From October 24 to 26, the St. Augustine Campus of The University of the West Indies (The UWI) comes alive with ceremony for the Graduating Class of 2019. For each of the six ceremonies over the three days, valedictorians have been selected to deliver the farewell statements on behalf of the graduating classes. They are:
- Raquel Le Blanc for the Faculties of Engineering and Law;
- Amanda Mendes for the Faculty of Humanities and Education;
- Jonathan Crichlow for the Faculty of Medical Sciences;
- Shaquille Joshua Duncan for the Faculties of Science and Technology and Food and Agriculture;
- Marcus Bridgemohansingh for the Faculty of Social Sciences (Morning); and
- Naomi La Croix for the Faculty of Social Sciences (Evening).
Each year, the process of choosing valedictorians starts with the nomination of five students from each Faculty at The UWI St. Augustine Campus. These nominees must possess first class or upper second class honours, excellent public speaking skills, and eloquence, and must be involved in extracurricular and/or co-curricular activities. Once these nominees confirm their interest, they are asked to prepare an address to deliver to a panel and are scored based on content, organization, expression and presentation. After very careful deliberations and based on the highest scores, valedictorians are selected.
In addition to being top academic performers, these exceptional students exemplify key attributes of distinctive UWI graduates. They are critical and creative thinkers; effective communicators with good interpersonal skills; IT-skilled and information literate; innovative and entrepreneurial; globally aware and well-grounded in their identity; socially, culturally and environmentally responsible; and guided by strong ethical values. They have made The UWI St. Augustine proud.
About the 2019 Valedictorians
Faculties of Engineering and Law
As a winner of the 2016 President’s Medal based on her advanced level examination results, Racquel Le Blanc had the choice to pursue her studies at any of the world’s top universities. This is why, she says, she chose The University of the West Indies.
Intrigued by the legal profession, “the only place to start this journey was at the centrepiece of Caribbean intellect and creative thought – UWI.” That she credits the St. Augustine Campus for her very existence, given that it was where her parents met decades ago, was just icing on the cake.
Raquel found the intellectual fulfilment she was seeking, and more. She describes “UWI’s warm embrace of different cultures” as “unparalleled.” She remembers lecturers and fellow students coming together during times of crisis and celebration in a “common family-like bond.” These were moments that cemented her hope in humanity and for diversity.
Racquel credits her academic success first to God, her dedicated teachers, and the love and constant support from her parents and sister. Most Outstanding Candidate in CAPE Business Studies (2016), Raquel is inspired by a woman, Ana Botin, head of one of Europe’s most respected financial institutions, Banco Santander. Raquel considers her “a rare female financial powerhouse in the banking industry and the first woman to chair a global financial organisation… a true example of determination, self-confidence and female empowerment.”
She is looking forward to becoming a practising lawyer, learning from senior practitioners, and making her own contributions to the development of the legal system. She also hopes to become an instrument of regional integration and change and one day to become “the Ana Botin of litigation,” empowering young women in the traditionally male-dominated legal profession. To Racquel, “being UWI means accepting the mantle from those before us to accomplish further greatness for our region.”
Faculty of Humanities and Education
Amanda Mendes plans on contributing to “the advancement of Trinidad and Tobago on economic, political, social and mental scales.” Her wish for Trinidad and Tobago is that it one day fully embraces all of its cultural differences and supports a non-violent society that would empower youth and contribute to their holistic development.
A lover of reading, writing and visual storytelling, she realised that her studies in History, Sociology and Literature aligned well with film theory, documentary making, and narrative storytelling in The UWI’s Film Programme. Her focus on both Film Studies and Literature reflects her underlying aspiration to use her talents and the tools at her disposal to explore and support Caribbean development.
Amanda’s UWI experience provided opportunities to grow beyond her comfort zone. A member of The UWI Guild Publications Committee (2016/2017), she engaged with a wide cross-section of students. As a member of the Environmental Society she participated in beach clean-up exercises. The reward of seeing the physical impact made was “beyond gratifying.”
She attributes her academic success to a strong work ethic and sense of purpose. “The world is at our fingertips,” she said. “I greatly believe that investing in yourself on a knowledge-fuelled basis can lead to great holistic success.”
Faculty of Medical Sciences
Jonathan Crichlow hoped to one day become an unbeatable Kung Fu Master. He soon found that his real love lay in the sciences and business, and this led him to pursue his BSc. in Pharmacy, a perfect blend of these two interests.
At UWI’s St. Augustine Campus, Jonathan found continuous support and engaged not only in academics, but in activities like football, running, modelling for charity, and acting in plays whenever given the opportunity, such as in the annual MEDS play – a creative outlet that provided immense relief after long hours of labs and lectures. The camaraderie among cast members spawned some of his happiest memories as a student at St. Augustine.
He craves learning and never limits himself based on a course outline or syllabus and ensures that he has the time to learn more about one of his greatest passions: philosophy and the meaning of life.
