It is my distinct honour to have been invited to share in the 2015 Valedictory service of this institution. In the first place I love to celebrate the achievements of others so please accept my extravagant congratulations to you on reaching this touchstone in your life. In the second place this institution afforded me the opportunity to flesh out the skills and knowledge that I gained in my first degree. My time here played a pivotal role in my ministerial and professional formation. I therefore owe the Papine High School an eternal debt.
Allow me then to engage your mind for a few moments and to lift your consciousness to a level that will cause you to seized by the fierce urgency of now as a key tipping point for the kind of future success you desire and deserve.
It was Eleanor Roosvelt who said “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” She was definitely on to something there. In a similar manner let me offer you my favorite definition of vision, a clear mental picture of a preferred future. This implies that one is very aware of the status quo, their current reality. At the personal level such as your family’s current economic situation, your own personal needs. At the communal level all the issues and situations that are far from ideal. Those things that bother you, the things that scream out at you ‘this is not right!’ Having that clear sense of the current reality informs the future you prefer, the future where the family’s economic situation is far improved, the future where you are able to meet your personal needs and that of others. The future where the issues and situations around you now look like the way of peace and serenity and order and unity. Vision is a clear mental picture of that kind of future you desire. This is precisely where Dr. martin Luther King arrived at when he delivered his now famous “I have a dream” speech, one of my favorites. There came a knock on his door at midnight, a knock that smelled of danger, as members of the KKK came to drag his wife and children outside to burn them alive. They all managed to survive that night but the knock at midnight ignited an unextinguishable fire in his soul. That current reality was far from ideal and he saw a clear picture of the preferred future where little black boys and girls could play together. He had a dream. In the Biblical account Moses has been informed by God that he will not be crossing over Jordan into the Promised Land. He is however allowed to Climb Mount Nebo and from the heights of Pisgah he looks across and beholds the land. His imagination gives way to sight. I invite you to climb Mount Nebo and allow your imagination to be replaced by sight. The sight of the future you desire.
I am asking you graduands to do it because unless you do it, unless you see it no one else will do it for you. Even if someone else does it and describes it for you it would be useless to you. You must be possessed by a deep ownership of the beliefs, values, attitudes and actions that are required for the attainment of success. To put it bluntly, if it is to happen it’s up to you. Personal responsibility means an understanding by students that the buck stops with them and they are ultimately responsible for what happens in their lives. During the years we’re young, it’s easy to place blame on parents, teachers, or siblings in order to psychologically make ourselves feel better about our own fault. Yet, the truth of the matter, both failures and successes should be accredited to the person individually. Too many of our citizens are avoiding personal responsibility. At the end of Denzil Washington’s recent movie, “The Equalizer” a very catchy sounding song plays, the title of the song is “Guts over Fear”. A part of the chorus has stuck with me and I share it with you to seal the point of personal responsibility
I was … afraid to make a single sound
Afraid I would never find a way out, out, out
Afraid I’d never be found
I didn’t wanna go another round
An angry man’s power will shut you up
Trip wires fill this house with tip-toed love
Run out of excuses for everyone
So here I am and I will not run
The second reason I ask you to climb Mt. Nebo in your mind is so that you can get a very clear sense of the hills, valleys, rivers, armies… In a word, the obstacles that you will have to navigate in order to arrive at your promised land. What is the nature of the world into which you young, beaming graduands are being sent? I submit to you that if you go out there naively you will quickly become food for the preys. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Let me then, quickly paint a picture of that world.
Keith Wagstaff, was reflecting on the challenges that face college students. He suggested three such challenges:
- Staggering student loan debt: the cost of college has increased 1,120 percent since records were first kept in 1978, rising four times faster than the consumer price index, which measures inflation. This wouldn’t be a big deal if companies were gladly hiring young people without a college degree. The problem, however, is that the “undergraduate degree has become the new high school diploma,” What all of this means for you is that the subjects that you will pass are no longer enough to land you a job, you now need a college degree, and to get that college degree is quite costly. The average college degree in Jamaica costs at least 1.2 Million.
- Dim employment prospects
Even when shelling out tens of thousands of dollars for college, graduates have little guarantee of a job afterwards. Even if they find a job, there is a good chance it doesn’t pay much. Forty-five percent of college grads between 22 and 27 years old are “underemployed” — meaning they have jobs that don’t require the college degrees they paid so much for. In Jamaica, as of January 2015, 87, 200 persons between 20 – 24 are outside the labour force, according to STATIN.
- Long-term salary disadvantage
Sure, young college graduates might have trouble finding a job now, but they’ll pick themselves up and make up the lost salary later on, right? Nope. Studies show that 70 percent of overall wage growth occurs in the first 10 years of a person’s career.
