ST. THOMAS – For the first time since 2019, “Pomp and Circumstance” could be heard at the University of the Virgin Islands during its 58th graduation ceremony for the 211 students of the “Resilient, Determined, Overcoming Class of 2022.” on the St. Thomas campus on Thursdays.
UVI President David Hall compared the day to a song he heard his freshman year of college: “Oh, Happy Day.”
“It is truly a happy day, a happy day for this university because after two years of virtual commencement ceremonies, we are all together again,” he told the graduates. “It’s a happy day for the parents, friends and supporters of our graduates because you can see them walk through this stage live in vivid color and, of course, it’s a happy day for you, our graduates. “
He added that they “did what no other UVI class has done, which ended in the last two years and two months during a pandemic, which required you to study, learn and to excel in circumstances like you have never encountered before”.
Some graduates were making history, he said. The 32nd Legislature, in 2018, passed a bill funding the launch of a master’s degree in social work at the university. The first six graduates of the program include one on St. Thomas who graduated at the St. Thomas ceremony, and five who will graduate on St. Croix today.
The graduates were a diverse group in terms of age and interests.
Deborah Finley Jackson, 73, earned her Doctor of Philosophy or Ph.D. in Creative Leadership for Innovation and Change. She was a teacher for 30 years, but came out of retirement after just one year. She now works for the UVI Creativity Lab, leading workshops and retreats on creativity and creative problem solving, strategic planning and more.
“I felt like my brain was turning into mashed potatoes, so I watched UVI and found the program and here I am. Lifelong learning is the way to stay young,” she said. “Why wouldn’t we want to learn new things? UVI is the perfect place for that.
Another educator returned to school to earn a Master of Arts in instructional leadership. After 24 years as an educator, Juan Christian is currently working as Marketing Manager for Tutu Park Mall. He returned to school with the encouragement of teachers and mentors.
“I find education to be extremely important,” Christian said. “As a leader, it can open doors for us to be a role model. We know the current trends in education, everything is changing and transforming. We have to discover different ways not only to lead but also to instruct students In this way, on our two objectives, we can exploit everything that could give rise to the final product of excellence.
Despite the challenges, COVID has not deterred graduates from their studies.
“One of the great things is now that we have UVI online,” Christian said. “The learning didn’t stop. Everything continued forward. The teachers inspired us and reminded us that whatever is falling apart around us doesn’t mean learning has to stop. With this fuel, we were able to move forward.
Kederick Baynes agreed that even though classes were online, they still got the “full college experience,” although that definitely got in the way of the social aspect. Baynes earned a bachelor’s degree in management.
“Obstacles come up,” he said, “so keep pushing.”
This year, UVI focused on health achievement at the presentation of honorary degrees. Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, a Virgin Islander who served on the Biden-Harris Transition’s COVID-19 Advisory Council and will chair the COVID-19 Task Force on Health Equity in the Administration, received a doctorate in humane letters at the ceremony of Saint Thomas.
An honorary degree was also awarded to keynote speaker Dr. Robert Michael Franklin Jr., James T. and Berta R. Laney Professor of Moral Leadership at Emory University in Atlanta. He served as the university’s president from 2007 to 2012 and is now the senior adviser to the current president.
In his speech, Franklin encouraged graduates to become moral leaders in society with courage, imagination and integrity, who serve others and serve the common good.
Referring to the challenges this particular class faced, he quoted Ernest Hemingway, saying, “The world breaks everyone, but afterwards many are strong in the broken places. He ended with a line from reggae artist Peter Tosh, “I gotta get up, dust myself off and start all over again.”
Class speaker Kasem Thomas Jr., who also arranged one of the musical selections, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts.
“This time in our lives has demonstrated the courage, determination and strength that we possess, and we strive and thrive beyond the challenges we face,” he said. “Let us strive to be educationally excellent, globally minded, entrepreneurial graduates, emotionally and spiritually balanced, and eager to serve the world. The fate of the world is in our hands and I am convinced that it will only be better thanks to us. Go forth and do great things.”