THE Camperdown Alumni St Andrew Chapter (CASTAC) will be launching a special award in honour of the school's founder Ivy May Wilson-Grant on October 27 at the Terra Nova Hotel in Kingston. The award is a special item on the programme of CASTAC's annual reunion banquet at which five outstanding past students are to be inducted into the alumni Hall of Fame.
Fittingly, this award to honour the memory of Ivy Grant is being launched on the 30th anniversary - almost to the day - of her passing on Saturday, October 26, 1982. The launch will mark the second time so far this year that this incomparable educator will be so recognised by her former students. The first was on June 10 when the virtuoso soprano Carol Reid assembled a group of similarly talented past students and friends at the Webster United Church in Kingston in a concert recital, "A time to remember", to raise funds for the Ivy Grant Trust Fund launched a year earlier to help support needy students of Camerpdown. Those who attended will testify to the richness of that performance and the appropriateness of the tribute to the Camperdown founder.
I can think of no greater tribute to a teacher in retirement and beyond than those paid by her or his former students, and the tributes to Mrs Grant so far this year have been wonderful and deserved.
Jamaica's cultural history is littered with the names of many who performed outstanding feats, or who changed the country or even the world in one way or the other, but whose names, even in this "Google Age" do not readily crop up and are often ignored by the mass media unless their achievement is in the sporting, political or entertainment arenas. I suspect that for much of her life, Mrs Grant's name was unrecognisable outside of Kingston and St Andrew, even though in retirement for a brief time in 1971-72, she acted as principal of St Hilda's High School. The fact that she touched the lives of hundreds of her students, myself included, in many positive ways, is of far more fundamental significance to her value and contribution to national development.
All who came in contact with Ivy Grant would have been awed and inspired by her strong presence and character. She was a tremendous motivator and a woman with a massive heart that overflowed with compassion and love for her students; especially those who she felt were disadvantaged by the existing education system. She was a pioneer in the field of private education, at the time dominated by men; a philanthropist, and a devoted family person.
Mrs Grant was the mother figure
In her tribute at the concert in June, Carole Reid put in words what so many of us could have said: "Mrs Grant was the mother figure, who knew all her students and cared for them deeply. For my part, she knew the inadequacies of my parents' resources, and being Mrs Grant she organised a private scholarship for me for most of my high school years. Even when I transferred to Excelsior High School to pursue the Cambridge Higher Schools' Examination - would you believe it? - the scholarship continued. This was the mettle of this wonderful lady. I am certain that my numerous blessings and all that I am today had their genesis in my formative years at Camperdown."
Similar sentiments have been voiced repeatedly. Irene Walter, the current senior pro-chancellor of the International University of the Caribbean (IUC), one of the five to be inducted on October 28, said: "Mrs Grant believed in the supreme worth of the individual and in his or her right to an education that would allow for the development of the full potential of the individual. So many of us benefited from that belief. She not only lived a life that one could emulate, but ensured that she instilled in her charges, values of honesty, caring, independence, determination to succeed and generosity."
At the CASTAC reunion banquet on October 27, besides launching the Ivy Grant Award for Excellence, the alumni will induct five outstanding past students into their Hall of Fame that was instituted in 2011. In addition to Mrs Walter, they are Dr Muriel Lowe-Valentine, a retired physician and a foundation student of both Camperdown and the University of the West Indies School of Medicine; Ambassador Basil Bryan, former Consul General to New York; Ray Stewart, an Olympian, and Peter "Jair" Cargill, a decorated national footballer who died tragically in a motor vehicle accident in 2005. The first three named attended Camperdown during Mrs Grant's tenure as principal.
In an interview with Dr Lowe-Valentine, she shared fond recollections of Mrs Grant who she said made a lasting impression on her life. She said, with some sadness, that much later in life when the ailing former principal came under her care, although she was pleased to have been there for her in a professional capacity, she was saddened by the recognition that her health was deteriorating beyond repair.
Another former principal and past student, Winifred Smith, described Mrs Grant as "inspiring". "One was always challenged to produce work that was above average. She gave her best, and only then was it good enough."
The reunion banquet on October 27 promises to be a grand affair.
Arrangements are being made to accommodate the involvement of a strong representation from the Florida and New York chapters. A red carpet welcome is being planned for the celebrities on the list. One expects that there will be much to reminisce about. The year 2012 also marks the 30th anniversary of the "historic treble" when Camperdown's football team took home all three championship trophies, the Manning and Walker cups and the Olivier Shield. Only four other schools have achieved such a feat since the decade of the 1960s. The posthumous induction of the then team captain and a national football icon Peter Cargill will no doubt add impetus to those recollections.
Beyond the celebrations though, the past students' tribute to the memory of our founder will be paramount, and all present, both young and the not so young, will undoubtedly endorse the recent observation of the Camperdown Board Chairman William McLeod in an interview: "Somewhere in the great beyond, Mrs Grant herself is looking down and saying that I am well pleased."
I don't for a second think that we should waste time comparing what we do with the actions in Trinidad and Tobago and in Grenada. They do not now have our problem, especially in the case of Grenada, where most likely only their one medallist is being rewarded with money and land.
Jamaica can never pay for the national satisfaction and sheer joy that our Olympians made possible and the patriotism their acts inspired and will inspire. The returns by way of the tourism dollar are inestimable. Our athletes have long complained about lack of rewards and support in general from the country. It would not surprise me one bit if some begin to look elsewhere where the "grass is greener". While we can never compete with oil-rich countries, we can make our athletes feel more appreciated - and this is certainly one way.