So, Rev. Jones, you may ask, why did you come here on our happy day to be the bearer of such bad news? Well it’s all a matter of perspective. You can sink into a hopeless pit at the sound of that news or, as was my intention you can stand on Mt. Nebo, see your promised land, your preferred future and determine that you are going to get there. The fact of these obstacles becomes the very fire that energizes your focus and discipline to get what it takes and to do what it takes to give yourself the slight edge. It is my intention to say, “guts over fear”
Survival and thriving in today’s world requires boldness, a boldness that was far less needed 20 – 40 years ago. For apart from the changes in the landscape of job qualifications you will also have to contend with some other realities that the world is currently struggling to grapple with. There is the new wave of terrorism in the form of ISIS, Jihadists and Boko Haram. These groups have shown to the world a new brand of violence. There is the reality of climate change. Have you noticed how hot it is, even in the nights? Well it will get worse. Dr. Michel Taylor reported on his research earlier this year at the Grace Kennedy Foundation’s annual Lecture series that in just 8 years time, 2023 the coldest night will be hotter than the hottest day in 2015. Trends and fads now spread in a matter of hours due to social media and internet penetration. The Charlie Charlie game went viral in one weekend and caused more than a scare in our local schools. You’ve perhaps already seen the latest “gas cylinder” challenge or maybe even participated? Then there is the matter of the definition of right and wrong within the discussion and debate about rights. You will have to determine what if any is your authoritative source for determining right and wrong. Those who hold to the authority of the Bible as that source will come under increasing pressure to capitulate to popular opinion and legal jurisdictions. The US Sepreme Court has effectively redefined marriage and many anticipate the opening of the flood gates. Indeed in other countries persons have gotten married to a dog, a bridge and a picture of a dead fiancé. These are the new frontiers that await you.
How do you respond to these current realities so that you enter into your promised land, your preferred future? I share with you a few suggestions.
A long time ago, when the animal creation was being differentiated into swimmers, climbers, fliers, and runners, there was a school for the development of the animals. The theory of the school was that the best animals should be able to do one thing as well as another; and if there was an apparent aptitude in a given animal for doing one thing and an apparent inaptitude for doing other things, the time and effort should be spent upon the latter instead of the former.
If one had short legs and good wings, the attention should be given to running so as to even up the qualities as far as possible. So the duck was kept waddling instead of swimming, the pelican was kept wagging his short wings in the attempt to fly. The eagle was made to run and allowed to fly only for recreation, while maturing tadpoles were unmercifully guyed for being neither one thing nor another. All this in the name of Education.
Nature was not to be trusted in her make up of individuals, for individuals should be symmetrically developed and similar for their own welfare as well as for the welfare of the community. The animals that would not submit to such training, but persisted in developing the best gifts they had, were dishonored, called narrow-minded and specialists, and special difficulties were placed in their way when they attempted to ignore the theory of education recognized by the school.
No one was allowed to graduate from that school unless he could climb, swim, run, and fly at a certain prescribed rate. So it happened that the time taken by the duck in learning to run the prescribed rate had so hindered him from swimming that he was scarcely able to swim at the prescribed rate, and in addition he had been scolded, threatened, punished, and ill-treated in many ways so as to make his life a burden, and he left school humiliated, and the ornithorhyncus could beat him either running or swimming. Indeed, the latter carried off the prize in two departments. The eagle made no headway in climbing to the top of a tree. Though he showed he could get there just the same, the performance was counted a demerit, as it had not been done in the prescribed way. An abnormal eel with large pectoral fins proved he could run, swim, climb trees, and fly a little; he was made valedictorian. This allegory was written by Amos E. Dolbear of Tufts, a prominent physicist and inventor.
As far as the educational and career pathways go please ensure that you make a mental shift as far as your self understanding of intelligence is concerned. Albert Einstein wrote, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” The question I have for you at this point of our journey together is, “What is your genius?” In a similar way, Professor John Vorminck of Cape Town, South Africa made a statement in our class that has revolutionalized my approach to education. He argues that we have been asking the wrong question for years. Do not ask ‘how intelligent are you?’ So you students here today let me ask you, ‘how are you intelligent.’ You see that question assumes that you are intelligent, it affirms that each human is vested with intelligence because we bear the image of the intelligent God who made us. Each possesses intelligence. Some in the arts, some in the sciences, some in the skilled craft, some in artistic expressions. So again, how are you intelligent? When you answer that question you will realize that there is a space for all of us in the world of earnings. Disabuse yourself of the notion that the only way to earn is to go and work for someone else. Down with the notion that it is only if you pass certain subjects you can have a career. Those who did the skilled areas must never allow themselves to feel as second class citizens. Your next step would be to enroll at HEART, all the way up to the level 3 Diploma, become internationally certified as welder, electrical engineer, carpenter. Use that smartphone you have google the hourly rate that such persons are paid in Canada for example. Your job field is no longer limited to the few available jobs in Jamaica. The very fact that you have a smartphone should motivate you to success. When I first used a computer in 1996 as a first year Associate degree student the monitor resembled a black and white TV and everything on it was in one colour, orange. Do you know many colours your smartphone is able to show? 64 million. Somebody, who was perhaps once seating in a val service wanted to fix the problem of single colour graphical display. I wonder what problem you will fix?
I am suggesting to you that you have what it takes within you. Even if you sit here now and realize that you wasted your time here, let today be the day you re-imagine your life. As you stand on Mt. Nebo and view the future.
I am suggesting that the future of work is online. The next time you call customer service and hear an Indian accent remember I told you so.
I am suggesting that with the power of your smart phone and a little training you can run a million dollar buying and selling business on Ebay or Amazon.
I am suggesting that in order to arrive at the Promised land, the preferred future you will need to work out from today what are the non-negotiables as far as your values and convictions are concerned. There will always be easy money to be made…and with it there will always be a jail cell or a spot at Dovecot. Honesty is still the best policy, skill and talent may get you to the top but only integrity will keep you there.
- Pepsi says to you live for now. I say to you live for the future.
- Nike says to you just do it. I say to you first ask yourself what is ‘it’
- Drake says to you, you only live once. I say to you, yes but there is life
- after death. Live to prepare for that life.
So my friends I’ve asked you to climb Mt. Nebo and see the promised land, the preferred future. If you have seen it, descend Mt. Nebo, go forth, cross the Jordan boldly, ‘Guts Over Fear’ and possess the Promised Land so help you God!