Living the Jamaican Dream in truth and courageSaturday, July 09, 2016
BY AUDREY MARKS
(This is a lightly edited version of the main address given to the 2016 graduating class of Marymount High School in St Mary by Chief Executive Officer of Paymaster Ltd, Ambassador Audrey Marks)
Parents, many of you have had to make sacrifices mostly unknown to your daughters to make this moment possible. For those of you who worked or are working overseas to send your children to school, you have had to adjust to conditions you did not know you could survive and overcome challenges you didn’t know you had the courage to face. You all had a dream for your daughters and that kept you going; so today we celebrate this achievement.
Many years ago, in a district called Dressikie, I was walking home from school with my usual pack of friends when I saw my mom coming towards me, shouting out my name… I was immediately frightened, but as she came closer I could see her smile, so I was comforted…she hugged me and said you passed, you passed, she kept repeating. I knew immediately it was the Common Entrance Examination… I did not know it then, but ‘passing my Common Entrance’ was the start of a most remarkable journey, which took me right here to Marymount High School.
Young ladies, I see myself in all of you because I was once at this point in my journey. My early life and story is not that different from that of many you. My parents made a lot of sacrifices because of the dreams they had for all their children, and those dreams planted a seed in me. Like some of you, at this time in your life, I didn’t have all the answers about what I wanted, how I would get it, and what it would be, but I knew that I had a dream for myself and it was to be successful.
(1) DREAM THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM — YOUR GENDER IS NOT A CONSTRAINT TO YOUR DREAMS
I hope you have big dreams, because I am here to tell you that whatever you believe you can achieve — you can. In spite of all Jamaica’s current problems, we are a blessed people and you, my dear young ladies, can be anything that you want to be if you put your mind to it. In the western world, where we are blessed to be, we take many liberties for granted, like the right to an education as a girl. However, despite global progress, girls still continue to suffer severe disadvantages and exclusion in access to education in most places in the world — over 30 million girls in your age group were out of school as at 2013 data; three years later, the situation has not changed much.
So let us celebrate our blessing and privilege to be living right here in Jamaica where women have rights and our voices can and have been heard. In 2006, we joined the ranks of pioneering countries that have elected female leaders — the United States may just now be on the verge of possibly electing its first female president. In 2015, the International Labour Organization (ILO) ranked Jamaica as the number one country with the highest proportion of femalemanagers globally. Young ladies, you are the offspring of some of the strongest, most fearless and ambitious women in the world. Embrace this heritage and seek to build on it as you embark on this new leg of your journey.
(2) THE JAMAICAN DREAM
You may have heard of the ‘American Dream’. Many Jamaicans have left these shores in search of it. It was a clearly defined core value taught to every American child and the aspiration of every immigrant. James Adams, in his book
The Epic of America, stated that the American dream is "that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.
"It is not a dream of fancy motor cars and big bank accounts, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognised by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position."
I want to suggest to you that based on the same definition of the American Dream offered by Adams, there is a Jamaican Dream that all Jamaicans can aspire towards, but it requires all of us to work towards a reality of social order and equity that allows each Jamaican woman, man, boy and girl, to reach their goals, regardless of birthright or any other socioeconomic status.
I stand here today to say it is possible to have and live the Jamaican dream. But
I know it cannot become an easy dream for the majority — thousands of Audrey Markses, thousands of Andrew Holnesses, thousands of Portia Simpson Millers, thousands of Glen Christians, thousands of Henry Lowes, thousands of Usain Bolts, thousands Bob Marleys, and thousands of Greg Nesbeths until we create a framework that gives each Jamaican at least the opportunity to achieve this dream.
(3) A CALL FOR NATIONAL ACTION TO FACILITATE THE JAMAICAN DREAM
So I want to use this opportunity to challenge us not to be satisfied with if "I am okay" as long as our brother and sister is not. When I return to Dressikie and see some of my pack of friends from primary school days, many academically equal or better than I was, who did not have a good day on that one ‘common entrance exam day’, barely scraping by, I know that you and I have a double responsibility.
Over the last 60 years, almost 80 per cent of our kids are not given the opportunity of quality education as a right. You and I are part of the lucky 20 per cent. We must do the best with this opportunity we have been given for ourselves. We must also always use every opportunity to help others less fortunate, and we must advocate for a change to give our brothers and sisters equal opportunity. We must support the planned phasing out of the current apartheid secondary school placement process and advocate that, whatever system GSAT is replaced with, it must be a seamless, stress-free process for every child to move from primary to secondary education. This is our most important and urgent responsibility to bring the Jamaican dream to every child.
