Record number of nominations for young leaders award

She is not talking, but Tara Godfrey promises an enormous, exhilarating surprise when the keynote speaker is introduced on the evening of Oct. 17 at the 15th year, the crystal anniversary, of the Young Caymanian Leadership Awards. 

In past years, The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman ceremony has featured such high-profile personalities as Fox News presenter Steve Doocy and U.S. presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. This year’s speaker, said Ms. Godfrey, YCLA Foundation coordinator, “is going to be awesome – and a surprise.” 

She says only that the speaker has signed on and is a woman, but offers no more details: “I’m not telling you now. I can’t break my word, but it will be great,” she promises. 

This year’s YCLA must choose from among 39 candidates, the most ever nominated, entailing the most complex winnowing process the selection committee has ever faced. 

The five-member committee has only just started to work through the list, comprising 75 percent women and 25 percent men, all between the ages of 20 and 35. 

Chairman of the selection committee, Cayman Brac Power and Light General Manager Jonathan Tibbetts, says the group is “already working through” the nominations, “doing the vetting, checking Facebook and LinkedIn, making calls, looking at them. 

“The profiles of this new group of young Caymanian leaders are extremely impressive,” he said. “It is wonderful to know that so many outstanding young people are out there, already making their mark on our society, and providing role models for the younger generation. They serve to reinforce the mission of the YCLA, which is to recognize them and provide a platform for spreading their positive messages of hope and encouragement to our youth. The committee will have a very difficult task selecting the final five candidates for YCLA 2015, but it is going to be a very exciting time.” 

Ms. Godfrey is at a loss to explain the dominance of women at the event, but says it’s not unusual. 

What is remarkable, she says, is the quality that underpins the overwhelming quantity of this year’s field of candidates. 

“This age group of people is just phenomenal,” she says. “They are highly educated and have worked for everything they have – nothing has been given to them. They have the time and the desire to give back to the community. 

“In the course of all this, I have spoken to all of them, and they truly are honored to have been nominated. They don’t do any of this for recognition.” 

The foundation will not release any of the 39 names, but will advertise the five finalists when a decision has been made. 

Mr. Tibbetts did not say when the finalists would be determined, but Ms. Godfrey said the deadline has passed. 

“We hoped to have the five by now, even today,” she says, but the length and excellence of the roster has delayed the process. 

“It’s not a job I would want,” Ms. Godfrey says. “We have to have the five before Sept. 15, the date of the Governor’s Tea.” 

Mr. Tibbetts said that once the selection is complete, the five finalists will be forwarded to the 11-member board of directors who will record interviews with each candidate, ultimately electing the winner in a secret ballot. 

The Oct. 17 ceremony, titled “Legacy of Leadership,” promises to be among the most gala of the celebrations in the decade-and-a-half of the award. 

“YCLA 2015 will be an inspiring, uplifting and unforgettable event,” Ms. Godfrey says, hoping to bring together as many former finalists and recipients as possible for a “special tribute” as this year’s winner is crowned. 

The 39, she said, are drawn from a broad range of professions: teachers, lawyers, accountants, athletes, civil servants and “most of them community leaders in one respect or another.” 

Last year’s Young Caymanian of the Year was Kadi Merren-Pentney, a certified public accountant at PwC. She graduated from Triple C High School, subsequently earning a degree, magna cum laude, in business administration from Warner University in Lake Wales, Florida, and then earning a master’s degree in accounting and taxation from Florida Gulf Coast University. 

Kadi Merren-Pentney, the 2014 YCLA winner, with YCLA 2013 recipient Shomari Scott. - PHOTO: Jewel Levy

Kadi Merren-Pentney, the 2014 YCLA winner, with YCLA 2013 recipient Shomari Scott. – PHOTO: Jewel Levy