“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.” — Kofi Annan
At first glance, there would seem to be an unlikely, almost unnatural, nexus between a small Caribbean island-nation and two educational institutions located in the remote rural locale situated 90 minutes from Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Strange as it might seem, it is that almost providential nexus that has contributed to the educational advancement of more than 1,400 Bahamians at Saint John’s University (SJU) in Collegeville and the neighboring College of Saint Benedict (CSB) in the tiny community of St. Joseph, Minnesota.
Nevertheless, over the past few years, Bahamians who have attended those two institutions of higher learning have excelled in ways that have previously seemed unfathomable.
Therefore, this week, we would like to consider this — how have two Bahamians excelled beyond all expectation at SJU and CSB?
The SJU-CSB connection
Since its founding in Collegeville in 1857, Saint John’s University has been intimately and intrinsically involved in Bahamian society.
Approximately 1,400 Bahamian students were educated at SJU and its sister institution, the College of Saint Benedict (CSB), in St. Joseph, Minnesota.
The latter is a women’s liberal arts college, founded in 1913, that has become a co-institutional partner with SJU.
Of that total, approximately 800 Bahamian “Bennies” and 600 Bahamian “Johnnies” have matriculated at those institutions.
Currently, there are 68 Bahamian students, a new record at both campuses, nearly evenly distributed. Over the years, there have been many outstanding Bahamian students who have graduated from SJU and CSB.
Outstanding Bahamians at SJU
In the past four years, three Bahamians, Ramon Mitchell, David Johnson III and Owyn Ferguson, have uniquely excelled at SJU by being elected by the student body to the office of president of the Student Senate, the SJU student government organization.
We wrote an article about Ramon Mitchell several years ago and David Johnson III was prominently featured in the SJU Magazine that focused on the SJU-Bahamian connection.
In this article we will address the current presidents of the SJU and CSB Student Senates, Owyn Ferguson and Kistacia Thompson, respectively.
Owyn, a senior at SJU, is an economics major who plans to graduate in May 2020. A bass trombonist with the CSB-SJU Wind Ensemble and Brass Choir, Owyn is the proud alumnus of The Bahamas All-Star Band. He also played for four years in the Shell Saxons Superstars Brass section.
Owyn would like to accomplish several objectives as president of the Student Senate during his term in office. He intends to address policy issues that he believes are restrictive to the student social culture and those that, in his opinion, hinder students’ accessibility to campus resources. He also wants to strengthen Senate relationships with campus partners by enhancing relationships between the student body, the SJU administration and the Board of Trustees. Additionally, Owyn plans to address various insecurities that SJU students encounter.
When he graduates next year, Owyn will take a gap year to work in advisory services or data analytics or as an international faith-based volunteer before enrolling in law school.
Owyn attributes his success to date, both as a student and as Senate president, to exemplary role models and the tremendous support of his family and the Bahamian and SJU/CSB communities. He describes this support system as “God’s way of guiding me to be a leader.”
Owyn recently addressed the SJU student body at a convocation at the beginning of the school year during which he observed: “The people, the passion, and the purpose, make this place. So, Johnnies, I challenge you this upcoming year to make the sense of place strong and be the people who make this place great.
“Show love for the environment, all those around you, and most importantly, yourselves. Bring the passion that will fill this place so that we will be driven to work towards championships, scholarships, virtuosic performances, and societal change for the betterment of our community.
“Live with a purpose and be cognizant that we all have a common goal — to make this place great. For what is a Johnnie, if not a man who tries to leave this world a little better than he found it? Starting with Collegeville.
“We are the people, we have the passion, let us live out our purpose and leave this place better than we found, leaving it as the greatest university on earth.”
Owyn encourages young Bahamian men who are still in high school to seek mentors. He noted, “Men generally are less likely to seek help, but I strongly believe that the more hands you have on deck, the more weight you can carry. Had I not sought out and accepted the advice, mentorship, and support of so many, there’s no way I would’ve achieved even half of what I have to date.”
Kistacia Thompson recently made history as the first Bahamian to be elected as president of the Student Senate of the College of St. Benedict. She is a biology/pre-med major, who will also graduate in May 2020.
She has actively participated in the Pre-Medical Club and has served as co-chair of the Archipelago Caribbean Association before being elected CSB Student Senate president.
Despite not being able to participate in volleyball as much as she did in prior years, Kistacia enjoys playing the game when time and weather permit. Her avocations also include dance and piano.
As the president of the CSB Student Senate, Kistacia has incorporated several important objectives for the 2019-2020 school year. These include “building positive relationships with students and the college administration and effectively communicating in a consistent and transparent manner under the theme that each Bennie belongs to the Saint Ben’s community.”
She also noted, “Our focus areas for the upcoming year are: Inclusion and Belonging, Administrative Relationships, Student Life and Student Health.
“For the Fall 2019 semester, as president, along with the Senate executive board, we have rebranded the Senate and have also transformed the attire of the Senate with a more professional look.
“We have also incorporated various department presentations weekly to the agenda, and we are actively changing and adapting the Student Leadership Series to the needs and desires of the student body and have revamped the annual Bennie Day which takes place on October 25, this semester, in collaboration with Recess with the Senators.”
Kistacia attributes her success thus far as a student and Student Senate president to her tenacity, and to her parents, Keith and Gwendolyn Thompson.
She says, “They have been a constant source of love, encouragement and motivation when I have needed them most. I would be remiss not to recognize the people that I have had the privilege of calling my second family from the time I entered college — David Johnson Jr. and Joanne Johnson and my partner, David S. Johnson III, the immediate past president of the SJU Student Senate.”
After graduating from CSB next year, Kistacia plans to attend medical school, hopefully in the United States, in 2021. She has decided to take a gap year to gain more clinical and volunteer experience in the medical field.
Kistacia recently addressed the CSB student body at a convocation at the beginning of the school year during which she stated: “Today, it is my goal to equip all of you with a motto, which will guide us through a productive and exciting school year!
“Step in. Step out. Step up.
“This has been my motto for the past three years, and although I’ve held it close, as a human, I’ve always failed to carry it out 100 percent. Sometimes unexpected obstacles knocked me off course.
“I can imagine many of you experiencing these same challenges. However, through stepping in, stepping out and stepping up into this new school year, I’m certain that we will all push forth with tenacity, resilience and confidence!
“College life is an era of transformation, of growth, of illumination and of blooming. Therefore, we must step in to new environments, cultures, ethnicities and hobbies. We must step out of our comfort zones to make new friends, immerse ourselves in the cultural differences of our peers, and advocate for those who are oppressed. And lastly, we must step up to every challenge, embrace each one gracefully, fail fearlessly, but always pick ourselves up and carry on boldly. Through this new motto, we will not rob ourselves of the opportunity to transform, grow, illuminate and bloom.
“The person you see standing before you has been through more than you know, has experienced more than you can imagine but has stood strong in the face of many adversities! Saint Ben’s has allowed me to let my light shine and I wish the same for all of you!
“Don’t be afraid. Be focused! Be determined! And be empowered! Step in, step out and step up!”
These are the testimonies of two Bahamians who have excelled at SJU and CSB.
There are many others who have preceded them and countless others who will follow.
They inspire many of us to appreciate that, following their education abroad, they will possess the skills, attitude, experience and persistence that will ensure that The Bahamas has a bright future led by brilliant Bahamians such as these two, along with many others.
Through the positive contributions of persons such as Owyn Ferguson and Kistacia Thompson, the future of our country is secured.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to email@example.com.