Graduating Ceremony of the Class of 2016 at Holy Cross College

Graduating Ceremony of the Class of 2016 at Holy Cross College

April 29, 2016,

Chapel Holy Cross College Calvary Hill Arima

Theme: ‘Go Forth and Conquer’

Keynote Address

Title: From Blanchisseuse to Washington D.C: Life is a Journey: It is not a Destination! – Sheridon Hill

Greetings:

  • Principal Paul Reyes;

  • Vice Principal Mr. Howard;

  • Father Ferdinand Warner;

  • Members of the Board of Management of Holy Cross College;

  • Master of Ceremony Mr Stephen Olliviere;

  • Staff of Holy Cross College;

  • Parents;

  • Friends and Family members;

  • Invited Guests;

  • Students; and

  • Graduates.

Good morning to you all:

I am both humbled and excited to address this graduation ceremony today. After all, not long ago (32 years to be precise) I was sitting among my classmates in this very chapel in the graduating class of 1984. Times have changed; when I entered Holy Cross College in 1979, Dr Eric Williams was Prime Minister, Sir Ellis Clarke was President of our country and we were just shy of 3 years into republican status.

The Beginning

In September 1979, I entered Holy Cross College after 5 years at Blanchisseuse Government Primary School, (where I was among the top students of my class, placing first each time in test) and 2 years at St Pius Boys’ RC School in Arouca where I was among the top students placing first once in my 2 years there. The little “country boy” from Blanchisseuse was not doing too badly. I was part of the first intake under the new principal, Mr. Suresh Ramlogan, following the long tenure of Father Foley at the helm.

Life in Arouca

Coming from humble beginnings in the fishing village of Blanchisseuse and being the only one of my parents’ six (6) children to attend one of the ‘prestige’ schools in the country, I was very proud of this achievement — especially because I made my parents feel proud of me passing at my first attempt at the Common Entrance Examination for my first choice of secondary school.

Holy Cross College

I can vividly recall my days at Holy Cross. I entered 1Y and had Mr La Croix as my form teacher in forms 1 and 2, Mr Roy Joseph Ali in Form 3, and my 4th and 5th form teacher was Mrs Ruth Lawrence (who we fondly referred to as ‘Sari’ because of the lovely saris she wore). I understand one mischievous classmate jokingly asked another classmate to call Mrs Sari (referring to Mrs. Ruth Lawrence) and she responded, “Boy, what’s wrong with yuh?”

I have very fond memories of my five years at this institution. I recall:

  • Father Ahye walking into class mimicking someone smoking a cigarette, and his reasoning for wearing 2 watches at the same time;

  • Mr Young’s dry humour;

  • Mr Walker’s “THE WAY OF THE TRANSGRESSOR IS EXCEEDINGLY DIFFICULT-500 times”;

  • Dr Tappin’s constant threat of, “MY WOOD WILL BE UPON YOU!” (referring to the Purple Heart);

  • Ms Fermin’s pies,

  • Singing in the choir for Mrs Baboolal (formerly Ms Cuthbert);

  • Mr Baboolal’s long deep breaths before reading some of our schoolwork which had no punctuation;

  • Harassing Brother Narvis; and

  • As young boys, we all had very, very fond memories of Ms Forgenie and Mrs Marcelline in the late 70s and early 1980s.

Things quickly changed at Holy Cross! My days at the College were limited to little more than playing basketball or watching NBA basketball (yes, I wanted to be Julius ‘Dr J’ Erving — the Michael Jordan of that era) and I had a constant preoccupation with the young girls from various secondary schools. During the greater part of my time here schoolwork was a distant thought — I remember being awarded three (3) Third Class Testimonials in Form 1 and one (1) in Form 4. Some of my grades in Form 4 & 5 were similar to the numbers in telephone numbers — where the lowest number is zero (0) and the highest number is nine (9). Yes, you heard correctly, and those were my end-of-term marks out of 100. However, I left Holy Cross with a glimmer of hope having achieved four (4) grade Twos (2) at Basic level, one (1) grade four and one (1) grade five (5) at General Level at CXC and a ‘U’ in Biology at G.C.E. — although some would say that I failed before I even wrote the exams because I sat four subjects at Basic Proficiency at CXC and outright failed the General Proficiency.

