With West Indies cricket and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) verging on irrelevance, the University of the West Indies (UWI) remains the only strong functioning unifying instrument in the Caribbean.
Counting among its graduates 14 heads of government, one Nobel laureate and a myriad of distinguished leaders and professionals, the university has contributed the most to the intellectual, cultural, social and economic development of the English-speaking Caribbean in the latter half of the 20th century.
Its main mission is to provide an excellent education to undergraduate and graduate students to become useful global citizens.
Last Saturday night’s third annual UWI Toronto benefit gala (which was sold out) and a similar fundraiser in New York held over the last 15 years are the major sources of funding for scholarships.
A total of 40 Caribbean students have benefitted from scholarships derived from funds raised from the Toronto gala in the last two years.
“This event is about talented young people whose lives can become dramatically different with the gift of tertiary education,” vice-chancellor Dr. Nigel Harris reminded the audience which included chancellor emeritus Shridath “Sonny” Ramphal and Maud Fuller who founded the UWI Alumni Association of Toronto 25 years ago. “The university has turned out tens of thousands of graduates who have become leaders, managers and able contributors to the growth of the English-speaking Caribbean and who have migrated to Canada, the United States, England and other parts of the world making a difference wherever they have gone.
“We want to ensure that new generations of graduates will do even more. The trouble is there are several hundred young people in these times of economic crisis in the Caribbean that are dropping out of university and sometimes dropping out even of society because of their inability to pay their fees. For every one we lose, we will lose dozens of lives…The loss of one talented person means an exponential loss for so many other people. This is ultimately why tonight is so important.”
Harris, who left Guyana in 1965 to study at Howard University and the University of Pennsylvania before taking up residency at the UWI Mona campus in Jamaica, presented Vice-Chancellor Awards to lawyer Frank Walwyn, community worker Lloyd Seivright and business executive Howard Shearer, and UWI alumni Dr. Anthony McFarlane, Suresh Sookoo and Dr. Pamela Da Camara.
Kittitian-born Walwyn, a partner at one of the country’s oldest law firms – WeirFoulds LLP – was named one of Canada’s top lawyers in the area of corporate and commercial litigation in the 2012 edition of The Best Lawyers in Canada. Jamaican-born Seivright has raised funds for 108 scholarships in the last 23 years for Caribbean students enrolled in the university’s medical program and Shearer – the son of late Jamaica Prime Minister Hugh Shearer – is the president and chief executive officer of Hitachi Canada Ltd.
Da Camara graduated from the university’s Faculty of Medicine in 1959 and retired seven years ago as chief and medical director of laboratory medicine at Toronto East General Hospital. Trinidadian Sookoo is the RBC Caribbean Banking chief executive officer and McFarlane, who is writing his memoirs, recently bequeathed his Hamilton home and nearly 2,000 of his classical music CDs to UWI which he attended for two years.
Zanana Akande, the daughter of St. Lucian and Barbadian parents who were educators, North Buxton-born artist, Artis Lane, and best-selling author and journalist, Malcolm Gladwell, were Luminary Award recipients.
Akande was the first Black woman elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario and the first Black woman to serve as a cabinet minister in Canada and 84-year-old Lane is the grand-daughter of abolitionist educators. Her sculptures and paintings can be found in the private collections of former South African president, Nelson Mandela and Oprah Winfrey. Gladwell has been a staff writer with The New Yorker magazine for the past 16 years.
“I now feel like a quintessential West Indian,” said British-born Gladwell who, in 2005, was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential people. “I have a Black mother and White father, I grew up in Canada outside of Toronto, I live in New York City, I send money back to Jamaica and now this award just about seals it. I am now perfect as a West Indian.”
Gladwell’s Jamaican-born mother, Joyce and his British-born dad, Graham – who was a Mathematics professor at UWI’s Mona Campus in the early 1960s – met while they studied in England.
Sir George Alleyne presented the Chancellor Award to the University Health Network (UHN) which comprises Toronto General, Toronto Western and Princess Margaret hospitals and Toronto Rehabilitation Institute.
Many UWI faculty members of medicine completed graduate studies at UHN in a variety of specialties, including internal medicine.
“Every day, 14,000 people come to work caring for patients, teaching the health care professionals of the future and working in our science labs to find cures and treatments for illnesses which affect people around the globe,” UHN’s president and chief executive officer, Dr. Robert Bell, said in his acceptance speech.
The UWI was established in 1948 as the University College of the West Indies (UCWI) in a special relationship with the University of London. The university has provided approximately 5,000 scholarships since it opened 64 years ago with 23 male and 10 female students who began their academic journey in wooden huts in Jamaica that once housed war refugees from Gibraltar and Malta.
The cost of tuition for a full-time undergraduate program averages about US$12,000 annually. Close to 2,000 students apply annually for UWI scholarships and less than 100 are granted academic funding each year.
Stephanie Alphonse is the proud recipient of a UWI Toronto gala scholarship.
“I was thrilled when I heard I was selected and deeply appreciative of the financial support,” said the St. Lucian who is pursuing Speech Therapy studies at the St. Augustine campus in Trinidad & Tobago. “Being one of five children in a single home has presented some challenges in financing my education and this scholarship will be of great help to me as I continue to concentrate on my studies as well as my future.”
Jamaican-born Ryerson University chancellor, Raymond Chang, was the honorary patron of this year’s event the theme of which was Light, Learning and Liberty.
“Through the UWI Scholarship Fund and the UWI Haitian Initiative, we encourage the light of ideas to shine, the love of learning to grow and liberty in all its complexity to be upheld.”
By RON FANFAIR