There was quite a bit of chatter on Thursday afternoon when she entered the room, and even as Ms Catherine Leon, principal of the Vide Bouteille Comprehensive School was introducing the special guest standing onstage at her side. But the over 150 or so Form 5 students in attendance meant no disrespect.
They simply could not contain their youthful excitement upon setting eyes on their invited guest, STAR publisher Rick Wayne, attired in tight white jeans and a shirt you know did not originate at a Micoud Street store.
One couldn’t be sure whether the mixed-gender audience of 17 to 18-year-olds were more impressed by their guest’s undeniable swag and his still fairly intact muscular physique—or by the evidence that rumors of his imminent demise had been greatly exaggerated.
The fact is, they were mesmerized by the figure in the room. At the start of his address he cleverly reminded the students of an earlier visit and how wonderful it had been taking questions from his audience.
“Answering young people’s questions,” he said, “has always been for me the best part of these outings.” Then he placed the students on notice that he was looking forward to their questions, no holds barred.”
The students were especially taken by his amusing recollection of how he got “kicked out” from St Mary’s College when he was only 14.
At one point, after he had implored them to interact more with their teachers and their parents, Wayne posed a series of pointed questions relating to a school library, sports facilities, coaches, the news and so on. Nearly all of the questions drew negative answers from the audience.
Then the veteran journalist pushed further: “Do you talk to your parents about the daily news? Do you even follow the news? Have you ever wondered why rape, perhaps the most often committed crime in Saint Lucia, is seldom discussed by the media and never in parliament?”
Their response was the same as when Wayne asked whether they cared that what local politicians discussed in the House, on TV and from their platforms usually had nothing whatsoever to do with the students’ future, immediate and otherwise.
Perhaps the shocker of the afternoon came when the students were shown blown-up photos of Saint Lucia’s presumed iconic figures, such as Madame Justice Suzie d’Auvergne, George Charles, a slim Kenny Anthony, Roddy Walcott, deceased prime minister Allen Louisy, Gail Rigobert and Kenneth John.
They were also shown photographs of Chef Nina Compton, Vybz Kartel and Miley Cyrus. There were ecstatic screams and yells as Wayne held up the images of the Jamaican entertainer currently facing murder charges. There was similar reaction to Miley Cyrus riding her famous wrecking ball. Chef Nina (Compton) also drew cheers (thanks to her participation in the BravoTV reality show Top Chef).
But as for the earlier names, only two were identified: MP Gail Rigobert and the current prime minister.
Of course they raised the roof for dancehall superstar Vybz Kartel. But none of the over hundred in the room, to their principal’s amazement, could identify deceased playwright Roddy Walcott, Suzie D’Auverge, George Charles or the late Kenneth John.
Soon after winning the Babonneau seat for the SLP in 1997, John had drowned trying to rescue a couple in distress at Grand Anse. Wayne would later use John to illustrate the official lack of respect and appreciation for the nation’s heroes. Recalling the words of baseball legend Roberto Clemente, Wayne said: “A nation without heroes is nothing.”
He followed that up with some borrowed advice from Mariah Carey: “When you feel like hope is gone, look inside you and be strong, and you’ll finally see the truth, that a hero lies in you.” His audience mouthed the lyrics as they were delivered from the stage.
During the question and answer session the students introduced the subject of laptops for schools, with one 16-year-old saying the money paid for them was wasted since the schools already had computer labs.
They also gleefully revealed that just days after receiving the laptops, the students had cracked their much talked about security codes.
Another student asked: “What’s the point of studying to pass exams, going to Sir Arthur, graduating and then you cannot find a job or work at something you studied for?”
“These are the things you need to discuss with your parents, your teachers and the authorities,” Wayne responded. “At election time you had all of these people praising the UWP or shouting en rouge. Too late, they realized the politicians were campaigning on their own behalf for personal employment, at least for five years. My advice is that you smarten up, talk to your parents, talk to one another and demand better for yourselves!”
At the end of the session, the students could hardly wait to pose for pictures with their guest. Some even received autographed copies of his book “Lapses and Infelicities.” They in turn rewarded the publisher with a lovely gift of a fruit basket!