Life after Holy Cross

After Holy Cross, I attended evening classes at El Dorado Senior Comprehensive School in pursuit of improved grades but soon grew weary of asking my parents for the $2.00 return maxi-taxi fare to school. So I got a job as a pump attendant at Francis Lee Heung’s gas station at the corner of Mann Street and the Eastern Main Road, Arouca. I always recount the events that followed. Mrs Mathilda Mora (my Standard 3 teacher) and Mrs Merle Lok Loy ‘Teacher Merle’ (Acting Principal of St Pius), visiting the gas station and seeing me in my red NP shirt pumping gas into vehicles. Mrs Mora always lamented: “Sheridon, what happened at Holy Cross? You were the brightest boy in my class; what happened?” and Teacher Merle: “Sheridon, you were such a bright boy; what did you do in your O Levels?” I had no answer at that time and it led me to ask myself the same question: “what happened?”

Feeling a deep sense of underachievement and of being a disappointment (to my parents, teachers and to myself personally) I enlisted in the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (T.T.P.S.) on March 7th 1988 (the first opportunity I got to change my circumstances) and my conquering began. I graduated among the top recruits and was awarded the second prize in the Police Duties examinations. I was the first of my class to be transferred to the Administration Branch commonly referred to as the “Commissioner’s Office” and the first of my class to be transferred to the elite Special Branch of the T.T.P.S. in February 1991. So with less than 3 years’ service I was working in a plainclothes unit and I remained there until today!

Academic and professional conquests followed later on! Within four (4) years I graduated from two (2) universities and Law School. In 2001 I graduated from the University of London with a Bachelor’s Degree (with Honours) in Law, in 2003 I graduated from UWI with a Postgraduate Diploma in International Relations; in 2005 I graduated from Hugh Wooding Law School with a Legal Education Certificate (LEC) and was admitted to practice law before the Supreme Court of Trinidad and Tobago.

I was then destined to return to UWI to complete my master’s and doctoral degrees in International Relations to remedy the wrongs I did at Holy Cross. But the Lord had other things in store for me. Within ten (10) days of completing my final examinations at Hugh Wooding Law School I was seconded (explain) by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to be a Program Coordinator, Caribbean Affairs, to the Secretariat of the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism (CICTE) at the Headquarters of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington DC. At that time the Government of Trinidad and Tobago held the chairmanship of CICTE and the entire staff was seconded by member states, so were not employed by the OAS (explanation of the OAS and the various departments). My secondment was originally for one (1) year, but the Government extended it for three (3) additional years until 2009 and I secured a job and stayed on for four (4) additional years in various capacities as a) Program Manager, b) Specialist and Consultant on Caribbean Relations in the Department of Public Security. In 2007, while still on secondment, my portfolio expanded to include security projects in the Department of Public Security, so I was assigned to two (2) of the three (3) departments in the Secretariat of Multidimensional Security in the OAS managing terrorism and public security projects in the Caribbean at the same time.

Some of the highlights of my 8-year tenure at the OAS in Washington DC include:

  1. Addressing the Committee on Hemispheric Security during its meeting on the Special Security Concerns of the Small Island States of the Caribbean in 2007;

  2. Presenting at various United Nations (UN) seminars, conferences and workshops on the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1540 (2004) (my 2006 address is published in UNODA Occasional Paper No. 13 of 2007);

  3. Preparing a report for the Secretary General of the OAS for the inaugural meeting of the Ministers Responsible for Public Security in the Americas (M.I.S.P.A.) in 2008;

  4. Chairing a panel of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO); and

  5. Being appointed the OAS Focal Point for International Policy Coordination with the UN on all matters pertaining to the control of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) agents in the hemisphere to prevent them from falling into terrorists’ hands.

Recognition soon came my way! In 2010, the St Augustine campus of UWI celebrated its 50th anniversary and the Institute of International Relations (IIR) celebrated its 44th. The Institute selected 44 outstanding students representing each year of its existence and I was selected as the Distinguished Alumni from the class of 2003. I held a seminar on Private Security Companies in the Caribbean during the week of celebrations at UWI, but more importantly, I joined the long list of distinguished alumni of the IIR which includes Chief Secretary of the THA, Mr Orville London, ambassadors Colin Granderson and Sandra Honore of Trinidad and Tobago and Dame Deborah-Mae Lovell of Antigua and Barbuda, madame justices Charmaine Pemberton and Mira Dean-Amourer of Trinidad and Tobago and former UWI Pro Vice Chancellor and Governor General of Jamaica, Sir Kenneth Hall.