We must support and hold the Government accountable to the vision of creating a Jamaica that values the life and rights of all Jamaicans in an atmosphere that sees prosperity and achievement as a collective vision. I believe it starts with how we value access to quality education for each and every Jamaican. We need to shift the emphasis from quantity to quality, from more placements in ‘schools of choice’, ‘preferred schools’, ‘traditional schools’ and all the other labels that divide our children, and more on seamlessly incorporating the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) approach, in our efforts to prepare 21st century learners and leaders.
We must urgently move away from preparing a ‘workforce’ in the very literal sense and towards a nation of thinkers where innovation is a way of life, a space filled with entrepreneurs and intrepreneurs who are motivated to create value at every turn. After all, in a real sense, Silicon Valley, the engine of change in this new ICT world is more of a mindset than a place.
In the spirit of this collective responsibility, I am pleased to announce that another past student, Natalie St Louis, and I are working with your chairman, Mr Peter Haddad, Principal, Mrs Bailey and the building fund team to establish a second science lab. This lab will be specifically for science and innovation, and we are pleased to announce today the first $2M in donation, of the $10M we are aiming to raise for completion.
I am also pleased to announce the Claude & Olive Marks Entrepreneurial Achievement Award of $100k, in support of the government’s initiative to introduce the Junior Achievement Company of Entrepreneurs (JACE) initiative to all high schools across Jamaica in September 2016. This initiative is expected to benefit 45,000 high-school students over the next three years.
In conclusion, I want to speak directly to you my daughters: Many times we don’t remember most of what is said in a graduation speech but today I want to share with you three suggestions from my own life experiences that I wish someone had told me at this age, when I was embarking on this phase of my dream. So remember these three things:
(1) Seek financial freedom: Do not stop here. Further your studies or if your parents can’t afford it, work and study as I did. Get yourself qualified to maximise earnings (I was just speaking with a florist last weekend, this is the area she studied after leaving school and today she has a big business that can list on our Junior Stock Exchange). Do not be ashamed to desire wealth. We have been cultured as a people to be ‘satisfied’ and brainwashed by an agenda erroneously called ‘Christian’ principles, especially as women, that ‘money is the root of evil’, this is not biblical. Generational wealth is the key to financial freedom. While our ancestors paved the way for our political freedom, we will not get to the next level that will actualise the Jamaican dream without abandoning this unhealthy relationship with money. Young ladies, you must be financially literate and proud of it.
(2) Be Resilient: Learn to see failure as only a momentary setback. You will face unnecessary challenges solely due to your gender from both men and women. For those of you with entrepreneurial dreams, you may fail sometimes; sometimes many times but you must learn to ‘fall six times, get up seven’. No successful man or woman has ever given up.
(3) Stay connected with what is important: Invest time in yourself, your family and good friends relationship and with God. In this age of technology, it is so easy to believe you are connected when you really just have access by connectivity. To be truly connected is to live on purpose and with purpose. Learn to love quiet times with your own self, take time to nourish the things that feed your soul.
Stay grounded and humble, and interact to others around you with basic manners, respect and love. Good manners should and must never go out of style. For many years some of my friends teased me and called me Glady’s because of my penchant for greeting stranger but "Howdy and tenky no bruck no square" this means it does no harm to show good manners to people. Promise me that from today onwards, you will begin to cultivate the positive habits of good manners and behavior. Thank you, please, good morning /afternoon/ evening, you are welcome, excuse me and so on.
As I close, I want you to know that I have faith in you, I see bright futures before me, and I see young women who will change the fortunes of their families, communities, country and the world. There is in this moment, right now, many opportunities for developing countries like ours. Technology among other things, has leveled the playing field, it is the time of living local and thinking global. You can change the world from right here in Jamaica. We need you, our young people, our best and brightest to believe in yourselves and we, who are entrusted to be the guardians of your dreams, will do everything to support you on your journey to excellence.
Congratulations to all the supporting figures — teachers, parents, friends, family and community — that have made today possibly. What I know for sure is that the future of all Jamaicans is inextricably linked regardless of class, race and gender. Own your roles as change makers and leaders of the Jamaican Dream. It can be done, it will be done and to God be the glory for it all!
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