YET I RISE

INTRODUCTION

Chairman and Members of the Board of Knox High School, Principal and Staff, Parents, friends and well wishers of the Graduating Class, Members of the Graduating Class it is always a pleasure and an honour to share in a memorable event, like the Graduation this evening. I am particularly honoured that you have me invited again this year after the incident last year when the threat of a hurricane and the issuing of hurricane warning counselled against my venturing out of Kingston. Then the hurricane did not come. The event was held. You have been most gracious and understanding.

Allow me to immediately congratulate the Graduating Class for reaching this milestone in your advancement in your education and personal development. Graduation from high school marks the fact that you have met the criteria of academic performance as measured the Caribbean Examination Council and as well as the standards set by the school with respect to behaviour and character. You will be moving on either to further education or the world of work. So, congratulations to you, your parents and guardians, teachers and all who supported you along the way. I join in wishing you every success in the future.

THE TOPIC GIVEN

Over the years I have been the Guest Speaker at many graduations. It is seldom that I have been given a Topic on which to speak. What is most interesting is the Topic that you have chosen for me: “Yet, I Rise”.

Clearly, we are celebrating your rise. Each one of you this afternoon has risen in academic statute, in social statute, in personal statute if not in physical statute in your family, and certainly in your community, in the school and among your friends. This accounts for the large number of parents and other family members, friends and well-wishers who are gathered here to celebrate with you this afternoon. We all celebrate your rise.

You yourselves must be proud of your rise. As I watched you march in slowly and regally in your gowns, I could sense your own pride in your achievement. Yes, each one of you can say with authenticity, I Rise. What is intriguing about the topic, is the “Yet”, placed before I Rise. Before your rise, there was “Yet”. That collectively you could come up with and agreed on this Topic suggests that in this moment of celebration and triumph there are some things that went before that you wish to be remembered, recognised and repeated. Somehow, it would appear you do not believe these celebrations would be complete with recalling and acknowledging these antecedents to your success.

In this regard I am at a distinct disadvantage because I do not know you personally. I, therefore, cannot speak with knowledge about your circumstances. I really do not know the obstacles that you have had to overcomes, the hurdles you have had to scale, the barriers your have had to break through or the burdens you have had to bear. But clearly these are what constitute the “Yet” that you have asked me to address.

Then again, like almost all things in life a disadvantage can be an advantage. This disadvantage of lack of personal knowledge of you is my advantage. I cannot be successfully accused of exposing your private business in public. In thinking about this I realised that this could be the exact reason that you have chosen and challenged me, as a stranger, to speak on this Topic. It seems to be that you the members of the Graduating Class wish to inject in this euphoric atmosphere of your Graduation a measure of realism by my speculations on what the “Yet” may have been and despite which you have risen.

The essence of yet in the context of rise is despite of things that could have held you down. Yet connotes or brings to memory some opposing forces. Yet speaks to or recalls some contrary circumstances. Transposed into the Topic, this means despite of, nevertheless or nonetheless, I rise. You have challenged me to fill in the blank of the opposing forces or contrary circumstances to your rise. In this respect you would wish me to fill in the blanks, in realistic terms, in order that your accomplishments may be better appreciated, understood and therefore celebrated with greater meaning.

As we all know in education ‘D’ is a failing grade. For convenience therefore I am going to represent the obstacles, hurdles, barriers, burdens, opposing forces and contrary circumstances that could have inhibited your rise, by using alliterations starting with D, since yours success is testimony of triumph of things that could have caused to  fail by obtaining a D.

As I sketch these scenarios of triumph over obstacles, hurdles, barriers, opposing forces and contrary circumstances that could have stopped your rise, I counsel those to whom the scenarios apply not to say amen. By so doing you would be exposing your private business in public. Rather in the silence of your heart acknowledge your success and give thanks to God and those who supported you to rise despite the obstacle or hurdle or barrier.

SCENARIOS OF TRIUMPH

Yet, I Rise despite the DISTANCE I had to travel every day, morning and evening, to and from school. Knox is very far from where I live and went to primary school. However, getting into Knox was one of my dreams. I was therefore not going to allow distance to defeat me. Every morning I had to get up by latest 4.30 in order to catch the bus by 6.00 am in order to reach school by 7.30. Because, if I missed that bus it no school that day. I could count on one hand with fingers left the times I missed that bus. I was always on time. I cannot count the numerous naps I took on the bus over the years or count the times which I finished homework while the bus stopped to pick up passengers.

Every school day I had to leave school by latest 4.00 pm to catch the bus back home. You cannot believe the things that I missed out on a school because of having to catch that bus home. Many days I envied students who lived near and thought that I had life very hard. But the DISTANCE did not defeat me. This afternoon I rise, despite the distance that I had to travel to school daily.

