By RON FANFAIR
The Antigua & Barbuda government will offer an annual scholarship to a young person to pursue studies at St. Francis Xavier University’s Coady International Institute in Nova Scotia.
Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer made the announcement last Saturday after being conferred with an honorary doctor of laws degree at the Eastern Canada university where he graduated with a diploma in social leadership in the late 1960s.
“Conscious of the fact that education is about knowledge and our ability to acquire it at all times and use it in a manner that would better our lives, I am encouraged even more to continue on my drive to expose as many young Antiguans & Barbudans to achieve tertiary level education,” Spencer said in his convocation address. “The cabinet agreed last month to institute an annual scholarship for a suitably qualified citizen who has displayed a tangible commitment to community development and a desire to study at Coady.”
Named after Rev. Moses Coady who founded the Antigonish people’s movement for economic and social justice in Nova Scotia during the 1920s, the institute has established itself as a centre of excellence in community-based development and leadership education for the past five decades.
Spencer said the institute, which he entered at age 19, prepared him for the challenge of leading a developing country.
“Today, I am here to express my gratitude to an institution that has given me the foundation to execute leadership principles and manage the process of social and economic development for Antigua & Barbuda residents,” he said. “It was at Coady and within the confines of the university that I discovered the value of humility, responsibility, inclusivity and communication and experienced and was exposed to the basic philosophy of social leadership and cooperation for the good of all. These principles have stayed with me and have fashioned my thinking and understanding of life.”
Spencer paid tribute to Antigua & Barbuda’s first Prime Minister, Sir Vere Bird, for providing him with the opportunity to study in Canada. Bird, who died a decade ago, would have celebrated his 100th birthday yesterday.
Spencer said he was honoured to be recognized by his alma mater.
“I must admit that when I was informed about this occasion, I was deeply moved and never in my wildest dreams did I expect this honour at this stage in my life,” said Spencer. “My work as the leader and humble servant of the people of Antigua & Barbuda was not about what I could obtain, but rather how I could help improve the lives of the people of my beloved country.
“Therefore, the conferring of this degree is not simply about my achievements and contributions, but it is a symbol of the contributions made by the men and women in my community, the trade union movement, the United Progressive Party (UPP) and the faculty and staff of the Coady International Institute who have all made it possible for me to lead and manage the social development process in my country.”
Spencer challenged the graduating class and other students to always seek to become conscious citizens, actively participating in the process of nation building.
“You should be mindful that being exposed to educational opportunities will build on your capacity to be a good citizen,” he said. “Knowledge is produced in response to questions and new knowledge results from the asking of new questions. Once you have learned how to ask relevant, appropriate and substantial questions, you have learned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know.”
A prominent labour leader who was elected to parliament in 1989, Spencer led the UPP to a landslide win in the 2004 general elections. The party was re-elected last March.
St. Francis Xavier University vice-president and Provost Dr. Mary McGillivray said Spencer’s astounding win at the 2004 polls emanated in part from him identifying with working people and the poor as well as his recognition that education was to be the vehicle to take his country to prosperity and his people to a happy and thriving life.
“His respect for education led to him instituting support programs such as hot meals and uniforms for 50,000 students,” she said. “Not only did these changes improve student performance and discipline, but they had a huge economic benefit for the country’s citizens. As Prime Minister, he strengthened his country’s regional and international reputation by promoting a regional economic union and advancing South-South cooperation.”