Wil­liams Ad­vises Grad­u­ates On Sur­viv­ing In Real-Life Saint Lu­cia!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT -

Last Sun­day, be­fore a packed room at San­dals Grande, Jus­tice Lor­raine Wil­liams was the key­note speaker at the most re­cent Mon­roe Col­lege grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony. Her ad­dress kicked off with the oblig­a­tory pleas­antries: “There is noth­ing I en­joy more than cel­e­brat­ing great achieve­ments, so be­fore go­ing any fur­ther let us give this mag­nif­i­cent class of 2016 from one of the best col­leges a tremen­dous round of ap­plause . . .” Her pill’s su­gar coat­ing soon gave way to the bit­ter­ness of her truth. Not that the au­di­ence that ap­plauded nearly ev­ery line she spoke had ex­pected other­wise. Ms Wil­liams’ rep­u­ta­tion as a no-non­sense speaker and dis­penser of jus­tice is well known. We can do no bet­ter than to let her once again speak for her­self.

Iwant to start by say­ing ed­u­ca­tion con­sists not of what we learned in school but mainly in what we have un­learned. Now, I am well aware of the risk I take by choos­ing to open my ad­dress in this fash­ion. Chances are you are won­der­ing why I would say some­thing so po­ten­tially dis­tract­ing—some might even say shock­ing—at a cer­e­mony to cel­e­brate ed­u­ca­tion. Af­ter all, my great­est wish right now is that you give me your un­di­vided at­ten­tion. In all events, I am al­to­gether un­de­serv­ing of the credit you may un­wit­tingly have be­stowed on me. I am not the au­thor of that ar­rest­ing open­ing line; I bor­rowed it for the oc­ca­sion. The re­called ob­ser­va­tion—that ed­u­ca­tion con­sists mainly in what we have un­learned—was made by a leg­endary Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist named Sa­muel Langhorne Clemens, bet­ter known as Mark Twain, au­thor of such lit­er­ary clas­sics as ‘Ad­ven­tures of Huck­le­berry Finn’ and ‘The Ad­ven­tures of Tom Sawyer.’

As it turns out, Mr. Twain is but one of sev­eral ac­knowl­edged lit­er­ary gi­ants who, para­dox­i­cally, seem not to have had much re­gard for in­sti­tu­tional ed­u­ca­tion. The list in­cludes the revered English philoso­pher, math­e­ma­ti­cian and writer Bertrand Rus­sell, who died just forty-some­thing years ago. He con­sid­ered ed­u­ca­tion “one of the chief ob­sta­cles to in­tel­li­gence and free­dom of thought.” Imag­ine that! Ed­u­ca­tion an ob­sta­cle? Then there was the sin­gu­lar Os­car Wilde, fa­mous for, among other things, ‘The Pic­ture of Do­rian Gray’; ‘The De­cay of Ly­ing’; ‘De Pro­fundis’ and the ‘Bal­lad of Read­ing Gaol’— not to be con­fused with Dr. Martin Luther King’s equally thought-pro­vok­ing ‘Let­ter From Birm­ing­ham Jail.’

Two more sub­scribers to the sen­ti­ment that opened this ad­dress were Ge­orge Bernard Shaw, who saw ed­u­ca­tion as “a suc­ces­sion of eye open­ers, each in­volv­ing the re­pu­di­a­tion of some pre­vi­ously held be­lief” and the Amer­i­can au­thor and his­to­rian Will Du­rant who de­fined ed­u­ca­tion as “a pro­gres­sive dis­cov­ery of our ig­no­rance.” I al­most for­got to add the Bri­tish writer Nor­man Dou­glas, for whom ed­u­ca­tion was “a state-con­trolled man­u­fac­tory of echoes.”

As de­press­ing at first read­ing as are the re­called thoughts of these uni­ver­sally ac­knowl­edged well-ed­u­cated in­di­vid­u­als, they should not be dis­missed too quickly. They would all agree that the main pur­pose of ed­u­ca­tion is to de­velop the mind, which should be a thing that works. What is the point in pro­duc­ing a vast pop­u­la­tion that can read but is un­able to dis­tin­guish what is worth read­ing and what’s not? And if it is true, as so many of us have been taught to be­lieve, that ed­u­ca­tion is meant to serve as a tool by which to bet­ter our lives and the lives of oth­ers, then what to say about our peo­ple and coun­try at this time?

Where is the in­dis­putable ev­i­dence that we live bet­ter lives to­day than did our great grand­par­ents in their rel­a­tively prim­i­tive time? Are we bet­ter able to feed our­selves? Or are we de­pen­dent for most of what we eat on un­known sources? What have we done to the once fer­tile lands we in­her­ited from our an­ces­tors? The ex­perts con­tin­u­ally re­mind us that we are what we eat and that much of what ails us to­day are con­se­quences of food im­ported from lands un­known. Still we gorge on the pro­cessed con­coc­tions on our su­per­mar­ket shelves, hardly both­er­ing to read the fine print on their pretty pack­ages.

Then there are those who say our an­ces­tors sel­dom lived past forty or fifty. And they may be right. But were they laid low by diabetes, high blood pres­sure, cancer and car­diac ar­rest, all com­mon­place at this time? Or did they die from the most com­mon dis­ease of the day—lack of med­i­cal at­ten­tion? As ed­u­cated as we pur­port to be, why do we con­tinue to stuff our­selves with im­ported poi­sons?

