deep appreciation and understanding of the eternal bonds of family. I thank my siblings Ron and Amanda for looking out for me in their own way these four decades, they still remain convinced I’ve been completely spoiled. Thank you for inspiring me and encouraging me to forge my own path. Thanks to my Uncle Mike and Aunt Celia, for opening your home to an eleven-year-old nephew with coke bottle glasses, a bop, and an afro. Most importantly, thanks to my wife Tavia – your quiet, steady, and firm support has kept me grounded for a decade. You are the foundation upon which every aspect of me rests. Thanks also to our girls, who inspire me to come to work every day to build a better future for them and every other child in this Territory.
Before I begin my address, I thank God for every waking moment, for every victory, and for every trial, my prayer remains the same on the mountaintop as it is in the valley: I pray for clarity and for guidance, I pray my tongue never grows weary with gratitude for the countless blessings bestowed.
Let me begin, by examining the symbol of the institution. In it, we hope to find meaning and purpose, the unspoken values that drive us forward in its name.
The College’s logo is a green and gold seal designed by Reuben Vanterpool in collaboration with Mrs. Eileene L. Parsons and Chief Minister H. Lavity Stoutt. A radiant sun rises from below the horizon illuminating a seagull in flight, and a Tortola sloop buffeting the whitecaps. This image captures the marine identity of these islands, of the bravery of the seafarer, of the resilience of the gull miles away from rest, and the glorious sun that shines above it all.
I can think of no better iconography that captures the spirit of the Territory and the spirit of this institution. The waters may be rough at times, but we navigate them together with the same faith that resides in the breast of the seagull, that we will always find our way home, that that brilliant sun will always rise again to illuminate the truth.
Below the logo, within a white band is the motto of this College: Our Tomorrow Begins Today. Say that out loud with me: Our. Tomorrow. Begins. Today. My friends, today we need to embrace these four words.
This motto has inhabited my spirit since I first read and internalised them. The motto is aspirational and inclusive. We can read the ‘our’ here as the those who come here to study. If so, clearly, the College is providing education which then functions as the key to their individual tomorrows. The College has been a launchpad for more than six thousand graduates. Many have entered society to contribute and continue to build this Territory to our benefit.
But this motto is not just a statement of fact, this is not just where you begin. The motto of the College requires commitment, it requires hard work, it requires vision, it requires urgency. Our tomorrow begins today only if we have the courage to move from a state of inertia and rest to a state of movement and purpose. Tomorrow only begins today if we are ready and willing to work for it.
Today is urgent. Today is present. We have no choice but to live in it, and so we must understand that it is who we are and what we do today that will determine who we will be tomorrow.
I need not here dilate on the litany of trials and challenges the College and the Territory have faced, history has recorded them. We have no way of knowing the state of the seas we set sail in, we have to set our trust in ourselves, in our preparations, and for the guidance, we receive from above.
Friends, for all of us, now more than ever, it is essential that our tomorrow truly begins today.
I arrive at the helm of HLSCC at an incredibly pivotal moment. As I stated at this year’s convocation, HLSCC has moved out of its period of recovery and now is in a state of discovery.
Allow me a few minutes to outline how special an institution this is. According to the New York Times, in 2020 freshman enrollment in American higher education was down 16.1% in universities and 22.7% at community colleges. In 2020, HLSCC’s enrollment grew 12% from 2019 having also grown that year by 12% from 2018.
In addition to the quality liberal arts and science education we have always offered, in Fall 2019 the College took firm steps to reinstate our culinary arts programme, and bringing our hospitality programme under the same umbrella with new leadership. The team over there has already been making wonders. Also in 2019, the College launched the Marine Professional Training programme thanks to our collaborations with marine industry stakeholders and partners. And just ten days ago, we celebrated the launch of the solar technician training programme.
An essential component of any new professional training at the College is the assurance that an internationally recognised certification will be conferred. The culinary and hospitality students who graduate from HLSCC are eligible for guaranteed acceptance at Johnson & Wales University to pursue their bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Our marine students receive American Boat and Yacht Council, the Royal Yachting Association, and the Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping qualifications. Lastly, our latest programme, the Solar Technician Training Programme at the Caribbean Energy Institute will provide successful students with certifications from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Council for Construction Education and Research, the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners, and the Class E electrician’s license from the BVI Government.
We are firm believers that providing this level of credentialing equips our students with the tools to change lives. Our donors agree. Since 2019, gifts and grants have overwhelming went towards scholarships in the programmes above, creating access to training opportunities for BVIslanders and Belongers. Grants have also funded the establishment of the incredibly successful mangrove nursery project, which to date, is responsible for the transplanting of over 700 new seedlings.
In 2019, the College received just under $25,000 in gifts and grants. In 2020, that figure rose to just under half a million dollars. This year, we are on track towards at least $800,000 in gifts and grants. Please join me in thanking the College’s partners, sponsors, supporters, and corporate donors with a round of applause.
