Good evening Dr Woodroffe, chairman, NGC College, Mr. Marlon Jameson, co-chairman, Ms. Yolande LaPierre, Director NGC, Senior Elders of the KCN, Congress WBN, Educators, NGC, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen and of course good evening students and most importantly good evening to our graduating class 2009/2010. When Ms. LaPierre first invited me to address you this evening I readily accepted but then of course the hard work began. I sat back and for over a month now have been trying to determine what should I say this evening and after much thought and consideration I find myself standing before you to address the topic of identity.
To some extent I was trying to avoid this particular theme because within the last few months every time I had to address a group I have found myself speaking about the same thing; persons who have heard me on these occasions probably think I sound like a stuck record. Yet the reality is identity and all the implications of truly knowing and understanding who you are and what you are called to do in life is what is currently consuming my mind, it is consuming my thoughts, it is an integral part of my prayer at the moment and quite simply it is consuming my life. The result is I am personally undergoing a process of re-definition or re-scripting that as you can imagine is having a profound effect upon me and my world. Thus I speak to you this evening young men and women from my current location and beyond that I cannot go.
I will begin my focus on identity in a few minutes by asking all our graduands to stand and I will lead you in a declaration or statement of identity. I will not ask you to tell me your name, I do not want you tell me where you were born or what part of Trinidad and Tobago or the world you are from; I do not want to know your age or your chosen career path, if any at this point in time. Though these are of some import, to be honest they do not tell me really who you are or get to the heart of your identity, they are merely a shadow and a poor one at that of the real you.
A declaration is not a simple statement but it is the emphatic formal public proclamation of that which is clearly understood and known by the one who proclaims it. It announces to the world something definitive, formed and established. When you make a declaration you speak with certainty and strength because it comes from a place of understanding and conviction. I would like you now like you stand and make this declaration. ‘I AM NORTHGATE COLLEGE; WHEN YOU SEE ME YOU SEE NORTHGATE’.
So what does this mean, why have I asked you to strongly identify with your school? Has this helped you in any way to get a clearer sense of your identity? Well to be honest I am taking you along the scenic route because it is often more interesting and our brains work by making connections and linking ideas by association. So we will take some time to define NGC because if our declaration is true, then if we define NGC and understand its identity then in actual fact we are coming into clarity about our own identity.
I invite you to join me in looking on the screen. Please focus upon the two groups of images and as you look at these images I would like you to reflect upon which group best defines NGC.
The answer is obvious but I believe poignant. To the casual observer NGC is a secondary school in a small island of approximately 1.5 million people that cannot be seen on many maps. We thank God for Brian Lara and the Soca Warriors because without them Trinidad would be in many respects virtually non-existent within the consciousness of the world’s population. To the casual observer NGC is a secondary school of 400 students on an acre of land, leased not owned, by the school administration; its building are ordinary and utilitarian, none of which could ever be classed as a thing of architectural grandeur and beauty such as the magnificent seven which adorn the Queen’s Park Savannah. To the casual observer NGC is like so many other schools across Trinidad and Tobago and the world but we must not be casual observers.
We must not be casual observers because the casual observer never ventures beyond the external reality of life and the truth is the external reality of life is simply the context in which true identity is hidden. To discover NGC demands we must look further and deeper, it demands we look beyond buildings and street addresses, beyond physical amenities and all the wonderful equipment that we would like to have. The identity of NGC is found in the second group of images which highlight the people who comprise the NGC community and most importantly the values that undergird and permeate every aspect of NGC life.
These values themselves point to another far greater reality. NGC is not just another secondary school; NGC is an extension of the Kingdom of God through Congress WBN into the field of education. When you entered NGC you were grafted into something that is far bigger than yourself, you were grafted into the Kingdom of God which finds no definition in external reality and all definition in the values that lie within the heart of man. One day a number of persons came to question Jesus about how could they identify the Kingdom of God and when would it manifest itself on earth. His answer is recorded as follows: “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” I want you to appreciate this point because it highlights where one must look for definition and where one must build identity.
I interject here with a somewhat funny anecdote I discovered online which illustrates nicely the value of this dimension of God and his operations.
A middle aged woman has a heart attack and is taken to the hospital. While on the operating table she has a near-death experience. During that experience she sees God and asks if this is it. God says no and explains that she has another 30-40 years to live.
Upon her recovery she decides to just stay in the hospital and have a face lift, liposuction, breast augmentation, and a tummy tuck. She even has someone come in and change her hair colour. She figures that since she’s got another 30 or 40 years she might as well make the most of it.
She walks out the hospital after the last operation and is killed by an ambulance speeding up to the hospital.
She arrives in front of God again and asks, “I thought you said I had another 30-40 years?”
God replies, “Sorry, I didn’t recognize you.”
Let me now use this trend of thought to extract two key principles of identity:
1. Your identity is not determined by the external configuration of life.
Just like the college which does not find its identity in the external reality of buildings so it is for every single student here this evening. The external shapers of your life are not your true definers; you are not African and you are not Indian; you are not defined by being tall or short, beautiful or more beautiful for there are no ugly among us. Even your grades do not really define you, you are not an A plus student or a C-student. I put it to you that none of these things define you. Young women you are not defined by three digits 36, 24, 26. You are defined by the value you carry inside of you and that is what the staff of NGC has been trying to impart to you over the past five years.
The manhood charter is what tells you who you are; it is these values that define you and allow you to break free from the limitations and wrongly imposed reality of external definition. When I ask the young men who are they, they should all reply, I am a man, I am a respectful man, I am a diligent man, I am a sacrificial man, I am a self-governed man, I am an accountable man, I am an NGC MAN. Ladies in case you missed it those things define you as well.
