A national scholar and business executive has told this year’s 748 graduates of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Community College to “celebrate, find your gift and set goals”.
“Every one of you has something positive to offer and you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is,” Shafia London said as she delivered the featured address at Victoria Park, in Kingstown, on Wednesday.
“You are each good at something good. You have a responsibility to find your gift and Ace it,” London said, echoing the theme of the graduation ceremony, “We’re ACE-ing it”.
She urged the graduates to pay very close attention to what makes them happy and what they do absolutely best with least effort.
“Your gift will make room for you,” London said, adding that some people are born for certain professions.
“No matter what you want and choose to do with this gift, it is not just important to your own life and your own future. What you make of this life will decide the future of this country. The future of this country literally depends on you.”
She said the nation needs the specialisations of various professions to address its developmental needs.
“We will need every single one of you here to find that gift, to develop it so you can help us solve the problems of this country,” London said.
“If you don’t do that, if you don’t discover and develop who you are, if you let that talent go to waste, you are not just quitting on yourself, you are actually quitting on this whole country.”
London told the students of the challenges she faced before arriving at the place where she is heading a number of businesses at age 37.
London said that at age 7, she found the diary in which her mother had detailed her visit to a clinic to abort her when she was 19.
She said she was raised by her grandparents and then by her single aunt “who struggled but did her best”.
“I know a lot of you have challenges that have made it hard to discover and develop your passions and it takes time,” she said, adding that there were years when she had to study for exams without electricity.
“I was lost and felt like I did not belong. My life could have easily taken a turn for the worst, but as I mentioned earlier — I am blessed and so are you.”
She praised the efforts of people who believed in her, including Patrice Reddock, who took her in when, a few days before enrolling at SVGCC, she ran away from home “and was adamant that the porch of an old house was all I needed to survive”.
London told the graduates that some of them might not have those advantages of people in their life to give them the support that they need.
She said some of the graduates may live in a neighbourhood where they do not feel safe, or have friends who might be pressuring them to do things that are wrong or pushing them to take the easy way out.
“But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life, where you are from, how much money your family has, what is going on in your home, none of that is an excuse for not finding that gift. Your gift is what you need to ace this life.”
She said that she struggled to find her gift, having thought it was cycling, then netball, then marketing.
“.. now I have discovered that I am good at executing and leading. If you are good at something, then you owe it to yourself, to this country, to pursue it,” she said, noting the importance of passion.
“Once you get started, if you are truly inspired, passion, in all its glory, is enough to carry you over the threshold and on to great things.
“I am telling you right now, you can write your own destiny – with God by your side. You can make your own future. That is what other Vincentians who were probably in your position today have done.”
She spoke of Vincentian Jacqueline James, who she said speaks openly about witnessing domestic abuse in her home.
James now holds a doctorate and was recently named one of Miami Dade County’s 25 most influential and prominent Black women in business and leadership.
London said her own husband, Grenville Williams, often shares the challenges of growing up in a single-parent home with a protective mother as a young boy, yet he is the first Vincentian to be named Director of the Regional Security Systems.
Emmanuel Quashie, another Vincentian, who holds a doctorate and lectures at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, has a mum with mental illness and grew up at Liberty Lodge Boys Training Centre.
“The point here is that everyone faces challenges in their life, just like you and, in some cases, worst. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their lives and set goals for themselves and I expect all of you to do the same. Let your spirit soar and unleash your gift on the world.”
‘set your own goals for your lives’
London called on the graduates to each set a goal and “do everything you can to meet them… Don’t be afraid to dream big but remember to wake up.”
She told them that dreams should be divided into long-term — five or 10 years – and short-term – “your goal for tomorrow, this week, this month, this year. Latch on to those…
“Whatever you decide to do, I want you to commit to it. You must work on your goals. Understand that to achieve those goals you must apply discipline and consistency. Every day you must work at it. Working hard is what successful people do.”
She said that some of the most successful people have experienced failure. “You succeed when you don’t let failure define you. You let failure teach you. You must learn to do things differently each time…
“You become good at things through dedication and hard work. Most, if not all, good tales involves twists and turns, failures and successes. Challenge yourself to be better every single day.”
She said the story of SVG is not one of weak people, noting that slavery existed in the country for some 75 years, a much shorter period than in most other countries of the “New World”.
London pointed out that runaway slaves from other islands journey to St. Vincent to join the free Garifuna community.
“For over 30 years, the Kallinago and Garifuna people fought not just for their lands but the right of self-determination,” London said.
“After today, I want to ask you, what is your contribution to SVG going to be? Promise me, you will never drink at the fountain of learned helplessness. Watch out for those who cause divisions and sow seeds of discord. You will not swim in a sea of mediocrity. Join me, let us build a Vincentian society reflective of our illustrious forefathers and mothers,” she told the graduates.