Institutions across the globe have been laying off faculty during the pandemic. Guilford College closed eleven programmes and laid off twenty tenured professors. After receiving a $22 million cut in state funding, San Francisco State laid off 8 percent of its staff, 131 people. As much as was possible, HLSCC has been able to ensure that our faculty and staff keep working, and we’ve even added to the College family.
It is not enough to give our students degrees and certificates. Recent history has taught us that it is imperative that we expose our students to different cultures and experiences, to teach them how to think critically, to separate fact from fiction, to see the humanity of their neighbours, and most of all we must teach them the intellectual curiosity and love of life-long learning required to ensure our agility to operate in new ways in a changing world.
We must teach them again, of the ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit our ancestors possessed, how in the ashes of the plantation era they raised up a humble society that valued hard work, faith, and the courage to forge their own path.
As our institution is young, the presidency is a small fellowship. Already I have discovered the many challenges and pressures that come with the responsibilities of this office. As much as possible, I will strive to lead with compassion, and above all, to treat everyone fairly and as transparently as possible.
The College’s vision is to become a regional institution of choice for higher education. Looking forward, we have designs on leveraging our programmes towards attracting international students. This is a lofty aim and will require much work on our part to ensure that it becomes a reality. It requires partnerships with the private sector, it requires support from the government, it requires trust, it requires vision.
It is time for this College to grow into that vision with purpose. We do not want to be larger for larger’s sake. Instead, we want to offer our programmes where they are needed while at the same time diversifying our current student body and their experience.
We thank the government for realising the gift of the Cripps family of 120 acres, as well as for an additional 28 acres. We have also been promised new lands in Virgin Gorda upon which to build a campus. This boon of land positions the institution incredibly well to dream bigger than it ever has.
I have presented the Board with my objectives for the next two years. My heart is fortified, my mind is focused, and my steps shall be guided in their fulfilment. These are the highlighted objectives:
- First: Develop plans to diversify the College’s revenue and inculcate a culture of planning and resource management. The College has often heard in the past that it should do less with more. I believe that is an unacceptable standard. I will do my best to ensure that the College can strengthen its financial standing to levels thatmatch its aspirations while ensuring that we are fastidious stewards of the resources entrusted to us.
- Second: In recent years, many of our facilities have felt the strain of constrained resources. Already we have begun to work on the improvement of the buildings and the grounds. We will not be satisfied until, once more we have campuses that our students, faculty, and staff are proud to call home. This year we will be revising our Campus Master Plan, and start planning for capital projects.
- Third: Develop technical training offerings, specifically in construction trades through facilitating the pursuit of HLSCC’s accreditation by the National Council for Construction Education and Research. We must respect the trades and therefore provide education of a standard worthy of praise.
- Fourth: Continue to invest in and support the teaching and learning process. This past year, we had to train the entire faculty for online delivery. Two years ago, we adopted our digital textbooks and other educational resources. Now is the time for that preparation to be leveraged against local and international needs and desires for online education. We will invest in our classrooms, our information technology, and most importantly our people.
- Finally: Raise the College’s international profile. Reputation is more powerful than cash. By partnering with exemplary institutions, and by joining esteemed scholarly programmes, the College will begin to establish itself as an institution invested in excellence.
My friends, I said before that our tomorrow begins today. With these ambitious targets, we must roll up our sleeves and work together, with the board, administration, faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community members and meet ambition with grit and generosity.
It is time for us to begin to give back to an institution that has given us much.
Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.” Nowhere is this truer than at HLSCC. I am living proof of that seed planted twenty-three years ago. Nurtured by the many minds that raised me to this day of harvest.
Today, we each have an opportunity to plant a seed, to begin a pledge to HLSCC.
I will make my own pledge to you.
Being chosen to lead this institution is a privilege and a great responsibility that I do not take lightly.
I will listen. I will communicate with vigor, urgency, and sincerity. My goal will be to increase understanding wherever possible, to retain self-respect and love for each other in our dealings, and to respect the loyalty, dedication, and quality of our faculty and staff.
Be assured that I will do my best to fulfil all the duties of this office with dignity, with reverence, and a dedication to fairness and the betterment of H. Lavity Stoutt Community College and the Territory it serves.
I only ask of you that you commit with me to be engaged in daily deliberation of a single question, what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described as life’s persistent and most urgent question: What are you doing for others?
I ask that you stand with me, even though we will not always agree, committed to making our College a better place every day for our students and for the community.
It is only through us all working together, committed to making that vision reality, will HLSCC be afforded the best possible chance to be better.
Lastly, I ask for your prayers. That I may be guided by the divine wisdom, that my tongue be sharpened or tempered as needed, that I do or do not in accordance with what is fair and right and just.
You have called me to the Presidency this day. To guide, to lead, to counsel, to steward. You have asked me to preserve traditions and values, but also to chart a new path into the future. I stand on the shoulders of the previous presidents, I benefit from the support this College has received from the current and past boards. I have been called to steady the keel and fill the sail of that sloop on our green seal. To plot a path through the choppy seas, chasing the wing of the seagull, and the sun, rising always over our backs lighting the way we must go.