More than 200 students pursuing diplomas or certificates at the University College of the Cayman Islands were honoured during commencement exercises Saturday evening. The event was live streamed on several social media platforms.
Keynote speaker Tom Jenkins, chairman of OpenText Corporation, a large Canadian tech firm, told the students they were more than just the next generation of workers and leaders.
“You’re going to be the longest-lived generation in human history,” Jenkins told them. “It’s predicted that you’ll live more than 100 years, and you’ll have 12 different jobs.”
He said the students are also the first digital generation and he implored them to take chances in life.
“Think about the power you have with the devices at your fingertips,” he said. “That’s revolutionary for our island.”
He pointed to studies showing physical changes that have taken place in the brain structure of younger people as a result of the increased use of computers and other digital technologies. CAT scans, he said, have revealed that the areas of the brain responsible for memory are shrinking, while the nerve connections allowing the brain’s two hemispheres to communicate have increased by 30 percent.
“You’re evolving faster than any generation has in humanity,” he said. “We’re only at the very early stages of digital (society). It’s fully up to you to define what that means.”
He encouraged the graduates to apply that directly to the Cayman Islands, and determine what the digital future will look like here.
Gloria McField-Nixon, chief officer of the Portfolio of Civil Service was among the attending dignitaries taking part in the ceremonies. Representatives from the Ministry of Education, including Secretary and Chief Officer Cetonya Cacho and acting Deputy Chief Officer Lyneth Monteith were also on hand.
UCCI President and CEO Stacy McAfee commended the graduates – who included post graduate, bachelor’s and associate degree receipients along with those receiving technical certifications -- for weathering the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic and suggested they might be in a better position to face the world because of that.
“The experiences of the last year have forced us to create new beginnings,” she said, echoing the commencement theme of “New Beginnings, New Possibilities.”
She went on to discuss some of the ways students had adapted and responded to the pandemic, including such things as an initiative by the social work students to help with the local food bank, and the fact that the nursing students helped provide healthcare support during the critical time.
“You must continue to create these kinds of possibilities,” she said.
Board of Governors Chairman Mark Scotland, provided some highlights of UCCI’s accomplishments over the past year, including the approval of campus improvements, increased salaries for faculty and planning for a new STEM building as part of a campus expansion.
He also said that because of the lockdown that came with the coronavirus, the graduates had seen significant changes in their education regimen, including having to adapt to online learning. As a result, he suggested their diplomas and certificates should carry an asterisk, indicating “that you accomplished your studies in the heat of the Covid pandemic.”
But, he added, “Together we made it through. And I think it’s fair to say, if you can do this, you can do anything.”
As part of the evening’s ceremonies, several awards were presented, including the Community Partner Award, which went to Beverley and Tom Simpson, for their help in establishing the Community Engagement Programme. The programme will provide need-based scholarships for up to 20 students annually and there are hopes that it will grow to be able to assist even more students.
Laurent Bodden received the Recent Graduate Alumnus Award, while Jared Awe – a member of the UCCI Board of Governors – was presented with the Career Alumnus Award.
The audience was also treated to performances by the UCCI Dancers and the UCCI Chorus.
McAfee sent the graduates off with the encouragement that they “be the catalyst for great ideas and momentous actions.
“Your success,” she added, “is our proudest accomplishment.”