Crisis shows true character and difficult times can help a person develop better character and to become strong and resilient – that was the message Queen’s College (QC) graduates heard from Dr. Nikkiah Forbes, director of the National HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Programme at the Bahamas Ministry of Health, during the school’s historic virtual graduation on Friday.
“Undoubtedly, this is not the Commencement Day that you envisioned. Certainly, there were visions of a momentous commencement exercise followed by luncheons or full-out graduation parties with many face-to-face interactions,” said Forbes during her pre-recorded address live streamed on YouTube. “No one could have predicted this would have all been overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The truth is, we are all living in a strange new world, where physical distances must be kept, our movement must be restricted and even our interactions must be modified. Notwithstanding this, I promise you that there is a silver lining amidst the clouds.”
During the virtual ceremony for the 150 graduates, Forbes reminded students that they were together in spirit on their special day, although attending remotely and apart. And that they have had a chance to learn first-hand the character development and resilience that is born out of difficult and challenging times.
The 150 students graduated virtually as the world battles the global public health COVID-19 pandemic. They were among millions of students worldwide that saw their in-classroom, face-to-face education affected.
Schools in The Bahamas ceased in-classroom, face-to-face learning on March 16 in the wake of the new coronavirus (COVID-19). Students completed their final term of high school via the online platform.
In The Bahamas there were 104 confirmed cases, 11 deaths, 68 recovered cases, two hospitalized cases, 25 active cases and 2,294 completed tests up to yesterday.
Worldwide, there were 7,845,048 confirmed cases and 431,269 deaths.
“Perhaps this was one of the greatest blessings of this pandemic, because truthfully, hard times can make you stronger and teach valuable lessons. You learned that working from home is actually harder, and in the process, you gained an understanding of how to innovate, create and problem solve through this crisis. You have learned how to hone your determination to study from home and continue to cultivate excellence. You have fully grasped the concept that excellence is a habit and you are now fully aware of its importance in the face of unexpected circumstances. I encourage you to keep developing these good character traits and habits, not just during these COVID-19 times, but afterwards, for although this is the end of your high school journey, this is not the end of learning.”
Forbes, a QC alumna, told the graduates that whether they choose the path of higher education or immediately enter the job market, graduation is one part of the larger journey of their life, and they will never cease learning.
“I can attest to this because once upon a time, I, too, was a bright-eyed Queen’s College graduate who came up through the ranks just like you, and survived through hard work, discipline and excellence.”
She told them that it was after her commencement that she discovered how truly valuable the character traits were and that learning is a lifelong journey.
Forbes spoke of learning the importance of identifying dreams and goals, and assured them that once noted, they are much easier to prioritize. She then spoke to learning that prioritizing was only part of the journey, and that she then had to visualize herself achieving her goals.
“You must believe it even if no one else can yet see it,” she told the graduates at the ceremony held under the theme “Vision of Excellence”.
Forbes also spoke to having learnt that sometimes a person must be his/her own cheerleader, because not everyone will commit to cheering them on.
“During my journey, I have had more than one person tell me take an easier path, and sadly, even discourage my efforts – but I pressed on with all my heart,” she said. “I have learned that crisis shows true character and that difficult times can help you to develop better character, and to become strong and resilient.”
Forbes told them that had it not been for the lessons she learnt, among many others, she would not have achieved just one of her goals, which was to become an infectious disease physician.
“That journey was not easy…sometimes challenging and uncertain. But the goal was accomplished through perseverance, hard work, discipline and the spirit of excellence. My journey started from the same place where you are today.”
At the beginning of a new phase in their life, Forbes encouraged the graduates to stay focused and go out into the world and make their mark. She told them they have power through discipline, hard work and excellence. And that wherever they go, to leave things better than they found it and blaze a path for others to follow.
Nathan Allen, QC valedictorian, told his fellow graduates that despite the final term of their final year being overshadowed by a pandemic, as a class, they persisted to excel, which resulted in the celebration of a milestone that many people take for granted, and others do not even get to achieve – graduating high school.
He said in their pride, they must also be mindful of their next chapter. And that as they begin the journey into adulthood, they begin with a clean slate.
“High school equips us with the experiences, relationships and life lessons we need to face the future beyond high school. Now, our motivation must come from within. We will have to do it by ourselves, for ourselves.”
Allen was named the top male 2019 Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE) performer in the country, having achieved 10 A grades in one sitting in the 11th grade. He also received the BGCSE top subject award in social studies in 2017 as an eighth-grade student.
He scored 1,360 on his Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).
He told his peers that what mattered most was their ability to recognize that many of the most influential lessons could only be learnt outside the classroom – the importance of friendships and relationships with peers as well adults, broadening their views from their once juvenile, closed-minded stand on topics and even discovering new aspects of themselves they never knew existed.
Allen reminded them that there is more to the world beyond the lessons taught in physics and chemistry.
“What will always remain with us most is the out of school experiences – the emotions we felt, the friendships that grew, the knowledge that took deep roots within our brain. Quarantine gave us the time to reflect on these things – to allow us to realize how important they have been to all of us. Now, with college awaiting us, more of these experiences are fading into the background. But the journey has been worth it; the memories have been worth it. The hard work, effort and challenges have been worth it.”
As they embarked on their different paths, he reminded his peers that a number, a grade or a statistic does not define them. He told them that behind a low grade point average (GPA) could be someone who fights to improve, persists and carries on despite setbacks.
“Every graduate in this class now stands at an equal level, regardless of the number placed on our transcript. We now define ourselves by what we will do going forward. Some may say that higher grades mean more success, but the truth is that every student will follow a different path.”
Allen encouraged his peers to push themselves to do what they want in life to be the best global citizens they can be.
He told them that they may be tempted to say their final term of high school was hectic, saddening, stressful and disappointing, but that if there was one thing they learned, it was that it would take more than a global pandemic to diminish the achievements they accomplished.
Denereus Beneby, QC’s graduating head boy, and Daniela Macre, QC’s graduating head girl, also addressed their peers virtually.
Beneby told his peers that he may not be the smartest, the fastest or the strongest, but he said had it not been for QC, he would not have found out that he is determined.
“Determined to make the most of myself. Determined to never settle for failure and to never let my drive go away…to always want to better myself. I decided to not let others’ success determine my failures, and look into myself to realize that the only person stopping me from achieving greatness was me. And that is something that this entire grade has in common. We will never settle for less,” said Beneby.
Meanwhile Macre told her fellow graduates that they are more than what they believe they are, and that they will get through all of the current challenges within their lives. She told them in her pre-recorded address, that they were “destined for the stars”.