You are not Trinidadian. Such a statement should not be unfamiliar to you because I know one of the iconic phrases of the college often repeated is “You are not ‘beh beh Third world cunumunos”.
To not be Trinidadian is not a statement that reflects a lack of patriotism because we all love our country and if the truth be told NGC could just as easily be found in Texas and if that was the case I would declare you are not American. To declare yourself not Trinidadian is to indicate that your values and mentalities do not originate within the framework of this island but from a far higher source. Trinidad and Tobago has both good and bad. We are a country of unity and creativity and energy but also one that can be small with limited vision and given over to a carnival spirit that says any excuse for a party, we dey!!! It can produce ‘beh beh’ third world ‘cunumunos’ who cannot articulate their thoughts, think development is based upon how many cars one owns, and the number of high rise buildings across the land.
You are not Trinidadian because you are NGC and NGC is not Trinidadian. Remember NGC is the extension of Congress WBN, a global Kingdom organization that exists in over 70 nations of the earth. During your time here you may have met such persons, Paul Lindo and Chris Wadell(UK), Nawah Phiri (Zambia), Nelson Negi (India), Jon Philips (USA) and Ntebo Mahlare (SouthAfrica). All have visited NGC at some point, allowing you to experience life beyond these shores. As a result you personally have seen that NCG is global and so you too are global. You are global because you are not limited, you have vast expanding vision, you see beyond natural limitations. You are global because you carry all peoples in your heart and you are not weighed down by issues of class and ethnicity. You are global because you can touch the highest office in the land and yet if demanded live in and reach out to those in the humblest of circumstances.
What essentially I am telling you, graduands, is that if NGC gets its identity from the Kingdom of God, it has now imparted that identity to you. Your identity is found inside of a set of values thrusting forth from the mind of God and your time here for five years or seven years or even one year means you have now been grafted in. If you choose, you are NGC.
And so in like manner the second principle of identity follows:
2. You are not defined by your past historical experiences but that which you have been called to be.
There is a quote about identity that says ‘The value of identity of course is that so often with it comes purpose.’
I believe there is some truth in this. Historical past tries to shape us and mould us. Knowing our history is important but it is not history that defines us. I am reminded of the lion who is raised in captivity and so forgets he is a lion (think Alex in Madagascar). When released into the wild his identity has been lost and he is quickly engulfed. Or consider the elephant who is raised with a chain around his leg and becomes so accustomed to the chain that even years later when he is fully grown and stronger than fifty men, that chain can be replaced by a rope and the psychic memory of the feel of a noose around his leg keeps him in bondage.
And so the lion whose purpose is to hunt and is the king of all beasts becomes an entertainer, his purpose has been shaped by an identity inflected by experience. The elephant becomes a beast of burden and loses his grandeur and majesty, a lesson to us all, do not allow your psychic memories to enslave you.
When NGC started in 1999 there was no history, no past markers of success and so many said it would fail, it would not achieve that which we set out to achieve. How can you achieve without a track record, who are you, where do you come from, what gives you the right to believe that through the establishment of a school you can give identity to a new generation of young people and future leaders and so bring impact through education. Last year was our 10th anniversary and from all reports we have achieved and we have become. The values which we proclaim are not manifest in the structures we have built but carried in the hearts of who NGC truly is, you the students. Ralph Waldo Emmerson, the American writer and philosopher put it this way, “The true test of civilization is not the census, nor the size of cities, nor the crops – no, but the kind of man the country turns out.”.
To declare yourself NGC is to say I am not defined by difficult life circumstances; I am not defined by psychic scars inflicted by misguided adults; I am not defined by personality traits that are a result of adaptations learned to cope with trials of various kind. To declare yourself NGC is to say I am a young man and woman that takes definition from that which I have been called to be and that, young people is the values that you see manifest all around you at NGC.
Let me begin to wind down by sharing with you a phrase recently uttered by the chairman of NGC, Dr. Noel Woodroffe and one that has been echoing within our Congress with God-breathed energy. The phrase is this ‘Open your eyes and know who you truly are’, ‘open your eyes and know who you truly are’. As you prepare to move forward in your journey I say to you, open your eyes, take your time, look around at your school, consider, ponder, ask questions, and know who you truly are.
As I close I read and reflect on a poem that many of you may know. It has been used in the movies Coach Carter and Akilah and the Bee.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear
is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness,
that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?
Actually who are we not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people
won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine as children do.
We were born to make manifest
the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And when we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.
When the author Marriane Williamson declares us to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous this is allegory for the values we have highlighted this evening. These things are our right, they are our inheritance, then have been given to us by God and can be accessed in Him.
And so as you leave this phase of life and the joys and development of the school environment you carry NGC with you. As you manifest who you have been called to be you set a standard and a pathway for others to follow, when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
And finally one last thing, the journey will not always be easy, sometimes you may make mistakes, you may not live up to the standards, you may fall and you may stumble but always remember this. The STUMBLE IS THE LIE. The stumble is the lie, you are not defined by the stumble it is simply a blip along the journey. You are and you will always be NGC for as long as you choose to carry the values that have been placed within your heart and now define you. Carry these values with distinction and humility and spread your fragrance as you go forth.
I now invite the graduating class of Northgate College 2009/2010 to again stand and from a different place make the declaration: I AM NORTHGATE COLEGE, I AM NORTHGATE.