Yet, I Rise despite the DARKNESS that I had to work around most nights. I know that 93 per cent of Jamaica has electricity in their homes. But there are still districts without electricity in the homes.  It is a little embarrassing to admit but my district is one of those. The reason is terrain and cost. While we have a magnificent view of the surroundings, and we see all the stars at night, our homes are lit by lamps at night. Lamplight is okay for seeing generally but not so good for reading and writing unless you are close to the lamp. I had to try to get in most my homework and studying during daylight. But then, there was not all that amount of daylight left when I got home from school. Then again on weekend there were chores on Saturdays and church on Sundays. So, the lamp had to suffice many times.

Many times, I thought that the other students had it easy because their homes had electricity. But I never missed handing in my work on time. I studied with the lamp. I was not going to allow the darkness to defeat me. This afternoon I Rise, despite not having electricity in my home and living in a district that was dark during the night. DARKNESS did not defeat me.

Yet, I Rise despite the DISTRACTIONS of living close to the action. I live in reasonably close proximity to both Mandeville and Spauldings. Getting to school was never a problem. Our home got cable TV very early and we had more than 60 channels to choose from. As you can suspect I had my favourite programmes that I always wanted to watch. Both my mother and father have cars and drive and are engaged in a lot of community, church and other activities. They required us as children to be involved with them. There was always sometime going on including trips to Kingston on weekends, or to the beach, or to visit friends and sometimes to go to parties. We also had Internet connection and there was the World Wide Web on which I could surf.

In primary school apart from Grade 6, when I did Common Entrance, it was not too difficult to get all the work done and do well despite the distractions. However, going to High School was a big change. Instead of having one teacher who gave homework and tests, we had subject teachers who all gave homework and tests and they apparently did not speak to each other. As we went from First to Fifth Form the work became greater and frankly at times we all thought that our teachers were secretly planning to kill up with the amount of work they gave us and the impossible deadlines that we had to meet.

I soon came to the realisation that I could not cope with all the schoolwork as well as take part in all the action. I had to decide to cut down on the action because some of it was really distractions. I cut down on watching TV, particularly during the week during term time. I decline to go on several trips and visits. I deliberately missed out on several parties. I learned to use the World Wide Web to help me with the schoolwork. Sometimes I was teased for being a bookworm. But this afternoon I Rise, despite the DISTRACTIONS that could have kept me away from doing the work that was necessary for the success that I have achieved.

Yet, I Rise despite the DIFFICULTIES I had in understanding X. As we all know x represents the unknown factor which has a definite value. Here we know that across the range of subjects done at secondary schools there is in every subject some topics and areas which some students have difficulty grasping. This could be square root or compound interest in arithmetic; quadratic equations in algebra; bearings in geometry; the conjugation of verbs in Spanish; the subjunctive or the predicate in English; photosynthesis or respiration in biology; Newton’s laws of motion in physics; the periodic table in Chemistry; criticism in literature; Ohms law in electricity; types of fabrics in Home Economics; or using the circular saw in Woodwork. Whatever X was, this afternoon I Rise despite the great DIFFICULTIES I had in mastering X in some subjects.

The point is that you could not be here this afternoon, you could not have gotten an “A” or “B” or “C” in CSEC if you had not overcome the difficulties you had in understanding X in English Language, English Literature, Mathematics, Spanish, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Home Economics, Electricity, Woodwork, Technical Drawing, History, Geography or whatever the subject may have been. At first you when it came to X you were as blank as Double Blank in dominoes. Then you became like Double Three and finally like Double Six or at least as Six Four. As you sit here this evening you can distinctly remember how this teacher Miss So and So, or Mr This and That, or this friend, or brother or sister or father or mother, or how your poured over the textbook for yourself and finally broke those the barrier from misunderstanding to understanding. DIFFICULTIES in not understanding stuff initially did not defeat me. Hence, this evening I Rise despite the difficulties.

DOUBT, however, was the greatest obstacle and hurdle I had to overcome. One could say I doubted that I could succeed at the great Knox High School. I am the first student to attend Knox from the small district from which I come. Another could say I was first from my family to gain entrance to a traditional High School. I doubted that I could succeed although I showed a brave and confident face. Another could say I doubted because my father, or mother, or brother, or sister, or member of my district blazed a trail of glory at Knox or some other traditional high school and I entertained doubts that I could follow in their footsteps. Another could I doubted because I some persons that I look up to seemed unsure that I could make it. Their doubt prompted doubt in me. By faith I rose about doubts, halleluiah. DOUBT did not defeat me.

This evening in Graduating from the revered Knox High School I Rise despite DISTANCE, or DARKNESS, or DISTRACTIONS or DIFFICULTIES or DOUBT or ANY COMBINATION OF THESE. By the Grace of God, the help of those who love me, perseverance against the odds, I am graduating. Yes, I Rise.