Success Elementary School
Ninth Annual Prize- Giving Exercise
National Cultural Centre
(July 10, 2019)
Address Delivered by Hon. Winston Jordan
Minister of Finance
Mr. Wilfred Success, Director, Success Elementary School
Graduating Class of 2019
Staff of Success Elementary School
Students of Success Elementary School
Proud Parents and other well wishers
Representatives of the Media
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen
Let me begin by extending a warm welcome to all of you to this very special event. I would like to thank the pupil for that kind introduction. While I sat waiting to come to the podium, I enjoyed the offerings of the students of the school. I got goosebumps listening to the choir’s rendition of “Wade in the Water”. I hope the choir master has taken the time to explain the significance of that song. Indeed, that song was sung by the slaves and used to guide runaway slaves to Canada, where they enjoyed complete freedom.
I would like to recognise the contribution of the founder of the school, Wilfred Success. Sir Wilfred, your contribution to the education revolution – from your success at West Ruimveldt Primary School to your stellar achievements at your own school – will have a special place in the annals of our history. I offer my personal congratulations on the conferral of a national award. I also want to thank my fellow Member of Parliament, Ms. Africo Selman, for initiating the request for me to be the Guest Speaker today. We may be on the opposite side of the National Assembly, but both of us have a passion for education and learning.
I am so excited to be here with you, to share in your success, your joy, your hopes and aspiration. From your smiles and happy faces, I know that you have been looking forward to this occasion for the past six (6) years. Through good times and bad, through sun and rain, early morning rising, the difficult subject, the stern teacher, lessons and still more lessons, the temptations and restrictions, you have stayed the course, rode the waves and can now say, with impish pride, “I did it!” Beneath those smiles, though, I sense a bit of fear of moving on, fear of that unknown entity called secondary school, sad of leaving well-cultivated friendships behind, sad to say goodbye to your teachers and friends.
Looking at your faces, at the teachers, I realise everything has changed from the time when I attended Campbellville Government School, my primary school, from 1964-68. Back then, we did not refer to our classes as Grade 1, or Grade 2, etc. The first two (2) grades were referred to as Lil ABC and Big ABC. The next four (4) grades in primary school were called Standard 1, Standard 2, Standard 3, and Standard 4. In Standard 4, we were prepared to write Common Entrance Examination (CEE), which I did in 1968. If my memory serves me correctly, we wrote Mathematics, General Knowledge and General Science at the Common Entrance. Today, it is called National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA), and you write Mathematics, English, Social Studies and Science.
Back then, we wrote on slate for the first 2 grades, before being introduced to exercise books. We learnt about pounds, shillings and pence: 12 pence = 1 shilling; 20 shillings = 1 pound. Of course, today, there are no shillings and, instead 0f 240 pence, it is now 100 pence = 1 pound.
Back then, we had no TV: we would have been lucky to be treated to a matinee session of the cinema at 9 am on Saturday mornings. So, we immersed ourselves in reading anything that came our way – the daily newspapers and comic books. We listened to the radio, whenever our parents could afford to turn it on. We feasted on outdoor games: sal pass, gam, ling, pee put, litty, police and thief, hop scotch, dolly house, war break and many more; and on fruit trees: mango, genip, whitey, jamoon, gooseberry, dunks, tamarind, among others. We bush cooked, oftentimes the ingredients included a fowl or duck, eggs, vegetables, rice and ground provision that were culled, with or without the knowledge of our parents and/or neighbours.
Today, it is so much more different: smart phones, smart TVs, video games, internet, social media (Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) and so much more. The technology is mindboggling and its potential for smart outcomes is endless. On the other hand, it is having a crippling impact on healthy living: Outdoor recreation has been replaced by the couch potato; Mom’s home cooking has given way to fast food, bringing with it an increase in lifestyle diseases such as diabetes.
