The University College of the Cayman Islands honoured 170 students Thursday (Sept. 30) evening at its annual convocation. The students were recognized for making either the Dean’s or President’s lists, or both, during the 2020-2021 academic year.
“We celebrate your commitment and excellence,” said President and CEO Stacy McAfee, addressing the gathering in Sr. Vassel Johnson Hall and telling them they were a rare group in terms of the Covid-19 pandemic. “You may be the only group of students who have had the opportunity to spend an entire year studying on campus.”
To make the Dean’s List, McAfee said, students much have a GPA of 3.5 or higher in a given semester. Those with a 3.75 GPA, or higher, are named to the President’s List.
McAfee went on to highlight some of the positive gains UCCI has made since the start of her tenure in 2019, including increased numbers for enrolment, philanthropy and scholarship awards.
Education Minister Julianna O’Connor-Connolly appeared via a pre-recorded video. She made the announcement that it is the goal of the current government to offer free college education within the next four years. In recent months, she said, the ministry has increased its support for overseas scholarships.
“We have enhanced some of our existing scholarship offerings and implemented additional funding opportunities so that bright and industrious Caymanians like you can continue on your upward trajectory,” O’Connor-Connolly said.
Another governmental leader, Tourism and Transport Minister Kenneth Bryan, also addressed the gathering. Bryan spoke in the role of a UCCI alumnus.
“It wasn’t very long ago that I was sitting where you are right now,” Bryan told the students.
He recalled coming to UCCI to work on a certificate in accounting, but then being inspired when he took one of Livingston Smith’s political science courses.
“Dr. Smith helped me understand how my political science classes related to my local issues in my community,” he said. The courses “sparked my vision for leadership.”
Bryan encouraged the students to be flexible on their educational journeys.
“Being willing to explore detours and embrace change often leads you to pursue opportunities you might not have thought about or imagined,” he said.
A new award was established at the convocation. For the first time, top faculty members were honoured, based on the results of a student survey.
The inaugural Student’s Choice Outstanding Faculty Awards went to MoniKa Lawrence, Emilia Andaya, Susanne Palmer and Selgin Amador.
The convocation had been scheduled earlier in the school year but was delayed several times by storms and by the recent community outbreak of Covid-19 cases. Because of Covid-19 restrictions, the gathering Thursday was limited to 100 people. Others were able to view the ceremony via livestream.
The event was just one of several award ceremonies held at UCCI this week. On Wednesday, the school presented privately funded, largely needs-based scholarships to 68 students at two afternoon events. One was dedicated to recipients of Community Engagement Program scholarships.
McAfee called the events a “celebration of the generosity of our community partners.”
More than $100,000 was donated by such organizations as Information Technology, Sterling Security Solutions, Cayman Water Authority, Cisco and Progressive Distributors and Beverley and Tom Simpson. The Simpsons are sole funders of the CEP, which distributed $50,000 in need-based scholarships. Tom Simpson is a former member of the UCCI Board of Governors.
“When I came here and became part of the board, I said, ‘Where is the needs-based scholarship program?’” he recalled. “It didn’t exist.”
So, he and his wife, Beverley, established the CEP, pledging $50,000 for each of its first four years.
“Anybody who wants to go to university should have access,” Tom Simpson said. “That’s why we’re quite happy to provide this money.”
McAfee said needs-based support is crucial for college students and UCCI is no exception.
“So many times, I have seen students forced to curtail or delay their goals of earning a degree or certification because of financial reasons,” McAfee said. “I am proud to stand with the Simpsons today and thank them for helping us to remove one of the obstacles that exists for many. We hope together that we will build contributions to this programme so that financial need won’t be an issue anymore and that anyone who wants to can attend UCCI.”
Peter Reilly, VP of Public Engagement and Technology for Cayman Enterprise City was on hand for the Information Technology scholarships and seemed to sum up the thoughts of the other donors.
“We see this as the future of Cayman,” said Reilly, after Information Technology presented five students with scholarships. “We want to help as many Caymanians as possible.
McAfee told the honourees their awards came with certain responsibilities.
“Your actions will inspire others to give through this programme so that more students like yourselves have a means to succeed at UCCI,” she said. “Your job today is the help spread the word, that if you have a way to give, give to UCCI. We hope together we will build a better Cayman. “