A 27-year-old pharmaceutical industry professional with a passion for community service was honored for her leadership skills on Saturday night.
Kellie McGee, from Savannah-Newlands, was named the recipient of the 2015 Young Caymanian Leadership Award at the annual gala in the ballroom at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.
Ms. McGee, who is engaged to be married on Jan. 2, 2016, works for Ironshore Pharmaceuticals and Development Inc. and serves as a consultant to the World Health Organization in Geneva. She also is the current international service director for 52 Rotaract clubs around the Caribbean. Ms. McGee was clearly moved to have been chosen as the recipient of the award over four other finalists, Taylor Burrowes-Nixon, Robbie Cribb Jr., Rebekah Jefferson and Stephen Watler.
“Wow,” she said, noting that she was glad she had written an acceptance speech in the likelihood that she won, even though it was very difficult to write.
“It’s not easy to write a speech that you have no idea if you’ll give,” she said.
Ms. McGee told the audience about her experiences while earning an International Baccalaureate diploma at the United World College in Swaziland in Africa, which helped her see the world from a different viewpoint. She said people should strive to realize their potential and their passion because there is potential in everyone, regardless of their circumstances.
Master of Ceremonies Chris Duggan, who was the YCLA runner-up in 2009, said a record 39 nominations had been received this year, which marked the 15th anniversary of the award. Guests were shown brief video highlights of the 14 previous award galas. The event was not held in 2005 because Grand Cayman was still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Ivan in September 2004.
Presenting Ms. McGee with her award was last year’s recipient, Kadi Merren-Pentney, who beforehand spoke about her willingness to give back to the community, an attribute that led to her selection as YCLA recipient.
“I can honestly say, the more I give, the more I feel fulfilled and happy, and as many of you know, I’m a pretty happy person,” she said.
Keynote speaker for the event was British-born adventurer, author and motivational speaker Debra Searle, who is best known for rowing across the Atlantic Ocean from the Canary Islands to Barbados in a 23-foot boat made of plywood. Although she started off on the journey with her husband, he developed a crippling phobia of the open sea and was taken off the craft, and Ms. Searle continued by herself, spending three-and-a-half months alone at sea.
She said that she faced danger on a daily basis – from storms, ocean freighters and even sea turtles that were hitting the bottom of the boat – and that she lived in a constant state of heightened alert. Once, after she had a near-miss with an ocean freighter and she was disheartened by the prospects of spending Christmas alone at sea, she thought of giving up and having a boat come to get her. However, with the support of her family – who could talk to her with a satellite phone – she continued. Her family arranged for a sea delivery of a Christmas care package, complete with a small Christmas pudding, and for a way for thousands of text messages from supporters to reach her.
Ms. Searle said she learned on the journey that leadership starts with leading yourself.
“I had more opportunity to lead myself than most people have in a lifetime,” she said, adding that the most important thing she learned was “choose your attitude,” something she advised others to do.
She said that during her journey she often faced challenges beyond her control, but that she could still choose the way she thought about those challenges.
“As you work on leading yourself so that you can lead others, know that no matter what … you can always change your attitude. That’s the one thing that’s always in your control.”