My entry into academia and scholarly conquests soon followed! In 2013, I contributed to two (2) historical publications in the Caribbean. My chapter entitled: “The Rise of Gang Violence in the Caribbean” in the book entitled Gangs in the Caribbean and my chapter co-authored with Dr Annita Montoute entitled: “Private Security Companies in St Lucia” in the original research report entitled Private Security Companies in the Caribbean are the first published book and research report on: a) private security companies and b) gangs in the Caribbean. In my work on gangs in the Caribbean, I challenged the methodology of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and of World Bank in their 2007 study, which found that the Caribbean region had the highest murder rate in the world of 30 murders per 100,000 people; and in my work on the private security industry in the Caribbean, I created an original four-tier model for assessing the system of regulation and oversight of the private security industry in the Caribbean. My research paper entitled “An Emerging Power: The Role and Influence of Trinidad and Tobago on Caribbean Security” for the advanced course on Strategy in International Security (SIS)at the William J. Perry Centre for Hemispheric and Defence studies in Washington DC, was voted the best paper of the program, and the revised version of the paper will soon be converted into a chapter in a book which will be published by Routledge Press, the largest publisher of social science research in the world.

In 2013, I returned to Trinidad and Tobago and to date, I have done the following:

  1. Presented at the first regional conference of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) alliance against armed violence in La Antigua, Guatemala in May 2014;

  2. Participated in the drafting of the National Security Strategy of Trinidad and Tobago;

  3. Sat on two (2) committees of the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) drafting i) the National Counter-Terrorism Strategy of Trinidad and Tobago and ii) the National Information and Intelligence Sharing Policy;

  4. Presented two (2) papers at the first Academic Conference of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service in 2014, and one (1) paper at the Department of Criminal Justice and Legal Studies at COSTAAT’s annual seminar in 2015; and

  5. Penned 2 articles for the Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police (ACCP) annual magazine: one (1) in 2014 and the last article will be the feature article in the 2016 issue.

Finally, I currently sit on a committee at the Attorney General’s Office reviewing the National Counter-Terrorism Legislation and Policy;

But while I have shared some of my own conquests with you, permit me a few moments to highlight some of the conquests of my classmates and the other members of our alumni. After all, the statement in the Book of Mark, Chapter 6, verse 4, which states, A prophet is not without honour except in his own country, and among his own kin and in his own house” must not apply to us here at Holy Cross!

My class of 1984 produced a number of academics, doctors, lawyers, engineers, military and security practitioners, diplomats and successful businessmen — both here and abroad. At home, Dr Roger Andrews is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Physics at UWI St Augustine; Jonathan Mark Regis is Advisor Government Relations at Shell Trinidad and Tobago Limited; Colonel Sheldon Subero recently retired from the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force; Gerard Torres, Richard Marlay and Ashton Le Blanc are successful businessmen who own their companies and Sean Achong is an Automation and Control Systems Engineer at Massy Energy.

Further afield, Eric Paul is a Federal Aviation Association (FAA) inspector in Texas; Curtis Whiteman is the Strategic Manager, Business and Financial Planning, in the US Postal Service in Washington DC and is currently in charge of developing the organization’s 5-10 year strategic plan; Dr Tyrone Ali is a medical doctor in New Jersey and Dr Robert Martinez is Director of Research at Pfizer Corporation in Boston, Massachusetts, and well published in his field.

The wider Holy Cross Alumni includes the following people:

Banking and Business

My very good friend and regional banker, Mr Lyndon Guiseppi (1975-1980) is the CEO of Belize Bank Holdings. Lyndon worked at the Ministry of Planning (MOP), and at the executive level in every major bank in this country and is one of the leading bankers in the Caribbean.

Journalism

Jones P. Madiera (1959-1964) and Andrew Bruce (1971-1976) have excelled in journalism;

Politics

Jarette Narine (1957-1962) and more recently Kennedy Swaratsingh (1976-1981) served this country as government ministers. Current Arima Mayor, His Worship, Mr George Hadeed (1970-1975) is carrying the baton once held by Mr Adrian Cabralis from the class of 1978, Mr Elvin Edwards and Mr Keith Denali from the class of 1968.

Law Enforcement, Defence and Security

Captain Hayden Pritchard (formerly Alexander), the Commanding Officer of the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard, is from the class of 1976-1981, and Colonel Dexter Francis, the Commanding Officer of the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment, is from the class of 1980-1985; and the man you saw standing next to the last three (3) prime ministers (Patrick Manning, Basdeo Panday and Kamla Persad-Bissessar), Inspector Clarence Ferdinand from the class of 1977-1982, was, until recently, the officer in charge of the VIP Protection Unit in the Special Branch, which is responsible for the safety and security of the heads of state and government of this country, and all visiting VIPs;

Law

Port of Spain magistrate, His Worship, Mr Carl Quamina, is a member of the class of 1980-1985.

Diplomatic and Foreign Relations

How many of you are aware that an Arima boy and Holy Cross alumni, Mr Colin Connelly from the class of 1973-1978, is the current Chargé D’affaires who currently heads the Embassy of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in Washington DC, USA? This posting is the most prized and senior diplomatic post in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and, I dare say, the entire globe!

