Graduation Address by UB’s President Alan Slusher Print E-mail
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Thursday, 19 June 2014 00:00

Today is a happy day for a lot of people in Belize, and particularly here in Belmopan.  In many cases, however, the happiness is mixed.

First, more than 400 former students are in the final stages of saying goodbye, at least for now, to the University of Belize.  For some of those graduates the happiness is mixed with relief: the grind is over for the time being; the last assignment has been handed in and graded; and there will be no more late nights wondering whether sleep will come before dawn.  Now the wondering is: when am I going to start earning some real money.  For others, the happiness is mixed with a bit of sadness and regret: losing contact with mentors and good friends, and wondering when and where they will meet again (I want to tell you that those campus couples who don’t want to risk anything get married very quickly).

For parents and guardians, happy that the sons and daughters have finally graduated, the hope is: now that some of the strain has been removed from the household budget, the issue is how to persuade the new graduate, as soon as he or she finds employment, to start making a substantial contribution to the house money before the marriage talk starts.

For the professors and lecturers, there is a great deal of pride in the happiness; pride in seeing the results of having helped another cohort of capable Belizeans take their first major steps in realizing their potential, and happiness that their efforts have paid off.  Teachers do work hard, you know!

For the University of Belize, it is one more indication that the institution continues to discharge on its mandate of educating the people of Belize and thereby empowering the nation.

It is a happy day for Belize as well, as the country welcomes new productive capacity from individuals who are impatient in their desire to make their mark in the world, and, in so doing, helping to develop Belize, helping to expand the country’s production of goods and services (preferably for export), and, again in so doing, expanding jobs and incomes for everyone.

It is a happy day for me too, as I join with the staff of UB to re-energise this institution to move it towards its ultimate destiny: a first class source of information, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom; an institution of which all Belizeans can be proud.  In other words, a first class university.

This graduation ceremony is one of the formal rituals that help us to acknowledge that we are all part of a larger whole, a reality that we have an absolute duty to maintain; for without social cohesion, without a sense of togetherness as a nation, we are nothing.

I have a message for the graduates, and I dare hope that the distinguished ladies and gentlemen here today may also find what I have to say of some interest.  It is not an original message, but I think it bears repeating.  It may sound trite, but it is what has guided me through many years.  And it is this:
No matter what your age, you are still educating yourself, because education is a lifelong process that stops only when you cease to be.

First, you acquire information.  You get this from what is happening around you, from what your senses tell you, from what you see and hear and feel.  You get information in primary and secondary school, in tertiary institutions like UB; from books, newspapers, TV, your friends, and yes, even from Facebook and Youtube.  But it is just information, random, unorganized data.  Information is the what.

Then, if you maintain an open mind, you acquire knowledge.  This is the how.  How the information you acquire fits together and makes some kind of sense.  You then discover that some bits of information are more valuable than other bits, and you learn how to fit the important bits together so that they tell you something useful, and you learn how to create the slots and categories in which to classify information to make it useful, and how to continue to organise the information that you never cease to collect.

Then, if you continue to persist in this great enterprise of education and learning, you begin to acquire understanding.  This is the why.  Why things are the way they are, why the world works the way it does.  So that you don’t just know how to drive a car, or how each part works, but why each part works the way it does, so you can fix it yourself, or perhaps even build one.

And if you really persevere, and continue to carry the effort through, never letting that computer in your head rest, because it really doesn’t need to, only the rest of your body does, you will begin the process of acquiring wisdom.  This is the ability to identify the really important whats, hows, and whys, and to apply all that you know, and perhaps do not even realize that you know, to all kinds of familiar and unfamiliar situations.  You learn to ask, when faced with any given situation: “so what is the problem?”.  And that is an important aspect of wisdom: the ability to identify the problem.  If you don’t know what the problem is, you will solve it only by accident.

Let me end by saying that we all have a critically important self-development purpose in this world.  It is up to us never to stop learning, so that eventually we gain the wisdom that we need to deliver on that development purpose.  Nothing valuable comes without great effort; you doubtless understand the meaning of the phrase “easy come, easy go”.  It is up to us, to each of us, to sustain the effort that is required to make ourselves great; and if we do that we make our country great.

There is only one catch to all of this: the man who laid out this thesis, a great American educator, held the view that no one truly starts exhibiting signs of wisdom before the age of 40, so graduates, most of you, if you thought the reading, and the thinking, and the analysis were over, you need to think again!
I therefore need to wish all of you, as well as the distinguished ladies and gentlemen in the audience, a long, happy, educated, and wise life.
Thank you for your indulgence.
The University of Belize (UB)…Education Empowers A Nation!