On Sunday, January 8, renowned broadcaster, lecturer and actress, Fae Ellington was conferred with an honorary degree – Doctor of Letters – by Northern Caribbean University, in recognition of her outstanding work in these fields.
Miss Ellington then delivered the commencement address at the university’s graduation ceremony.
Her speech is reproduced below.
President, Professor Lincoln Edwards, Vice Presidents, members of the academic staff and other staff members of the NCU team, family, friends, and fellow graduands. It is with deep appreciation and humility that I accept this honour of being conferred with the degree of Doctor of Liberal Arts (Honoris Causa) from a University that has played such a big part in honing the talents of thousands of young people. To say that I am honoured doesn’t even begin to quantify the depth of my gratitude to be so recognised.
To the graduands, I say thanks for allowing me to be a part of the conclusion of this phase of your lives and the commencement of your next chapter.
I pay tribute today to this ‘beacon on the hill’, which has dedicated itself to Christian education, catering to the whole being.
Marcus Garvey reminded us that we are living in a world in which man exists with the function of two lives…the physical and material on the one hand, and the spiritual where we fulfil our obligation to God.
An education at NCU delivers on a faithful observance of both dimensions.
Today, I use this opportunity to speak for the many persons who know and respect the impact which this university has made. Well done, Northern Caribbean University. You make Jamaica proud.
My one hope is that I can be a source of inspiration for the persons who are saying au revoir to NCU. But, in this case, au revoir is not goodbye because I know that you will take with you memories of your sojourn here… and that the NCU experience will serve you in good stead in years to come. I readily confess to being deeply impressed by the extent to which brilliant careers were incubated in this university and I have noted with interest the contributions graduates have made in diverse spheres of national and international life…. leaving the NCU imprimatur on so many fields both here and abroad.
When I learned that I was to be presented with this honorary degree, I less than, simply because some of us didn’t speak the Queen’s English. Miss Lou’s response to this situation and resulting contributions should be observed through the lens of a 60-year career spanning the Great Depression, the rise of Marcus Garvey, the birth of Rastafari, the gestation of the local women’s movement, Jamaica’s political independence, through to her exploits in the 1990s.
As an illustration, if we look back to the 1930s and ‘40s, we will notice a movement to what Rex Nettleford called smadditisation.
Louise Bennett... a young Jamaican woman who followed closely the socio-political developments in her island home, contributed significantly to the smaddisation of Jamaicans. She truly believed that a nation’s culture resides in the hearts and soul of its people, and she set out to validate the culture of the Jamaican people.
The way we talk cannot be bad, she reasoned. This was a powerful message that she broadcast to the length and breadth of Jamaica and beyond. Many heard the message… and Patois, our dialect, or as I prefer to say, the Jamaican language, gained respectability.
Miss Lou’s work may be seen as the catalyst that took our culture to the world, in writing, speech and song. She made Jamaicans accept that "wi likkle but we tallawah,"…like Bronze medallist Megan Tapper….and Miss Lou inspired our people to promote our culture and heritage, to understand the importance of preservation.
In the same way as the early Rastafarians were victimised for their celebration of their African heritage and yet would have their cultural manifestations copied around the world, so too would Miss Lou have to spend years, fending off the condemnation of many of the very people she was defending…just because she celebrated the language of the people. They were merciless on her for championing Jamaican speech. At one of her performances, a voice shouted from the audience: “Ah dat yu madda sen yu go a school fa?”
But ironically, Miss Lou probably has more prominence overseas than in today’s Jamaica. During her life Louise Bennett received many awards and honours, including the Silver and Gold Musgrave Medals, the Norman Manley Award for Excellence in the Arts; the Order of Jamaica; the Gabriela Mistral Commemorative Award from the Chilean Government; Hon. Doctor of Letters from The University of the West Indies and Canada’s York University and the Jamaican Order of Merit (2001).
Most recently, in 2007 the Government of Ontario named a room at Toronto`s Harbour Front Centre in her memory. And yet there are many of the younger generation…people born after 1970, who may tell you that they never heard of Louise Bennett, or they may vaguely know the name. Shame!
What do they say about a prophet not having honour in his own country?
The Book of John in the Bible quoted Jesus as saying, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honour.”
In sharing information about Louise Bennett and her contribution to Jamaican culture, the point I want to make here is that, throughout history, anyone who achieved excellence in their chosen path had to overcome obstacles. These people went through the grinder and came out even better than before. Their stories stress one of the most important lessons of all: Never ever give up.
The award-winning poet Maya Angelou expressed this lesson best. She said: "You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it."
Generally speaking, when people talk about the great innovators and inventors of the world, they usually talk about the successes. However, they rarely bring up the countless hours, mistakes, and missteps that these people made before attaining their goal.
For example, Thomas Edison …the man who took the world out of the days of gas lanterns… made over 1,000 unsuccessful attempts before he had his pioneering success in inventing the light bulb.
Another example is Richard Branson… founder and chairman of London-based Virgin Group which today controls more than 400 companies in various fields, including Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic Airways. He became the first person to ride into space aboard a personal passenger rocket plane which was developed by his company, Virgin Galactic. But guess what? Branson didn’t breeze through school. In fact, school was somewhat of a nightmare for him because he was dyslexic...as were so many other famous achievers, including Albert Einstein. Let me pause here to say, that I am not dyslexic even though you may have read that in an online publication.
Dyslexia is a learning disorder that results in reading difficulties, due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words. Branson’s scores on standardised tests were dismal, initially pointing to a future as a failure.
Despite the difficulties and challenges posed by his acknowledged dyslexia, instead of giving up, he used the power of his personality to drive him to success. Today, Branson is one of the richest men in the world.
“The Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. “
As you go out into the world, always listen to that still, small voice within you…that we sometimes ignore…that is divine guidance. A Higher Power leads us all. Believe in that Power. Be led by that Power. Have faith in that Power. Trust the Higher Power.
Thank you for granting me this great honour and allowing me to share with you. I wish you good management and encourage you to pray for vision, lest you perish. Yes, pray.
As Ellen White reminds us –“Prayer is the opening of the heart to God, as to a friend.”
Now, on to the next phase of your journey. Walk good.