Sports

Kelvin Jack from the class of 1987-1992 is a former national football goalkeeper, and West Indies cricketers, Larry and Sheldon Gomes, are from the class of 1969 and, Phillip “Pip” Simmons, is from the class of 1974-1979. And we all know that Phillip Simmons is the current coach of the 2016 T20 World Champions West Indies cricket team.

(short piece about meeting Colin Connelly and Carlos Corraspe (class of 1985) Superintendent of the Trinidad and Tobago Prison Service in a Committee drafting the National Security Strategy of Trinidad and Tobago)

So have we conquered? Indeed, without a doubt we have! The longest journey begins with the first step and my conquering began by entering the TTPS.

I now urge you to continue in this vein but along the way you are going to be tested time and time again! Conquering has many dimensions and your battles may take various forms, including: a) failure and negativity, b) temptation to commit illegal acts, c) procrastination, d) poor work ethics, e) selfishness f) laziness, g) lack of motivation and h) poor decision-making. Therefore, I want to leave you with a few suggestions for your consideration as you attempt to win your battles.

  1. Cultivate Good Habits: Here at Holy Cross you would have had deadlines for homework, assignments and projects. At home, many of you have household chores and assignments and project deadlines for your additional lessons. Your approach to these tasks and their respective deadlines will continue into your adult, academic and professional life. The good habits you harness now will serve you well later on.

  2. Keep Dreaming: The late great American Civil Rights leader, Dr Martin Luther King once proclaimed, “I HAVE A DREAM”. I always dreamed that I would work for an international organization, but I never envisioned it being the oldest regional organization in the world and the premier organization in this hemisphere, or dreamed that I would travel the globe visiting 22 countries or do the things that I have done, and continue to do. Keep your dreams alive and pursue them vigorously!

  3. Failure and Negativity: In 2014, I participated in a program in which the facilitator said that current thinking in the corporate world is “fail fast, fail often and fail cheap”. The message here is not to pursue failure and adversity, but to quickly learn the lessons you need to from those failures and turn them into successes.

  4. Make Good Choices: My good friend, Lyndon Guiseppi, in his address to a previous graduating class of Holy Cross College, highlighted the fact that the choices you make today will impact the lives you live tomorrow and cited the contrasting cases of two past students of this great institution. I want you to keep this message in mind and always strive to make the best choice;

  5. Give Back: Give back to your community, your country and to your school. One of the achievements that I am most proud of is the Sheridon Hill award for Social Sciences at Holy Cross College. Here I want to pause to pay homage to my very good friend and outstanding alumni, Mr Neil Walcott (the school prefect in charge of my class in 1979-1980), who is giving his heart and soul to this college. Whether it is for the annual ‘Soca on the Hill’, ‘Chefs on the Hill’, galvanizing financial and media support for the various sporting teams, attending their games, securing items for the victorious football team or highlighting various aspects of the alumni body, Neil is giving back to his alma mater and I urge you to also give back to this great institution;

  6. Work Hard! Work hard to achieve your goals. I’ve read that the only place success comes before work is in the dictionary and I once wrote in a book to my teenage son and daughter, “one of the greatest satisfactions you would experience in life is working hard in pursuit of your goals and achieving them”. To quote Theodore Roosevelt, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain difficulty…. I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well”. So work hard to achieve your goals and remember those people who assist you along the way;

  7. Show Gratitude! Do not ever forget to say THANK YOU. Today is one of those opportune moments when you should say, THANK YOU; to your teachers and the staff of Holy Cross; to your study partners; your classmates of the last five (5) years; your friends and family members and very importantly, to your parents who have supported you and played a critical role in you being here today. But most importantly, we must say thank you to Almighty God, because without Him nothing is possible. My deceased father, Domingo Hill, once told me, “son, in this life you would not encounter too many nice people, so do not forget to say THANKS to those people who have been good to you”. So expressing gratitude is one of my hallmarks, but if I could I would say to my father that I have met a lot of good people in my lifetime and many people have assisted me in so many ways;

  8. Prepare! In his address to my class during orientation week at Hugh Wooding Law School in September 2003, Chief Justice Ivor Archie, who was then a psuine judge, advised us that before we appeared before him, we should prepare, prepare, prepare and then prepare some more. I want to echo the Chief Justice’s advice to you and implore you to adopt this mantra in whatever you do. It will serve you well;

