Let’s begin to write our unique narrative, says Edna Manley valedictorian amid controversy
The valedictorian of the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts says it was never his intention to attract attention when he used a Jamaican expletive to end his speech on Saturday.
Walden Walker has faced intense condemnation and commendation since a snippet of his utterances went viral on social media.
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However, in a written comment to the Morning Agenda on Power 106FM this morning, Walker said he simply wanted to instigate the graduating class to accept their truths and stand resolute in the knowledge that they are uniquely poised to challenge and change the world through their heart.
“Let us begin to write our unique narrative before others recognise our goldmine and take advantage of same,” Walker said.
He also invited the programme hosts to refer to his full speech for the context and use of the Jamaican vernacular.
“The speech unpacks a story of truth and epitomises the journey that was the Edna Manley College,” he said, adding that he stood resolute in his truth, respect and honour of his ancestors.
In the meantime, Walker said he is humbled at the positive reactions to the final statement.
Today on the Morning Agenda, psychologist Dr Leachim Semaj also weighed in on the controversial comment.
He said it was inappropriate and reflected poor judgement.
“There is a thing called on stage and backstage behaviour,” said Semaj.
FULL TEXT - VALEDICTORY SPEECH
Permit me to stand on the protocols that have been established for this evening's proceedings.
Modupe, Modupe, I give thanks!
One has not crossed if all have not crossed, and I, we all, must acknowledge that this victory is not only for the individual, but for all those persons who were with us along the journey. In this moment, I want to recall my grandmother, my biggest fan, who would cut plays and comics from newspapers, saving them for when I would visit, inspiring me to use my passion for energising my opportunities.
In 2017, my biggest fan with a most beautiful laugh and kindred spirit, at 88 years old, was taken from me with the most cruel and vile intent. I questioned the pursuit of this degree then.
Now today, perched upon your shoulders in exuberance, I honor you Nettie Rowe and dedicate this achievement to you. My sincere apologies for encroaching upon this celebration with such a somber reflection.
Yet, I would like to impress upon you the respect I have for my ancestors, as without them our journeys would be rendered inconsequential. Permit this moment of levity as I recall the words of one of my favourite theatre practitioners, Antonin Artaud, “those who live, live off the dead”.
Here, now, let us lift our hearts in gratitude, giving thanks to God for the opportunity to be here today and for guiding us on this journey. As this celebration marks the journey and achievement of the graduating class of 2019, I humbly reflect on our tenure through story.
Stories beginning with dreams from which we were violently awoken, stories that stained our truth via the minds and putrid lips of those who failed to believe in us, stories that gripped us by the neck and slammed our heads underwater, insisting that we drink after being dragged to the well.
Our stories here began in 2015, when Ebony Patterson, EMCVPA alumni, addressed the graduating class then, urging them to step forth and turn the world upside down with their art, beautifully.
As I completed my debut performance in this very auditorium, as you see most of these students doing today, (YES, THE ONLY TERTIARY INSTITUTION THAT DOES A PRODUCTION FOR A CEREMONY) I accepted that I had to be one of these artists of whom she spoke, later realizing that being a student of this institution was my first loaded ammunition at this. I then discovered through Eugene Williams that I am a creole actor.
This meant that amongst all the other actors of the world, I am uniquely possessed, not only because of my black skin or speech patterns, but by definition of my training, my dispossessed history and the will to simply produce art that speaks truth. This therefore positions us as artists with distinct qualities, staining our journeys as we travel.
So today as Ebony Patterson challenged me some four years ago, I challenge you graduates, step forth and mark your beauty in this world as you are now poised. Class of 2019, the journey is just beginning, so approach with caution. But let not this be the factor that disrupts your composure, and do not put limits on your artistic expressions.
Stanislavski says to us, “love the art within ourselves and not ourselves in the art”. Therefore we must be bold in presenting our hearts through the art we choose to share with this world. This journey has taught me what it takes to present my own truth through my art. We have submitted to these processes and we have accepted that they expand the self, accepting that when art is genuine, it is bondless.
I challenge you, class of 2019, to tell your stories through your art, and to be honest with yourselves. Again I am reminded of the words of Antonin Artaud who tells us that “no one has ever written, painted, sculpted, modeled, built, or invented except literally to get out of hell”. Graduates are you still in hell? Indulge me in a game of “What’s in the Box?” Give me one word that defines your journey here at the EMCVPA .
I have been told by a lecturer that as an artist I neglected to answer every question put before me at the School of Drama. My artistic point of view challenged the box.
I think that defines me as an artist in this moment. They speak of us triflingly, casting their euphemism, ‘isms’ and schisms, squeezing us together into a tiny space, demanding that we run in one direction in a place meant to emancipate us, or to accept the opportunities that only, as mi granny say, “pass through yuh high teeth” leaving us empty and shallow as they envisioned.
They expect us to sit at their table awaiting the scraps from the pot that our ancestors made, filled and fortified. No! The graduating class of 2019 will not sit and drink with you as you puppet us while you frolic.
No, we will not dance with you as you disregard our creative and artistic processes. No, we will not adhere to the judgement that everyone must, everyone will, and everyone can learn in the same way because no, we are not a programmable member of your box. No, we will not accept that we exist simply to be the cliched cultural item in your entertainment package.