In as much as I have reminisced on the past that has brought us to today, we must look to tomorrow, for tomorrow is the future, the beginning of a wonderful, exciting time in your young lives. Those teenage years promise to be memorable, if you stay away from vices such as drugs. So, how should you approach this aspect of your life? What are the secrets of success? There are many, of which I will share a few with you.
The first is GROWTH
I CAN BEST ILLUSTRATE THIS SECRET BY TELLING YOU THE STORY OF MULAN. I am not sure how many of you know of this story, but ‘Mulan’ is the epic adventure of a fearless woman who masquerades as a man in order to fight Northern invaders attacking China. She wanted to defeat the Huns, but she did not know how to fight. She could not even carry a weapon. But she did not let that stop her. She practiced until she got so tired, she could not practice anymore. The next day, she got up and practiced again; she got beat up, but she practiced; was left hanging on a pole, but she practiced; she got buried in snow, but she practiced. And before we knew it, she was China’s hero.
What I’m trying to say is that the next years of your lives will determine your future. So, make the next years one of personal growth. Embrace growth, find out what you are good at, find out what you like to do and go for it. Grow. Practice. And practice some more. Because, here is another secret: if you practice, you can believe, you can achieve, you can be anything you want to be. Do not be afraid. While you are at it, do not be afraid of failure (FOF). I know the NGSA exam results are out. I have seen how well you and your school have done. But many of you have not done as well as you could have or should have. In your eyes, you think you are a failure because you have not got a “good” school. Your parents, friends, relatives, even teachers, may think so, too.
But I have news for you: failure is a part of life, a part of growing up. The Bible is replete with many examples of failure, perhaps the most famous being the failure of Adam and Eve to heed the caution about eating the fruit from the tree of good and evil. We all know of the greatest basketball player, Michael Jordan. What you probably don’t know is that he missed 9,000 shots in his career, lost almost 300 games, and missed almost 26 winning shots. He failed over and over and over again. Yet, he is undoubtedly the greatest of them all. There are other inspiring stories from which you could take heart, not least of them being that of Colonel Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken. His is a story of rejection, disappointment and failure time and time again. But he took his failures in stride: every time he fell, he got up, dusted himself off and started again.
Here is a very interesting statistic: only four – Burnham, Jagan, Hinds, Granger – of Guyana’s nine Presidents went to Queen’s College. That’s less than 50 percent. And yours truly went to a junior Secondary School, Cumming’s Lodge Secondary School. Today, I’m the Minister of Finance, who has had the good fortune of attending four universities, free of tuition, including the prestigious Harvard University. I have been responsible for Guyana earning the accolade of the fastest growing economy in the world by the NASDAQ. So, parents, here is some sobering advice: do not pressure your child, but nurture and love him/her. Your response to your child’s result can lower his/her self esteem, bring feelings of worthlessness, and damage his/her future. A seed, once planted, cared for and nurtured can bloom and thrive in the toughest of environments. Guyana needs all of its sons and daughters to guide the nation through an explosive period of transformation and development, where the Good Life is promised to all.
THE SECOND KEY TO SUCCESS IS GUIDANCE
I expound on this secret with a quote from Sarah Brown Wessling, Teacher of the Year, USA 2010, “…Without skills, students are left to memorize facts, recall details for worksheets, and relegate their educational experience to passivity…Embracing a 21st-century learning model requires consideration of those elements that could comprise such a shift: creating learners who take intellectual risks, fostering learning dispositions, and nurturing school communities where everyone is a learner.” We live in a world that is dominated by social media, where the fusion of ideas and knowledge offers a country a competitive edge. So, I urge our youngsters in attendance to seek early guidance as to a career opportunity. As one educator puts it, “The primary purpose of education is to enable students to make a living as adults; without this capability, everything else falls away…” Teaching and teaching methods must change rapidly; twenty-first century learning must emphasize higher order thinking skills, critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and out-of-the-box thinking. Here I want to recall Elisabeth Reid Boyd’s, The Beautiful Truth: How creativity can help us cultivate moral imagination, in which she contends, “Our moral imagination can put us in touch with all that is truthful and beautiful in the world, in ourselves, and in each other.” W. B. Yeats, in his preface to the poetry of William Blake, wrote “All worthy things, all worthy deeds, all worthy thoughts, are works of art or of imagination.” So, the value of positive, imaginative, innovative thinking must be imbued and inculcated in our children. While we are it, changes to the curriculum must incorporate nonconventional subjects such as entrepreneurship; must remove the stigma from technical and vocational education; and must embrace a foreign language as part of matriculation requirements. Even Social Studies should be revamped to emphasize Guyanese history and pride in citizenry. It is most distressing to learn how our children possess very little knowledge of Venezuela’s and Suriname’s claims on our territory. Teachers and parents, I urge you to help students see future possibilities, and keep them engaged today. Help them to connect their strengths and interests to long term goals today.
