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The Value of A University Education - Mr. Harrison Pilgrim at Matriculation Ceremony in Belize City
University of Belize (UB) Board Chairman Harrison Pilgrim delivered the keynote address to incoming, matriculating students of the University of Belize in Belize City for the 2017-2018 Academic year. The UB Chairman spoke about the value of a University Education in his address below:
Welcome to history in the making! Welcome to the University of Belize! Welcome to Life! The longest journey begins with the first step. Today, each of you have set your sights on a destination and you have braced for the trek. In 1969 Famous British singers, The Hollies sang “The road is long with many a winding turn that leads us to who knows where…but I’m strong.” In 2012, American singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey chanted “Sometimes love is not enough and the road gets tough… the road is long, we carry on.” And though there are over 4 decades between the Hollies’ “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” and Lana Del Ray’s “Born to Die” the theme of life’s journey is the same and this journey at UB need not feel long. Conventional wisdom reminds us that “time flies when we are having fun.” So prepare to enjoy the flight; put a little pep in your step and face tomorrow with optimism and passion. Turn little obstacles into stepping stones and never be daunted by setbacks. Be guided by the mantra that “failure is not an option.”
You are not alone on this voyage into academia. Today you join a community of educators, researchers, mentors and teachers. Nurture new relationships, build strong learning circles and along with other students you are ready for every challenge. The road may be long and with many a winding turn but he’s not heavy, he’s your brother, she’s your sister and when necessary be prepared to carry each other’s load. Turn to the person on your left then to the person on your right, hug that person and say “you are not heavy, you’re my brother” or “sister” (as the case may be) “and together we will build UB.”
Be ever mindful of the reassuring words from scripture. “He will not let your foot stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber.”- Psalm 121:3. In the words of the psalmist, resolve each morning to lift up your eyes unto the hills from whence cometh your help.
University education is generally seen as a stepping stone to successful employment and career advancement. This perspective on the value of a university education is driven primarily by the significant wage premium, a degree conferred on the graduate worker. While there are reports which cite the narrowing gap in wage premiums between a university graduate worker vis-a-vis one without a university degree, median lifetime earnings are still higher for those with higher educational qualifications. On average however, a Bachelor’s degree-holder can still expect to earn 84% more over a lifetime than one with a high school diploma today. Beyond economic benefits, a university education is also viewed by some to fulfill loftier objectives, such as promoting the pursuit of knowledge and the holistic development of the individual.
The value of a university education is not reaped by the individual alone. It creates a pool of resilient workforce for the future economy, promotes social mobility, and yields positive externalities such as social stability and well-being. Your enrollment at UB and this matriculation exercise is symbolic of the significant value your academic pursuit promises to contribute to the communities from which you come and to the nation. This latter also strengthens the case for governments and private businesses to provide substantial public/private funding of a university education to fulfill broader societal objectives: poverty reduction, self-confidence, self-actuation, stronger family units, improved health, greater national savings and lower criminal activity.
We can be proud that UB has a strong record of graduate employment and high achievement which includes: Karen Bevans, Director of Tourism at the Belize Tourism Board; Ms. Salome Tillett, Principal of St. Catherine Academy; Hon Papa Mena, a member of the House of Assembly and Minister in the current Government; Darlene Vernon, Attorney at Law; Dr. Cecilia Smith, Deputy Chief Education officer; Sean Duncan, Chief Software Development Officer at Speednet Communications, Ted Tejada, General Manager at the Best Western Belize Biltmore and the list goes on. According to the latest un-verified data, 85% of our employed graduates are in graduate jobs six months after completing their degrees and 94% of graduates from Bachelor programs go straight into jobs or further study. But figures such as these shouldn’t be the sole measure of a degree’s worth.
Going to a university should teach you how to make a life not just make a living. It is important that we ensure that you are aware of the breadth of experiences available to those who embrace this university. The University Of Belize, as the flagship national tertiary institution, must provide the opportunity to increasing number of young people to obtain relevant educational experiences. That is why this year alone we introduced three new bachelor programs in Pharmacy, Medical Laboratory Technology and in Business Administration with focuses in finance, management and marketing. UB has also introduced an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education and a certificate offering in Agriculture. Furthermore, this opportunity must provide access to a greater number of communities from across the country which means finding scholarships and creative, affordable financing so that academically qualified low income Belizeans have access to this education. And UB has begun to do its part in creating opportunity and this year, you and your parents and friends are invited to Bird’s Isle on September 17th at 3:00 p.m. to support and enjoy the President’s All Inclusive Endowment Fete (food and drinks included). It’s the first of its kind and all profits will be used to provide scholarships to give more of you access to an education at UB.
In addition to opportunity, your flagship institution is committed to delivering integrated programs replete with creative understanding. This idea that knowledge alone is not enough, is rooted in theology. Proverbs 4:7 exhorted young men to “get wisdom but with all your getting, get Understanding.” I will argue that this calls for UB to deliver a greater integration of knowledge not only within the liberal arts and sciences but also between the liberal arts and professional education. You must therefore seek not merely to be informed but to learn to perform, to deliver professional service, to be masters of your game. UB’s core intellectual aim has to be the delivery of creative understanding throughout your university education.
The third aim of this university is an important sequel to the successful integration of knowledge. UB must enable and encourage its graduates to contribute to society on the basis of their creative understanding: Contribution must be the ultimate goal of the entire university community. Your present university leadership is committed to the mantras of access and relevance. The President and his team have the full support of the Board of Trustees. We are confident that the change we desire will come; some of it within your time at UB. Much of the change will stretch beyond your two or three years. But for the change to be real, you too must change your attitudes and behavior. “You” speaks to students, staff, faculty and national stakeholders which includes Government, businesses and private citizens. We must pull together to build UB.
Pulling once again not from decades but centuries, in 1975 Macfadden & Whitehead composed a song “Wake up Everybody” which resonates even today with lyrics such as “no more backward thinking, time for thinking ahead. The world has changed so very much from what it used to be... And the world is in their hands, when you teach the children teach them the best way that you can.” And further back in the 1800’s, in the poem “A psalm of Life” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote “Lives of great men all remind us we can make our lives sublime, and, departing, leave behind us footprints on the sands of time.” UB, like life, is a journey of maturity, learning and decision making. After you take that long and winding road and wake up, what will you see? What footprints will you leave behind with the knowledge you gain at UB? Together, let’s leave behind us a positive memorial to our presence, our interactions and our stewardship. Let’s build UB together.