Sir Hilary Beckles has cited that the English-speaking Caribbean has the lowest enrollment in higher education in this hemisphere, which negatively impacts the quality of social existence, dynamism of our economies and the intellectual focus of our politics.

Addressing the graduating class of the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) on Thursday, May 12, Sir Hilary, Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI) declared, “You are a minority within a minority…from Alaska to Argentina, we have in the age cohort 18-30, the lowest number of our citizens entering the doors of colleges and universities.”

He further told the UVI graduates: “We are a society in deep trouble but your commitment to the cause of higher education gives us hope and confidence in the future.”

Sir Hilary, who received an honorary doctorate at the UVI 2016 Commencement Ceremonies, was guest speaker at ceremonies in St Thomas on Thursday and in St Croix on Friday, May 13.

Referencing African ancestry and noting that “eight million slaves were brought into the Caribbean islands and after 300 years of enslavement less than two million had survived”, Sir Hilary told the UVI graduates “You are the children of these survivors who are taking measures to restore their dignity and ensure our future survival.”

He expanded: “You are now faced also with the extraordinary responsibility to rebuild our broken Caribbean economy as the infrastructure on which we must survive.  This region needs to generate more wealth and promote its equitable distribution.  We need to produce a class of entrepreneurs and innovators who will drive the competitiveness of our economies, ensure their technological advancement and make provision for social and cultural services that are a part of an advancing civilization.  These are your obligations to the future.”

Congratulating the graduates on their achievements so far, Sir Hilary said that the role of the university is to empower their minds with confidence but they must use their degrees to uplift their communities and modernize their economies.

He charged the graduates: “The Caribbean is at a crossroads and the wisdom of your choices will be critical to our collective survival.  I urge that as you take responsibility for it, you commit to the imperative of economic development and social justice.  I urge that you become citizens of a new Caribbean world that can be a shining example to humanity that knows only too well the atrocities it committed here. Turn this horrible history on its head and let the Caribbean light shine brighter than ever.”