THE THIRD KEY TO SUCCESS IS GRATITUDE
We say it every day – “Thank you”. But we do not know how much power THANK YOU has. When you appreciate people and events, and the things you have in your life, the whole universe jumps up and down and what it wants to do is to give you more. Try it. Say thank you more often. Say it with your every step; say it with your every prayer. You will be amazed at the wonderful surprises it will give you. Your parents, mentors and teachers have put a lot of effort into helping you to reach this point in your academic journey. So, this is a good opportunity to hug them and thank them for supporting you. And while we are at it, I want to thank you for having me in your presence today. It is my great privilege.
THE FOURTH KEY TO SUCCESS IS DISCIPLINE
I ask myself: what is in the head of the average 11-year old? Gaming? Latest phone or video game? The opposite sex? (of course). All of the above? In secondary school, you can become easily distracted if you do not exercise discipline. Stay focused, carefully select your friends and wisely manage your time and activities, especially the online activities. Remember that the internet and social media are good tools for success, but addictive masters if used irresponsibly. So, although your parents will most likely give you more internet privileges now, it is your responsibility to ensure that you use these tools to enhance your academic performance and keep you out of trouble.
Make a commitment to let this new stage of your academic journey be better. Study hard and play hard. Make time to read widely. Test scores in this year’s NGSA, for reading and writing, have not been encouraging. While we may enjoy speaking creoles, we must write in Standard English. So, take a cue from the girl who was adjudged the best writer of the composition aspect of the NGSA. She was an avaricious reader, and, in her own words, it helped her to write an excellent composition. Use some of the time you spend on your phones and computers to read a novel, the newspapers, a magazine.
So, we have dealt with a few keys to success. But success isn’t just an alibi to a better life. Life is just not about success only. Life is also about your happiness and wellbeing. Your happiness is critical to your achieving success. Choose your path in life wisely. Don’t let others harm you or ruin your happiness.
I have given you the 3 G’s and a D to success. It would be remiss of me, however, if, before closing, I do not leave you with the 3 A’s. The first A is to Aspire. To aspire is to aim, plan your journey, take action. The second A is to Achieve. To achieve is to go and take steps closer to your goals. This is the part when you say, “I can, and I will”. This is very important in secondary school, when the going gets tough and you feel like giving up or dropping out. The third A is to Advance. To Advance is to take it to the next level, to deny your comfort zone, and go outside the box. When you graduate, it ends a journey and begins another one. There is still something bigger and higher after that. Life never seems to end, and that’s the good thing about life. So, always remember the 3 A’s. And yes, there’s always a chance you may fail, but there is a bigger chance you may not.
Let me, once again, extend congratulations to all of the graduates, parents, teachers and everyone who contributed, in some way, to making today’s event a reality. Please give yourselves a round of applause!
To the graduates, I hope that in your life, you will have people who will listen and spend some time with you, encourage you and believe in you. May you embrace growth and excellence, may you be generous, may you say thank you more often, and may God, Allah and Lord Shiva watch over you. With this blessing, may you go forth and find your calling in life, and do wonderful things with it. Again, my heartiest congratulations to you and thank you for listening!