  9. Integrity! There is an adage which states “honesty is the best policy”. I would humbly submit that I fully agree with a recent interpretation of that adage which states, “If we carefully consider the statement “honesty is the best policy”, it implies that there are other options that are also good but honesty is the best one”. The statement should be amended to read, HONESTY IS THE ONLY POLICY. Someone once said, “POLITICS HAS A MORALITY OF ITS OWN”. I respectfully disagree with this statement and I urge you to do what is right in all that you do;

  10. Be Passionate! Be passionate about your goals and dreams. During my 8 years in Washington I noted with great concern the proliferation of media reports which highlighted our country’s growing serious crime and murder rates. However, in 2009, an article appeared in a local newspaper with the caption: ‘T&T is now the Murder Capital of the Caribbean’, which I knew was flat out wrong, from my research on the topic and my work at the OAS. That prompted to me to pen the article: “Debunking the T&T Murder Capital Myth”, which was published in the Trinidad Guardian newspaper in two (2) parts on December 14 and 15, 2011. In the article I used data from the Jamaican Constabulary Force and the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service to refute the claim in the article and, more importantly, defend the image of our country;

  11. Get your Facts Right! At a recent handing-over ceremony of his papers and scholarly work at the UWI, St Augustine, Emeritus Professor Ramesh Deosaran lamented the rise of radio talk shows in this country and the public’s penchant for rumours which cause society to perpetuate baseless personal opinions on a broad range of issues. Therefore, I urge you to do whatever research is required on any issue you are required to speak on, debate or write about. The culture of “ole talk’ or to quote the President of the Republic, His Excellency, Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona, Senior Counsel, “rum shop talk” must stop with you. If you want to be respected — especially in professional circles— you must present accurate information; and finally

  12. Stand for Something! Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the United States once said, “Those who stand for nothing fall for anything”. As young men and women going out into the world you will encounter situations where you must take a stand for the right thing; I encourage you to do so. In 2010, Professor Ramesh Deosaran invited me to be part of the Trans Border Alliance on Caribbean Security. During the inauguration at the Hilton Hotel, I was part of group of professors from the universities of Montreal and Toronto in Canada, Rutgers and Miami in the US and Salford in the UK. The panellists were presented as a team of professors. When I took the podium, my first point was a crystal clear statement that while I was honoured to share the stage with those distinguished academics, I was not a professor.

So as I continue on the journey, after 2 book chapters, with another 4 in progress, and 3 articles in the Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police, and other accomplishments I mentioned before, I recently joined my class of 1984 classmate, Nigel Horsford, in embarking on a PhD at UWI. Therefore, the journey continues. And, as the saying goes, it’s not how you start the race but how you finish. Who would have thought that the 4 Basic CXC twos (2) and the gas station experience would propel me to accomplish the things that I mentioned? I hope my talk today has impacted as least one person to change their current circumstances, or has inspired you to conquer whatever challenges you are facing or will face in your journey in life.

Before I close, I want to say a few words to the teachers and staff of Holy Cross College. I often hear the statement that teachers are not as committed today as they were before. I am not here to debate the merits of demerits of this claim. After all, I can recall Mrs Mora visiting my aunt’s home on Royal Promenade, Arouca, to complain to my aunt because I came 7th in test after placing first the term before. But Mrs Mora was committed enough to take the time to visit my aunt’s home and complain about my talking in class and how I could do so much better — even though I got near perfect scores in the second term. I have always been grateful to my teachers — whether it was Mr Hyland and Ms Boyce at Blanchisseuse (who encouraged my parents to get me into a school out of Blanchisseuse because of the potential they saw in me and the transportation and other challenges teachers faced in those rural areas of the country in the early 70s); Mrs Mora at St Pius Boys RC; Mr justices Ricky Rahim and Ronnie Boodoosingh in my Trial Advocacy classes at Hugh Wooding, Ex ACP Curtis Lloyd at the Police Training Academy, and Madame Justice Charmaine Pemberton who taught me Public International Law at K. Beckles & Associates School of Law, and my teachers at Holy Cross mentioned earlier. The next time you encounter a boy or girl who is not performing to their full potential, remember my talk today and, as calypsonian, Mystic Prowler said, do not forget to “look below the surface”. Maybe I was just plain miserable at Holy Cross, or am a late bloomer, but I always take full responsibility for my performance here and always praise my teachers at this institution because they laid the groundwork for my later years. So while I have said it before, let me say it again, THANK YOU, to the teachers of the past and to you who are continuing in this noble profession.

Now, to the young men of the graduating class of 2016, the world is at your feet, and as our school’s motto says “IN HOC SIGNO VINCES”, in this sign we shall conquer, I implore you to GO FORTH AND CONQUER!

I THANK YOU!