An animated Dr. Delroy Jefferson enlivened the crowd Thursday night (05/11), as he addressed the 2020 graduating class of the University College of the Cayman Islands at its commencement.
Jefferson recounted his poor childhood in Jamaica and the Spanish teacher who once told him, “At this rate, you’re not going to amount to anything.”
Now the medical director of the Health Services Authority, Jefferson holds advanced degrees in medicine and business and is pursuing two law degrees. He told the graduates his success is due to circumnavigation and stick-to-itiveness.
About 150 graduates in a class of just over 200 listened as he addressed the annual ceremony, which was limited in size due to Covid-19 restrictions. Also among the crowd were family members, university faculty and Cayman dignitaries, including Gov. Martyn Roper and Premier Alden McLaughlin. The programme was punctuated by videotaped performances by the UCCI dance troupe and the Williams Quartet. UCCI President and CEO Stacy McAfee, Board of Governors Chairman Mark Scotland, Ministry of Education acting Chief Officer Lyneth Monteith and Valedictorian Kimberly Czantal S.J. Tigley also spoke to the gathering.
“In a time of crisis,” Jefferson said in his speech, “one has to rely on one’s inner resilience.”
That has been true of this year’s Covid-19 pandemic, he said, but it is also true of the obstacles faced in life. He told the audience about his experience of being shut out of A-level classes when he was a student because administrators determined he lacked the resources to succeed. He went anyway.
“I went and sat in the class,” he said.
He was kicked out. But he went back the next day and kept doing so, despite repeated removals.
“I wore them down,” he said, with a large grin. “After about two months, I was registered as student in the class. That’s the definition of stick-to-itiveness.”
Obstacles that can’t be bulldozed through, he said, require circumnavigation.
After telling the students how he hid behind the banana trees when the school bus went by -- because he didn’t want his classmates to know he didn’t have the 20-cent fare and had to walk -- he implored them to support and mentor those following in their paths.
“Reach out a helping hand,” said Jefferson, who devotes a month each year to providing medical and educational support to those in impoverished areas around the globe. “You may just find a future nurse, a future doctor who is hiding behind that proverbial banana tree, who could use your hand.”
The theme of this year’s graduation ceremony was “Embracing Change, Exceeding Expectations.” But the impact of Covid-19, which has been inescapable during 2020, permeated every speech.
“What a year 2020 has been,” said Gov. Roper, mentioning not only the virus, but the January earthquake, near misses from hurricanes, the Sahara dust storm and a major dump fire. “There aren’t many upsides to going through a pandemic. But the resilience and innovation that everyone on these islands has shown led to changes in accessibility to many services, including higher education. Those changes will be with us forever.”
Premier McLaughlin said the multiple crises this year were examples of how one’s best plans can be derailed by uncontrollable events.
“Be focused, set goals and make an earnest effort to achieve them,” McLaughlin said, but be ready to adjust. “You’re going to run into the reality of that thing called life and, really, that’s not such a bad thing. Life is change, embrace it.”
Several speakers mentioned the progress UCCI has made since opening 45 years ago as a tiny community college with only a handful of night classes. President McAfee said its growth into a multi-faceted university college with over 1,600 students was something to be celebrated. She also talked about the challenges 2020 brought, which included moving to virtual platforms in order to continue to provide classes.
“You are the class that refused to give up,” she said.
McAfee talked about struggling with the specter of an empty campus once teeming with students and how she was “the happiest person in Cayman,” when in-person instruction started up again in September. But, she said, the year’s events have changed things in Cayman and beyond.
“Although you are encountering a very different world than the one that you anticipated,” she said, “we need you. What we need now are people who are thinkers. We need those who can look at the world and make choices based on realities and logic.”
In congratulating the students, Board Chairman Scotland said they not only had to overcome the challenges the year brought, but that they had also benefited from changes and improvements to UCCI, many of which were made possible by increased governmental support. He encouraged the graduates to remain involved with the campus as it continues to implement future changes.
“Even though you are graduating,” Scotland said. “You are a part of that future. Let’s all continue to work together to build a brighter future for UCCI and the Cayman Islands, and the sky can be the limit.”