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It is with a real joy for you who are graduating in this ceremony and a sense of personal and institutional history that I welcome all present this afternoon to the second graduation of The Mico University College in the 172nd year of the Mico Institution. For you who are graduating, your families and friends, today marks a major milestone in the commencement of your journey as teachers and as professionals. We commend you for your achievement and celebrate your advancement in the academic and professional community. To our two honourary graduands, we salute you, your lives of service and accomplishments which have enriched so many other lives.

This marks the first occasion where a graduation of the Mico is being presided over by a Chancellor. Indeed, for the first time in its 172 years history the Mico has a Chancellor. For the first time the Mico will be awarding honorary doctorates. These signal the advancement of the Mico in the constellation of colleges and universities in Jamaica.

In the knowledge society that is now emerging across the world it is tertiary education that confers competitive advantage. Faced with the challenge of expanding tertiary education opportunities, countries across the global have been transforming and upgrading colleges. The Mico, with its history and performance, qualifies and deserves such upgrading. The move from College to University College has been long in coming; the step from University College to university is just around the next corner.

When my email and voice mail had messages to the effect that Mr. Henry Buxton, direct descendant of Thomas Fowell Buxton and Chairman of the Lady Mico Trust, wanted to talk to me, I took it that it was just another of those conservations between the Chairman and myself as a Trustee. Words cannot express my utter and complete surprise when we spoke and he informed me that he and the other trustees had decided that I should be the first Chancellor of the Mico University College. The thought of being a chancellor had never once crossed my mind. I argued but to no avail. I pleaded for time to discuss the matter with Dr Packer and the Chairman of the Board. By the time I got to them I was told that the deal was sealed, I had no option.

My only recourse was to think about it. Then I realized that the significance of being named the first chancellor went far beyond me. For the first time in our history as a country a university college or university will have as its chancellor a Jamaican who has always resided, and continues to reside in Jamaica. At a time when the nation seems to have lost its confidence as it continues to hold on to such obsolete colonial vestiges as the Privy Council in England as our final court, the English members of the Lady Mico Trust have vested confidence in the Trustee in Jamaica. They have elevated him to the highest office in the upgraded Mico. At a time when we as a people seem to be returning to the old view that what comes from abroad is better, that solutions reside outside of ourselves, and that those of us who choose to reside in Jamaica are of less caliber, the leadership of Mico is united in affirming confidence in home grown accomplishment.

The point is that the Mico Community is simply acting true to its character. The Mico community is swimming upstream against the tide and not downstream with the tide. It is acting in the same manner as it did at founding of Mico institutions in 1836 with the purpose of educating the former slaves and training some of them as teachers. It is acting in the same manner it did in 1920 when in the mission to upgrade the College H. Hartey Duff was appoint as the first Jamaican Principal of the College. It is acting in the same manner as it did in the 1930s when it offered the classics in its programme, allowing some students to obtain university matriculation and read for bachelor degrees as external students of London University. In setting its sights on University status, the Mico is simply looking to the future and its possibilities as it has always done.

This graduation, taking place in December 2008, comes at a time of great global economic stress. The world’s leading economies are in recession. While recessions are cyclical, this one is special. It could lead to the first depression of the twenty-first century. Stock markets are convulsing. Major banks in the richest countries are on life support. Markets that are supposed to be self-regulating are out of control. Governments are now called upon to intervene as losses are socialized after profits were privately enjoyed. The answer of the Central Banks in these rich countries is to print huge sums of money in order to bail out the banks and stabilize the markets. All of these contradict the stated tenets of free market capitalism and sound economic practice. What is certain, however, is that all of us across the global are going to pay for the folly of those in the rich countries that created this situation.

It is extremely important for us to note that this global economic crisis, with implications for all of us, is not the creation of illiterate and uneducated people of the so-called third world, although they too will have to pay. Rather, it is the brainchild and the handiwork of very smart and highly education people with MBAs and other highly prized post-graduate degrees from some of the most prestigious universities in the so-called first world. These architects of the economic and financial crises were supported by a combination of politicians: those who pandered to the people and those who adamantly pursued their doctrinaire ideological inclinations.

If we take a step back we could summarise the essence of their folly by saying that they tried to create:

  • Wealth not based on work.
  • Prosperity while outsourcing production
  • Productivity gains for managers and shareholders,  but not for workers
  • Debt and credit not savings, as the source of economic growth
  • Home ownership based on future value and not on cost of construction

While this gave the illusion of prosperity, and mesmerized many, what has actually been produced is commercial paper without value. The sad consequence of this folly are workers who have lost their jobs, people who have lost their homes, pensioners who have lost their pensions, investors who have lost their investments and the many who have lost hope of a better life.

The lesson we must all learn from this is that university degrees and high offices in the public and private sectors do not by themselves constitute wisdom and sound judgment. This brings us to the central question, what is the meaning of this re-invention of the Mico as a university college? What is the meaning of graduating into this community of scholars and professionals? What remains of the Mico that we have known? The words associated with the Passover leaps from the pages of the Book of Exodus and lands squarely in our midst. What mean ye by this service?

