A keynote speech everyone should hear

ISSL Graduation Class of 2013

On Wednesday, June 26, the International School St Lucia held its seventh Graduating Ceremony at the Bay Gardens Hotel, with parents, staff and invited guests gathered to celebrate the achievements of the Grade 12 Class of 2013. The occasion felt all the more significant as ISSL has not had an easy year, with the recession continuing to affect student enrollments and the increasing cost of maintaining the standards of this unique centre of academic excellence in St Lucia. As with all ISSL recognition ceremonies, the evening was firmly in the hands of the students, with Grade 11 MCs Isla Du Boulay and Dylan Charles hosting, and many presentations from the graduates.

After the National Anthem of St Lucia and a prayer and invocation from Mr Keith Bloodworth, there were welcoming words from the International School Board of Governors, and Mrs Martine Johnson brought a message of commitment to the continuing vision of ISSL. The three-pronged strategy to success depends on the students who choose to learn and put their effort into working hard, on the highly skilled teachers whose mission it is to find every kid’s strengths and passions, and to ignite the flame of a desire to learn. The support of parents and family is the third prong, and Mrs Johnson particularly thanked those families in the audience who not only struggle to pay for a private education for their children, but who stay involved with the school and their son or daughter’s progress toward success.

Then it was the turn of graduate Brandon Campbell to introduce a well-produced video by classmate Jean Claude Mathurin, which thanked the ISSL staff and teachers through photos and heartfelt quotes from the Class of 2013. The collaborative relationship between students of ISSL and their teachers is a key differentiator of the school’s methods in that there are no ‘extra lessons’, but teachers make sure they are available to work through difficulties or give additional assignments to students who seek them out. By identifying each student’s preferred learning method and equipping them with skills to manage their time, plan ahead, research, study and collaborate to produce their best work, ISSL’s teachers play a huge role in the personal success of each one.

The inspired choice of Dr. Jacqui Bird-Compton to deliver the key note address did not disappoint, and the island’s most respected pediatrician and child welfare advocate made an impassioned plea to the 18 graduates to figure out what they each could bring to the world as the UN Millenium Goals project winds towards its 2015 milestone.

According to Population Bureau’s 2013 fact sheet on World Youth, nearly 90 percent of the world’s 1.8 billion youth (aged 10 -24) live in developing countries like St Lucia, and almost 20 percent of those are under 10 years old, so the question posed to the Class of 2013 was “what do you have to offer your future world?” Dr. Bird seized on the Community Service element of the ISSL diploma which requires every student to complete a minimum of 40 hours of voluntary work in the community, and the co-founder of RISE St Lucia painted a stark and troubling picture of the plight of children in our country.

“What if the 50,000 youth that we have in that age group in St Lucia were not headaches? What if one in five boys didn’t bring a weapon to school in this country? What if the murder rate was less than I know that you know it is?” asked Dr. Bird, offering a long list of statistics to chill the heart and head. “What if young people started wearing helmets every time they got on a motorbike, and stopped drinking and driving, and wore seatbelts and stopped drag racing? What if injuries and accidents were no longer one of the main causes of death in teenagers in St Lucia?”

“What if 63 percent of you didn’t use alcohol and 14 percent marijuana? What if you were not the fastest rising group of new HIV infections? What if a teenage girl didn’t have every 6th pregnancy? What if we weren’t reporting the highest youth unemployment statistics (in the Caribbean), and what if all youngsters were not fast going down a road of adult lifestyle diseases? And last but by no means least, what if our youth didn’t have serious mental health issues— depression, anxiety, rage, suicide?”

Dr. Bird added that none of these statistics should shock the audience, if they listen to the news or are on Facebook, and she stressed the scale of the youth health crisis faced by St Lucia as more teenagers and young adults embrace risky and life-threatening behaviours. As if the ‘top six youth killers’ most engaged in by the youth of St Lucia for pleasure were not distressing enough, Dr. Bird concluded with a bleak outline of the diminishing numbers of children effectively learning and remaining in education, and the rising trend of young people leaving school unprepared for the workplace and consequently failing to find employment or a sustainable career path.

Calling the ISSL graduates “the most fortunate I know,” Dr. Bird pointed out the many advantages they could draw on to make a difference in their future world. Caring and supportive teachers, positive adult role models, effective family and community support and readily accessible government and private sector avenues for their career guidance and advancement.

“When I see you, I see the global citizens that your Principal and the school asked me to think about. You are of this Digital Generation. You literally hold the future in the palm of your hands.” Giggles ensued as the graduates admitted to holding on to their smartphones ‘like a body part.’

Dr. Bird then threw down a challenge to these digital citizens, to put their devices to good use in the community, to start a movement of youth caring for youth, through meaningful outreach to the at-risk children of St Lucia.  She entreated the ISSL graduates to stretch themselves a little further for the sake of St Lucia peace, if not World peace, by making connections with physically disabled children and teens, pregnant secondary school students, teenaged victim of physical abuse and incest, and the many young people who are living in abject poverty in our country.

Promising to help make those connections in whatever way possible, Dr. Bird asked the young leaders in front of her to step up and act, to pioneer for change and use their connectivity to make a movement and take it ‘viral’.

“Find somebody who is less fortunate than you are, and share something. It could be a telephone conversation, it could be a piece of advice…a pair of shoes…a meal.  Maybe the last $20 you fleeced from your dad. It’s not money that will change this world and bring peace, it’s people… so I’m challenging you tonight (fortunate as you are) as the graduates of an institution that took care of you and nurtured you, and set you on the path to volunteerism and civic-mindedness… to help to change this world that all of us live in.”

On that note, it was a more enlightened Class of 2013 that received their diplomas from Principal Charmaine Graves, and special prizes were awarded to Grade 12 students in various categories of excellence. See STAR website for full award listing.

Daniela Cao Perez: Student of the Year Award, Principal’s Award – for the student who has excelled all around in Grade 12, supporting staff, students and the principal with positivity and a focus on excellence in all activities. Daniela was described as an outstanding student, who achieved over 92 percent in 10 subjects.

In a message of appreciation from the ISSL staff and Board of Governors to this particularly quirky, interesting and driven Class of 2013, the graduates were praised “for their leadership, dedication and committment.”

The International School St Lucia can be contacted at 458 0849.





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