It’s is truly an honor to be given this opportunity to be part of your graduation as your new Commissioner of Education. As a matter of fact, it is my first official function as Commissioner of Education, since taking office again, less than a week ago.
38 Years ago, I too was among several young persons who were the graduates then, when I obtained my degree in Education. We were not decked off in gowns and caps and with government officials and others in attendance, but we were, nonetheless proud graduates, just like you are tonight.
I am therefore proud of you all right now, as I know how you feel.
I am especially hopeful with the caliber of talent and amazing dedication represented here this evening. What an impressive assembly of human capital to help in the building of Country St. Maarten!
I cannot help but think, that in one of those chairs could be someone who will find answers to the senseless crimes and violence plaguing our community. Or in one of those chairs could be someone who will go on and finally find a cure for cancer. And hopefully in of these chairs could be someone who will transform AIDS from one of the greatest disasters of the 20th century to one of the most curable diseases of the 21st century. In one of those chairs could be sitting a person who a few years from now will become the Prime Minister of Country St. Maarten, the Chairman of Parliament of Country St. Maarten or the Minister of Education, Justice or Finance.
But this hope that I have for your class is possible if we continue to build Country St. Maarten more and more with Educated Youths.
This reminds me of a story of an excited university student who had just received his degree from a respectable university, rushed out at the end of the graduation ceremony and onto the street and shouted at the top of his voice, "Here I am, world; I have a B.A. degree. To which someone passing by, replied: "Very Good son, but sit down and I’ll teach you the rest of the alphabet; there is more to the alphabet than just the B and the A.
Every one of us began our journey in Education with some part of the alphabet. The rest of the alphabet includes the C for Constitutional Change and Country Status. On June 23rd it will be 9 years ago since a majority of the voters of St. Maarten voted for St. Maarten to leave the Netherlands Antilles and become an autonomous country in the Dutch Kingdom.
In the days, weeks and months ahead of us the negotiations and discussions will continue with the other partners in the Kingdom, and we look forward to St. Maarten achieving its new status soon.
The alphabet also includes E- for Education for All and Economic Recovery.
I am sure by now you have realized that the rules of the game have changed. The world is changing faster than we could have imagined. Today the world economy, including St. Maarten’s own, is in crisis, but we are confident it will bounce back.
Science and technology and automation have rendered certain occupations obsolete over the years, but have on the other hand created new and better opportunities. As Tom Friedman points out in his book, The World is Flat; over the last decade these forces – technology and globalization – have combined like never before. So that while most of us have been paying attention to how much easier technology has made our lives – sending emails on blackberries, surfing the web on our cell phones, instant messaging with friends across the world, e-commerce – a quiet revolution has been breaking down barriers and connecting the world’s economies. Now, businesses not only have the ability to move jobs wherever there’s a factory, but wherever there is an internet connection.
China realized this. They understood that now they need not just be a source of cheap labor or cheap exports. They can compete on a global scale. The one resource they still needed was a skilled, educated labor force. So they started schooling their kids earlier, longer, and with a greater emphasis on math, science, and technology, until their most talented students realized they don’t have to immigrate to another country to have a decent life – they can stay right where they are, and build themselves and at the same time, their country.
Someone has said, that "talent is 21st century wealth." We must find ways to capitalize on the economic changes and diversify our economy. If you’ve got the skills, you’ve got the education, and you have the opportunity to upgrade and improve both, you’ll be able to compete and win anywhere.
As your new commissioner of Education I can assure you that Country St. Maarten will have an Education Ministry that is truly dedicated to developing the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary for promoting sustainable development of our country. This means that education will no longer be a privilege. Compulsory education must become a reality and every child guaranteed a place in school. Together we must also increase the number of University Graduates at USM. We must do more to increase the access of St. Maarten students to scholarships and funding opportunities to allow them to obtain advanced education.
It is also time to take USM to the next level. After consultations with all stakeholders, we will continue to support the agreed path for the continued evolution of USM as a fully accredited tertiary institution of learning.
The alphabet also includes S- for Safety and Security
Our new government regards the security of our people and our nation as a priority. We are concerned about the pervasive climate of fear and high levels of crime and violence in our communities. Government will seek to restore St. Maarten as a safe and Friendly Island managed by a caring government. There must be a national vision for responsible family and community life to make our homes, businesses and public institutions more secure. Family values must be at the core, and respect and discipline, must be upheld at all levels. It is the plan of government to return to the principles of good governance to our society and provide safety and security for all residents of St. Maarten.
My hope for all of you is that you leave here today with the determination to assume the responsibility for the further development of our country St. Maarten. Yes you will be tested by the challenges ahead, and at times you may feel like giving up. But always know and remember that you have within you the power to try to make a difference.
Generations who have come before you have faced these same fears and uncertainties in their own lifetime and triumphed. Through hard work, and God’s providence, and our willingness to shoulder each other’s burdens, St. Maarten will continue on its precious journey towards that glorious horizon, and a better day. Let us build St. Maarten with Talented, Educated, Beautiful and Handsome Young People.
I thank you, Congratulations once again and much success to you as you continue your journey through life’s alphabet.