Allow me to attempt to answer the question in this way. In the 1830s four Mico Institutions were established in the Caribbean. Only this institution in Kingston has survived. When colleges training male teachers were closed in 1899 in Jamaica, only Mico College survived. The question then becomes what has allowed this institution to survive and be transformed from being a normal school, to being a college, to being a university college and soon to be a university? The point is that normal school, college, University College and university are but institutional levels of academic and professional operation. They do not provide the reason why an institution is transformed from one level to the next or explain why it has survived over generations. Such transformations are but evidence of its viability and sustainability.

The real answer to Mico’s survival and transformation resides in its spirit. As a non-Miconian, who happened to have had the great honour to have led this institution for eight and half years, let me tell you what I learned the spirit of the Mico to be.

  1. The spirit of the Mico is the courage and the confidence to look beyond human frailty, flaws and faults and see the potentials and possibilities that resides in human personality and society. It is the courage and the confidence to see beyond the misery that surrounds us, the enormity of the challenges that confront us, the odds that face us and catch a glimpse of the nobility, strength and beauty that resides in the least among us and be so inspired by that vision that it brings out the best in us and demands the best from us. It is the courage and the confidence to confound those who would hold us in low esteem and think little of our chances to achieve the ambitious tasks we undertake.
  2. The spirit of the Mico is the commitment to build capacity among the vulnerable in society, especially the children of the disadvantaged and marginalized, by seeking to change their life chances, by challenging the conventional stereotypes and images they commonly have of themselves, by working to lift the horizons they set for themselves, and by cultivating the mind to explore the full measure of the intellect and the creative imagination. It is the commitment to build capacity among the vulnerable in society so that the accidents of birth and legacy of social history are not perpetuated across generations but rather allow each new generation the opportunity to discover and achieve their full potential.
  3. The spirit of the Mico is the conviction that service to community is the source of individual and personal fulfillment. Individual intellect, imagination, invention, and innovation are the sources of all advancement in human society. However, rampant individualism, unrestrained pursuit of self-interest and worship at the shrine of individual rights result in anarchy. The spirit of the Mico is the conviction that when an individual enterprise, energy, enthusiasm, and entrepreneurship are directed to serve the common good of community not only community benefits, but individuals find meaning and fulfillment in their endeavours.
  4. The spirit of the Mico is the capability to chart new courses where these are needed and demanded. The spirit of the Mico is a pioneering spirit. It is a trailblazing spirit. It is the capability to perceive what is needed and provide what is necessary. It is the willingness to risk failure in order to achieve the success that is required.

The college song exhorts all Miconians to “Breathe not the spirit of Mico in vain.” Graduating Class of 2008 let this refrain burn deep within your souls. May it come to consciousness where ever you are and in whatever you do. What this refrain is asserting is that all who have come within the sphere of Mico’s influence, its programme of instruction and its mode of operation ought to become imbued, possessed, and inspired with its spirit. Further, having breathed the spirit and internalized it, you are obligated to bring forth fruit worthy of this spirit.

The obligations of breathing the spirit of the Mico are made even more binding and compelling by past Miconians. Miconians have given excellence service is so many fields in some many countries of the world and have changed so many lives across the world that time would fail us to recount their deeds. Allow me to mention just dozen of them who have passed on.

  • Mr. John Savage first Superintendent of Schools in Jamaica appointed in 1869. He among the first batch of students accepted in the College in 1836.
  • Mr. F W. Bailey leading light in the formation of the Jamaica Union of Teachers in 1894, the first union of any kind formed in the Commonwealth Caribbean, at a time when unions were illegal.
  • Rev Lennon Archbishop of Lagos, Nigeria in the early 20th century and one of the first black bishops of the Anglican Church.
  • Rev W A Thompson one of the translators of the Bible in several African languages in the early 20th century.
  • Rev Henry Ward renowned teacher, pioneer social worker and founder of Meadowbrook High School.
  • Mr. Cyril Potter, Guyanese Miconian, renowned educator and after whom the Cyril Potter College of Education in Guyana is named.
  • Sir Harold Allan, first Minister of Finance in Jamaica
  • Professor Reginald Murray, first Jamaican Chief Education Office, Director of UNESCO’s Regional Office in West Africa and Director of the Institute of Education, University of the West Indies.
  • The Honourable Tacius Golding famous teacher and later Speaker of the House of Representatives.
  • Sir Clifford Campbell Member of Parliament and first Governor General of Jamaica.
  • Professor Laurie Reid, pioneer of educational measurement in the Jamaica and the person responsible for setting the Common Entrance Examination from its inception in 1957 until his death in the 1990s.
  • Honourable Glen Owen, member of the Privy Council and first Miconian to be principal of the Mico

The spirit of Mico has lived within thousands of Miconians who have passed on, and not just the dozen named. It continues to live in the vast majority who are still alive. It is expected to live in you who join the Mico Community this afternoon.

The lives of our two honourary graduands exemplify the spirit of the Mico. Dudley Thompson breathed and was infected by it as student. R. Karl James was overtaken by it as member and Chairman of the Board for over 30 years. My wife and family join with me in congratulating you both.

As the Mico moves and changes for one level to the next as an institution may the spirit of the Mico remain the constant that ensures its character and inspires all who join its ranks.

Professor Emeritus, the Honourable Errol Miller, OJ. CD. Ph D


December 6, 2008

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