And we will not perform as you stare us in the face pretentiously grinning in hypocrisy whilst “politricking” with our institution. No. We will not do that. So, graduating class of 2019 I ask you once more, what’s inside the box?
Is it your artistic expressions, painting color on top of color to escape the fact that there are only 4 sides to this glorious box? Are you that artist trapped in this box, seeking to redefine it based on what’s seen inside?
Or are you trapped inside yourself because you were trapped in a box of limitations?
Let me remind you, no box ever existed, out of which you couldn’t escape these limits, turning them over with your very own imagination. I can vividly recall the initial struggles I had in pursuing a minor degree in dance to accompany my major in theatre.
It was a struggle, not because I wasn't being afforded the opportunity, but simply because the schedule clashes threatened to affect my attendance at classes. I remember running from the School of Drama to the School of Dance, having to explain to lecturers why I was arriving late; enduring floor burns, torn muscles and many evenings of double booked rehearsals.
This was a hidden curriculum in strategy, negotiation and willing myself to succeed while maximizing my aptitude. Graduating class of 2019 you are a testimony to that will and aptitude.
You endowed yourself with the responsibility of pursuing degrees that are scoffed at by society.
You knew this and still you have blossomed into these radiant beings of fortitude and resilience.
Today I celebrate you. In success we must recognize failure. Though disconcerting, it is natural and integral to our processes as artist. It is the catalyst that propels us towards change.
We know not our greatest selves if we haven’t failed and reconciled with that process. I did hate journaling as a student actor, I remember nights kneeling down beside my bed at 2 am in the morning to complete these observations in writing, only to wake up 2 hours later face down and drooling over the empty page, then having to fill them with more than creative doodles.
I now have those journals and they serve as my guide, helping me make sense of those failures. Graduating class of 2019, it will not simply be said that we will go through these gates after this evening’s proceedings with only a certificate. With our lives before us, we must be confident in self and in the knowledge that we did not simply read for this degree, we danced, choreographed, managed, sang, played, painted, sculpted, acted, directed and drew for it. Standing resolute on the foundational pillars Dr. Nicoleen Degrasse Johnson, a woman of virtue, grace and poise, ensured that we knew at every assembly.
Pillar 1: Human capacity and talent development
Pillar 2: Infrastructure and equipment
Pillar 3: Stakeholder engagement, partnerships and scholarships
Pillar 4: Creation of a centre for excellence and innovation in continuing education for cultural and creative industries
Pillar 5: Building responsiveness, accountability and quality communication
Pillar 6: Embracing business and creative enterprise initiatives “A wen dem tell yuh yuh College uh extra”, you will tell dem yes mi extra!
You are extraordinary beyond every comparable belief because you are an astounding product of the Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing Arts, the first and only of its kind in the English-speaking Caribbean.
You, my fellow graduates, are a part of history today. Look at you, you are radiant and majestic. You’re here today not because of your insecurities, not because you could pay the money fi the ceremony nor were you merely selected.
Today you have been inducted into the legacy of 43 years of painstaking, brilliance and amalgamation of the art disciplines on one sacred ground, Edna. To our parents and guardians, our ode to you is our recognition of your valiant dedication and love in supporting us, as that one in the family who has always been distinct.
We recognize the sacrifices you have made, acknowledging that life has never been a crystal staircase, but at least you have been there cut and clear a path and push us up higher. We salute and honor you our parents today. Modupe.
We recognize your continued support, love and invaluable guidance, as they have taken us thus far. As we move forward, we know they make up our antidote for this world before us. My mother always tells me that everyone has a story. She always tells me to grin and bear it, because this is what will make my story be featured on ‘Profile with Ian Boyne’. Mothers have a way of knowing.
I never realized how potent it was to tell your story until I sat down to write this address. So as we share our stories, and continue to write our unique narratives, may we inspire others through our lessons, as we reflect on the journey that was the EMCVPA.
Establishing how we valiantly endured a semester without a canteen, learning gratitude for the countless times Ms. Charmaine Fletcher fed some of us when we couldn't find lunch. Recalling the time you realized that your final year show was a lot and it was this community of artists who carried you through to that final moment, maintaining abstinence of the tongue when the group work became a solo project, then acknowledging that one has not crossed if all have not crossed.
To our lecturers and mentors, we will remember the knowledge and life lessons imparted. May you continue to instigate a change within the young artists you encounter.
Big up to the ancillary staff at Edna Manley. You are all appreciated. Graduating class of 2019. I am honored to be the one congratulating you for more than a job well done. Congratulations on the power within you to have started, tackled and successfully complete this journey with grace and resilience.
(Call and response-StoryTelling. ) Response = See we yah!
Questions 1. after the 7 am classes ?
2. after having no room to rehearse?
3. after never getting a locker in all a yuh years
4. after the 2 am rehearsals and when the costume reach late?
5 after the lecturer nah understand that my artistic brain nah produce what dem want to see?
6. after unfortunate circumstances?
7. Ater wi school flood out?
7. after we done with upa accounts department?
8. After the grade nah get query? Thank you all for enlightening my journey in whatever way.
I am honored to be your Valedictorian of the Graduating class of 2019. Congratulations! You all did it, big up uno bl@@&cl#$t self.
- Waldane Walker