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SAC valedictorian challenges his peers to step up

The students that comprised the St. Augustine’s College (SAC) graduating class of 2020, were told that they are no longer the future, but instead, the present, and that The Bahamas is now their country to shape.

St. Augustine’s College valedictorian Donovan Butler, in his virtual address to his peers during their graduating ceremony on Tuesday, June 30, told them that they are transitioning into the real world – one that “desperately” needs their innovation and ingenuity, and perhaps more importantly, their kindness and generosity.

“We can no longer sit idly by and allow things to continue the way that they have for decades. We are the ones who must take the reins and steer our country towards a brighter future. We are the ones who must fight the terror of poverty, which has so many of our citizens gripped in its deadly embrace. We are the ones who must speak up for the marginalized. We are the ones who must champion the conservation of our environment. We are the ones who must diversify our economy, and ensure that The Bahamas remains current with cutting-edge technology. We are the ones who must ensure that in The Bahamas there is a level playing field, where all of her citizens can be prosperous and free. In the words of our school song, we must strive for justice, peace and love for everyone,” said Butler.

The valedictorian, who graduated with a 4.00 grade point average (GPA) among a cohort of 111, reminded his peers about the unprecedented times they are living in – a predicament, he said, in their wildest dreams they could not have imagined finding themselves.

Butler said they went into their senior year full of anticipation, eager to make lasting memories and celebrate the culmination of their six-year high school journey – but many of the opportunities were “snatched” from them due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of being on campus to finish their last classes, they were forced to resort to virtual learning. Instead of having a traditional graduation ceremony, they were forced to have a virtual one. Despite all the adversity that was their senior year, he said they persisted and remained dedicated to the task, and made it to the end.

“We are truly a gifted class that will leave an indelible mark on St. Augustine’s College. The class of 2020 will forever be remembered as the first class in SAC’s 75-year history to engage in online learning and to have a virtual graduation ceremony,” he said. “The class of 2020 is teeming with potential. It is a class that will produce men and women that will make substantial contributions to our nation and the world at large.”

The Deacon Lou Adderley Most Outstanding Male Student recipient, who scored 1,430 on his Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), plans to pursue studies in neuroscience at Rice University in Houston, Texas. He encouraged his fellow graduates to pursue their passions as well. He singled out Jaida Knowles and Kaliyah Albury to pursue their dreams of being future Olympians; Dayne “DJ Trill” Saunders to entertain the masses; Trent Thompson, a human rights lawyer, speaking up for the downtrodden and marginalized; Nadege Charlton to pursue her engineering degree to invent machines and products to make lives better; and Christie Cambridge, the salutatorian, to revolutionize the healthcare industry.

“The possibilities for this graduating class are endless.” He said this was in spite of their abbreviated time on campus their final year.

Butler also thanked their teachers for their dedication and commitment to the students. He said many of them went above and beyond to ensure students understood the material being taught.

Butler received subject awards in biology, English language, chemistry and Spanish.

He also thanked their parents for the financial sacrifices they made to provide them with a quality education, and the support they provided throughout the years.

During his virtual address, the valedictorian took a “trip” down memory lane, recalling his first day on the SAC campus. He spoke to arriving a miniature, bald-headed, 11-year-old with the title Bahamas Primary School Student of the Year 2014 award, and the 2014 Xavier’s Lower School valedictorian, trying not to get lost amongst what he said seemed to be a “sea” of seemingly overgrown upperclassmen. He said he found it hard to believe that six years have since passed.

But that he also amassed six years of memorable experiences. He won the Bahamas National Spelling Bee title in 2016 as an eighth grader, and represented The Bahamas at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. He was also given the Bahamas National Youth Award – Rising Star in Education 2016.

He was the lead debater on the school’s debate team for two consecutive years.

He also racked up numerous athletic accomplishments, having played softball and competed on the track and field team and soccer team.

He recalled learning an invaluable life lesson during one of his softball matches.

“It was late in the game, and I had begun to struggle on the mound. The opposing team had blasted two consecutive home runs off me. I was frustrated and unsettled, but I was also confused as to why Mr. [Reggie] Forbes hadn’t pulled me. Then, after a few more pitches, my arm began to hurt. I looked over at the dugout with the best ‘puppy face’ I could muster and asked Mr. Forbes to take me out of the game. Mr. Forbes responded in an emotionless voice, ‘Donovan, I’m not taking you out of this game.’ At that moment, I was convinced that Mr. Forbes enjoyed watching my pitches get launched deep into the outfield. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t want to take me out. However, later, I realized that Mr. Forbes was viewing the game from a wider lens than I was. He saw it as an opportunity to teach me a life lesson, and the lesson was that just because something hurts, it doesn’t mean that quitting is acceptable. Although it is human nature to want to quit in the face of adversity, it is important to persevere and fight through difficult situations. For this lesson and many others, I am grateful to Mr. Forbes.”

That lesson, he said, was one example of what makes SAC a special place – the ability of teachers like Mr. Forbes and Ms. [Jacqueline] Dacres to teach life lessons from difficult circumstances, and to teach students that their worth is not tied to winning or losing a game or failing or passing a test.

Butler told his peers that their graduation ceremony marked a significant milestone in their lives, and is a day that represents the end of one chapter of their lives and the beginning of another. And that graduation was their transition into the real world. He told them they have all been given a clean slate on which each of them, going forward, will determine what is written, and to consider what they want written on their slate – how they want to be remembered, and what their legacy will be.

Butler said as they embarked on their respective new journeys, that they should cherish the memories they made at SAC, and continue to work assiduously to achieve their goals.

“Be true to yourselves and pursue the things that make you happy. Be ambitious. Be perseverant. Be committed. Trust in God, for with Him, nothing is impossible. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. If you believe you can, you will. The only person that can limit your success is you. There will be many times when you feel like giving up, but I admonish you to keep going. After all, SACers never give up. In the end, hard work truly pays off.”

Sir Winston Churchill said a quote that I believe is relevant for this occasion: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Lifestyles Editor at The Nassau Guardian
Shavaughn Mossjoined The Nassau Guardianas a sports reporter in 1989. She was later promoted to sports editor.Shavaughn covered every major athletic championship from the CARIFTA to Central American and Caribbean Championships through to World Championships and Olympics.
Shavaughn was appointed as the Lifestyles Editor a few years later.
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