Jonathan served as an executive member of the Trinidad and Tobago Organisation for Pharmacy Students. He hopes one day to bring big changes to the pharmaceuticals industry, and to provide more medication counselling so that patients become better informed and play a more active part in managing their health. He is working to develop more convenient methods for individuals, particularly the elderly, to collect their medications.
Whatever the future holds, Jonathan simply wishes to continue growing as a person, by continuing to improve himself with each passing day. He is inspired by his parents who have worked tirelessly to give him and his siblings a life full of happiness and comfort. He looks forward to one day returning the favour.
Faculties of Science and Technology and Food and Agriculture
As a child, Shaquille Joshua Duncan wanted to be a teacher and a scientist. His early interest in the environment ranged from catching insects to “terrorising” his mother’s plants. By the time he had completed his secondary education at San Juan South Secondary and Sixth Form Government School, his interests had steered him towards the possibility of a career in Environmental Science. Now his goal is change the world – starting by making his native Trinidad and Tobago a cleaner and safer place.
Youngest of six children, Shaquille credits his academic success to his family. Having lost his father at a young age, he regards his mother as his biggest supporter. His late cousin Kerlanda, who had also pursued the sciences and encouraged him to push past his doubts to achieve ever higher goals, was his greatest inspiration. Shaquille hopes to play a similar role for his nieces and nephews.
Shaquille’s academic achievements came despite many challenges. As a teenager, he worked part time to finance his secondary education. As a UWI student, he faced a gamut of challenges – academic woes, financial problems, social displacement. Shaquille was among students affected by the extensive floods in Trinidad in October 2018. Grateful to find refuge on the Campus, but feeling helpless and wanting to give back, he joined his fellow Guild councillors in organising a food drive and delivering water and meals to other similarly affected students.
Shaquille took on several leadership roles on Campus: member of the Student-Staff Liaison Committee for his Faculty; Events Co-ordinator and, later, President of his Faculty’s Student Council; Faculty Representative on the Guild Council; and member of the Campus’ Health and Safety Committee. He provides free tutoring in Mathematics, Spanish, and Geography to children in his community, and is an active member of the National Institute of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology (NIHERST), contributing his time to referee at the First Lego League Robotics Competition and to host at the Caribbean Youth Science Forum. Shaquille enjoys engaging in team sports whenever he can and recently proved that years after dabbling in gymnastics, he can still do a decent handstand.
Shaquille hopes to start his own Environmental Consultancy specialising in Health and Safety and to take on the role of Minister of the Environment and Water Resources so he can start changing the world right here at home.
Faculty of Social Sciences (Morning)
Marcus Bridgemohansingh always wanted to have his own business and be his own boss. Management Studies was therefore a natural choice. He believes his ability to set strict yet realistic goals on a daily basis kept him on track with his studies throughout his six semesters at The UWI.
His early schooling at the Renaissance Preparatory School and later at Naparima College entrenched in him the morals, values and discipline that he still puts into practise every day. His family is supportive but he is self-motivated. “I don’t do things to be like someone else; I do it for my own self-satisfaction and development.”
At UWI, he set himself high expectations – A’s and First Class Honours – but lived a balanced lifestyle. All assignments had to be put to bed before heading out to lime on a Thursday night and, no matter what hour the partying ended, that 9 am Friday class was not to be missed! His most memorable Campus experience was starting, with his friends, a small business for an Entrepreneurial Studies course. Calling themselves The Churro Factory, they assembled at 7 am one morning to fry more than 100 churros, which they then sold on campus to a market that was largely unfamiliar with the tasty Latin pastry.
Marcus wants to use all that he has learned to create his own business ventures. He also wants to bring another important personal value into the workplace – balance. “I would like to change the mindset and the morale of employees in this country into an attitude where they come to work happy and excited for the day ahead, automatically increasing their productivity at work.” Marcus says he is not out to change the world; but that’s just what he may achieve after all.
Faculty of Social Sciences (Evening)
Naomi La Croix developed an interest in social work while a student at St. Francois Girls’ College. This changed when her mother relayed her encounter with a noted local psychologist. Naomi adjusted her sights. She wanted to do more than help people. She wanted to understand them.
At UWI St. Augustine, Naomi found her true passion: presenting to audiences. She plays several instruments, from pan to piano, so performing in front of audiences was nothing new. But preparing and delivering presentations for her classes opened up a new world of creativity. “I did spoken word, extempore calypso, a talk show, skits, poems, drawings and much more for various presentations. My lecturers always liked it. It was something I felt comfortable doing and I was happy UWI allowed me to do it.”
Her involvement in the Campus Crusade for Christ helped her make the tough transition from high school to university. Being surrounded by a community who shared her passion and faith gave her comfort and support.
Naomi enjoys time with family and friends, helping others, engaging in outdoor activities such as hiking, skating, swimming, travelling and, of course, listening to or playing music. Still, nothing compares to the joy she gets from planning or performing a presentation.
Her main goal is to become a top-notch international presenter, while helping others improve their presentation skills. She also wants to merge her training and her faith to engage in missionary work. More than anything, she wants to encourage others to speak up, be heard, and be themselves. She wants to make a positive difference in the world, and she knows with hard work and dedication, she will.