Let us talk about crime, crime that is rav­aging our coun­try. Is rape more com­mon to­day than then? Or is it that to­day we are more likely to re­port such abuses to our rel­a­tives, friends and the au­thor­i­ties than were our pre­de­ces­sors who ac­cepted rape as nor­mal? What­ever the an­swer, why haven’t more of our peo­ple learned, that the truly ed­u­cated do not be­have to­wards one an­other like wild dogs in heat? What is the point of an ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem that ap­pears to have no salu­tary im­pact on de­viant be­hav­ior? Are our in­sti­tu­tions of learning at all con­cerned about what the cal­iber of peo­ple they grad­u­ate?

Even Pres­i­dent Theodore Roo­sevelt was not above say­ing “a man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight train; but if he has a uni­ver­sity ed­u­ca­tion he may steal the whole rail­road.” I dare­say my ad­dress is tar­geted less at to­day’s grad­u­at­ing stu­dents than at oth­ers with in­flu­ence who, de­spite their ed­u­cated sta­tus, are silent in the face of un­speak­able hor­rors, hor­rors that have con­trib­uted to our young peo­ple’s dis­trust of the so-called sys­tem and our in­sti­tu­tions.

Is the church to­day as con­cerned as it used to be about the way we live? About our politi­cians? About the gen­eral at­ti­tude to au­thor­ity? Are our young peo­ple bad be­cause they tend not go to church; when they com­plain that the church has lost its col­lec­tive voice; that the church has it­self sold out; that it is part of the prob­lem that plagues our so­ci­ety? Ours may well al­ready be an ir­repara­ble na­tion of ed­u­cated drop-outs and copouts—if we are to judge by the ev­i­dence in this case.

I re­al­ize this may not be the speech you an­tic­i­pated. I have no doubt many here would have pre­ferred me to de­liver a milk-and-honey ad­dress that you would con­sider in­spi­ra­tional. If that be the case, then I can only ad­vise you to wake up and smell re­al­ity. It’s not a com­fort­ing smell. But it is what it is and des­tined not to get bet­ter while you con­tinue to view it through fil­tered glasses and with noses no longer able to smell.

I could eas­ily have de­liv­ered a com­fort­ing speech that many would con­sider up­lift­ing; even in­spir­ing. I have made many such speeches in my time. But af­ter­ward I re­turned home un­able to face the woman in my mir­ror. For I knew, that the truth I had cho­sen to serve my young and trust­ing au­di­ences were words that glit­tered, but were not nearly golden. I have promised my­self no longer to be part of the prob­lem. In­con­ve­nient truths are of­ten the most telling!

Speak­ing of in­con­ve­nient truths: Even as I write there is news that ven­er­a­ble St. Mary’s Col­lege has once again been in­vaded, ran­sacked, des­e­crated, a watch­man bru­tally beaten by in­di­vid­u­als ob­vi­ously with no sense of what the col­lege rep­re­sents. Are there lessons to be learned from this most re­gret­table, out­ra­geous in­ci­dent? Can we say with a free con­science that we did not con­trib­ute to it—even by turn­ing a blind eye when all the signs were telling us our young peo­ple were headed in the wrong di­rec­tion and needed spe­cial at­ten­tion? That there would be a price to pay for ig­nor­ing what one UN-funded re­port af­ter an­other were telling us about our so-called lead­ers of to­mor­row?

Grad­u­at­ing stu­dents, ladies and gentlemen, I have been most for­tu­nate. While grow­ing up I had fam­ily that stood by me when life un­ex­pect­edly kicked me in the teeth. I have been dis­ap­pointed and be­trayed by trusted life­long friends. But for­tu­nately for me, I had par­ents who taught me never to stay down, to get up again, dust the dirt off my skirt and go for the gold. I have had many op­por­tu­ni­ties to learn what I was never taught at school. I have been a lawyer; a mag­is­trate; an at­tor­ney gen­eral; a diplo­mat and now a judge.

I am also a sin­gle mother with a son who means the world to me and who has, if you will per­mit me a lit­tle crow­ing, done very well him­self. My work has taken me to for­eign lands with cul­tures not at all sim­i­lar to ours. And yes, I learned about the ups and downs of life. I have been af­forded van­tages of life unimag­ined by reg­u­lar ci­ti­zens. I learned to speak for­eign lan­guages. It has also been my duty to sen­tence to long-term im­pris­on­ment cer­tain ci­ti­zens whose crimes de­manded it. I have had in the line of duty to reluc­tantly pass sen­tence on in­di­vid­u­als who could not af­ford a lawyer.

I have had to send a lawyer to jail for fraud. Mean­while, they and I knew about the well-placed, well-ed­u­cated en­ablers of crime that are cel­e­brated and re­spected by a so­ci­ety daily grow­ing more rot­ten. We hear no one is above the law. But some peo­ple, by their ac­tions, ob­vi­ously imag­ine them­selves above the law. One of the big ques­tions con­fronting so­ci­ety to­day is: Who will guard the guards? Why has ed­u­ca­tion not im­pacted to a large ex­tent the wrongs I’ve cited? Re­mem­ber the US pres­i­dent’s line about the un­e­d­u­cated thief and the thief with a uni­ver­sity de­gree?

Could it be the ed­u­ca­tion our schools pro­vide is dis­con­nected from mod­ern liv­ing? How many of

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Saint Lucia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.