Effecting positive change within your community
Below are excerpts from a speech that Kamala-Jean Gopie delivered at The Queen's School 60th Gala Dinner on August 2 at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston.
I have been asked to speak about 'Affecting Positive Change within your Community' which, to my way of thinking, means leaving a positive footprint, and fits in very well with the Gala theme, 'Legacy'. The notion of legacy, as it relates to Queen's, requires us to give careful and thoughtful consideration of what should be done to ensure that programmes and activities at the school benefit not just the present student population but will be in place for those who follow.
Continuity and possibly permanence are critical factors which must be considered, examined and evaluated whenever one thinks about legacy.
Therefore, at a time such as this, when we are focused on celebrating the 60th anniversary of Queen's, essentially reflecting on the past, it is an opportune time to bring a message which causes us, indeed challenges us not just to look back, to ascertain and celebrate what we as individuals who have been connected to the school, as well as the school itself, have accomplished, but also to look forward to see what else needs to be done, and then plan strategies to enable us to achieve and realise dreams for the future. Only by doing this can we ensure that there is a legacy in place which will benefit future generations of students.
Tonight, the thoughts, perspective and actions which I plan to share with you will not be new because I am sure that you, past and current students of Queens, like me, have been guided and nurtured in such a way that we understand that we each have a responsibility to actively take ownership for the well-being of the communities in which we live. My understanding of community, in its broadest sense, includes the natural environment, the institutional bodies/structures of the society and the people who are part of our personal world of interaction.
Therefore, to effect positive change, our actions must have an impact on one or more of these component parts of community, while being ever cognisant that "no person or man is an island unto itself." Our actions invariably have ripple effects, much like stones thrown into a pond. The ripples extend off into the distance, far beyond where the stone landed, or where our line of vision ends.
Accordingly, change resulting from our actions, can occur well beyond the scope of our imagination, expectations, plans, or indeed of our lives.
The commitment to work for positive change in our community can emanate from ideals and values held in either our professional or personal lives.
effecting positive change
Where and how does one begin to effect positive change in the community?
What are the institutions in society which prepare and enable us to make take the actions necessary which lead to or result in positive change in society? Family and home, school and religion, the arts and sports, politics and justice come most readily to mind. However, another important one in today's world is media, in all its manifestations.
The professions which we know can have a positive impact on the community include many in the field of health sciences, education, social work, politics, religion, the arts and justice. Whereas some people enter those professions because of personal ambition and abilities, the promise of financial return, improved social status and privilege, as well as the possibility of exerting power and influence in the community, there are many who are driven as well by altruism and a desire to do good for others. It is not my intention in this presentation to deal with the professions which have the capacity to effect positive change. Rather I would like to highlight how it is possible for all of us, individually as well as collectively, to be so engaged and involved in our respective communities that we are able to affect positive change as a result of personal rather than professional interventions.
Now, let me turn to the substance of my presentation.
First, I will deal with giving back, because the incident which enabled me to understand the value of giving back occurred at Queen's in 1960. It is my belief that a commitment to giving back is built on personal experiences.
At the end of my first year in sixth form, I told Mrs Evelyn Clarke, the headmistress at Queen's then, that I would not be returning to school the following year for upper six because of my family's financial issues. In her very brisk and straightforward manner, she refused to accept my story as the final word. Instead, she assured me that she would secure help for me so that I could remain in school. She did, and so I was able to sit the Cambridge Higher Schools exam in 1961, being a student in Queen's first graduating Sixth Form. This prepared me for entry to institutions of tertiary education in Canada. Mrs Clarke's action, in supporting me in my time of need, left me with a deep sense of gratitude as well as a desire to give back and help others in whatever way I could, not just at Queen's but to other agencies which have been supportive of me.
This commitment to giving back is not limited in how it can be expressed and who the beneficiaries are. It can be a singular and personal endeavour such as mentoring students, or a joint and communal act such as tonight's gala, orchestrated by the Class of '80. This represents a tangible way of giving back - time, effort, expertise and resources. I am sure that those involved in this wonderful celebratory initiative became engaged because they understood or have bought into the saying, "it is more blessed to give than to receive". What they have given, to their alma mater by their actions, cannot be measured simply in monetary terms. The sense of achievement arising from the success of this evening's event does not just fill us with pride but also with a knowledge and understanding that we have established a bond of working together for the common good.
Giving back is a tangible way of acknowledging that others, outside of family, have played a role in our individual success and that now we, in turn, want to ensure that those who follow are blessed with opportunities such as we had during our youth.
The many alumni organisations, both here in Jamaica and overseas, provide support for current students and school programmes. In Toronto, there are more than 30 members of the Alliance of Jamaican Alumni Associations. These associations are involved in a number of activities year round which raise funds for school building projects, materials, school programmes and scholarships for students of their alma mater. The various events, (luncheons, dinners, dances, raffles, auctions, walkathons, picnics, soccer fests, etc.) provide opportunities to have fun, renew or foster friendships, relive and or recount memories of school days, while also being involved in activities whose ultimate outcome will benefit others, not just in their immediate community but well beyond.
Giving back, in whatever way works best for you, is something we can all do. The benefits to our alma mater and the student body will engender positive repercussions not just in the life of the school and the students, but also in the wider community.
How, you ask?
1. Students who receive financial support will be able to remain in school and get the kind of education that will enable them to lead responsible, productive lives in their respective communities;
2. Students who receive mentoring from past students will be able to improve their academic performance as well as learn that there are persons who have an interest in their well-being. This will certainly help to build self-confidence, self-esteem, and a greater desire to succeed, knowing that someone, outside the immediate family, has taken an interest in their well-being is a powerful motivator;
3. Classrooms which receive gifts of materials - books, computers, etc. - will be better equipped to enhance the learning experience of students. Classrooms which are upgraded provide a more enriched learning environment for students.
I can assure you that while the impact of our giving back, in the ways I have just mentioned, might be readily observed in student achievements and general school environment, the act of giving back can be likened to planting a seed that will bear fruit in the years to come. The communities from which the students come will also be better because of the enriched experience and exposure which the students have had.