Thursday, April 18, 2024

ALL AH WE IS ONE: A son celebrated

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LAST Saturday, at a tastefully and symbolically decorated venue overlooking the Atlantic Ocean (the watery conveyer belt which carried the ancestors of the Caribbean people to their present location and interred many), a moving, touching and meaningful ceremony took place, with the installation  of Sir Hilary Beckles as the eighth Vice-Chancellor  of the University of the West Indies (UWI). 

It was a ceremony pregnant with symbolism, with everything from the programme pamphlet, the stage presentations, the formal speeches, the performers and performances, down to the invited guests, all representing an intertwined spaghetti stream of ideas, experiences and influences, culminating in the complex circuit board that constitutes the work, life and personality of Hilary Beckles. 

Beginning with the spiritual drum call of the Pinelands Creative Workshop that ushered in the formal procession of regional and international academics, to the “High Mass” call and response rhythm and chant of David Rudder which, in the secular academic world appropriately substituted as an “opening prayer”, everything was meant to signal the unflinching Caribbean grassroots consciousness of Sir Hilary and the world view which would shape his stewardship.

Most deeply significant were the genuine and empirically based expressions of acknowledgement by the platform speakers from representatives of students, university administrators, and CARICOM Heads of Government, of Sir Hilary’s contribution to education and development in the Caribbean. 

Also deeply symbolic was the deliberate effort by some leading Caribbean personalities living in the diaspora who understood the historical significance of the specific elevation of Hilary Beckles to the office of vice-chancellor, and who wanted to make a personal statement of support and appreciation by their presence.  Among such personalities were historian James Millette, early founder of the New World Group; and Don Rojas, former Press secretary to Prime Minister Maurice Bishop of Grenada, both residing in the United States. 

When this regional and international spontaneous outpouring of recognition of Sir Hilary’s contribution and celebration of his elevation is contrasted against the ill-timed noises . . . from [some] official Barbadian sources, the error of the un-abating governmental negativity towards the UWI is brought sharply into focus. It was indeed sad that such a historically significant event could be overshadowed, not by newspaper articles celebrating the life, work and contribution of Sir Hilary, but by headlines declaring “No Food” only because of a best-left-ignored remark at a partisan gathering. The Caribbean knows that Barbados is classier than that.

Amidst it all, the UWI should be congratulated for its fitting ceremony.

For its part, Sir Hilary’s inaugural address was masterful. He thanked and acknowledged his family and academic mentors. He connected with his peasant and working class origins. He reiterated that in an economic crisis, more investment in education is required, not less. He urged regional academics to fearlessness, and he promised hard work.

We wish him well.

• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs. Email tjoe2008@live.com.

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