Politics invaded the graduation ceremony at the University College of the Cayman Islands on Thursday, Nov. 2.
The 145 graduates honored at the event listened as Education Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly implored the crowd to contact their legislative representatives and demand more funding for education. She was followed by business executive Mark Singel, who delivered the commencement address and spent much of his speech talking about Donald Trump.
Ms. O’Connor-Connolly filled in for Premier Alden McLaughlin, who was originally scheduled to speak. She said she was happy to take a break from the parliamentary budget hearings to congratulate those about to be handed their diplomas or certificates.
She told her audience that more government resources should be directed at education.
“If we are serious about making education a priority,” she said, “the time is now. I want you to email, I want you to set up appointments with all of your representatives.”
She also addressed the concerns of educators on Cayman Brac that their facilities are not up to par.
“I publicly commit tonight,” Ms. O’Connor-Connolly said, “there will be improvements on Cayman Brac, starting with a proper facility.”
Her commitment did not stop there, adding that she would continue to support UCCI.
“While I am minister,” Ms. O’Connor-Connolly said, “this institution will be adequately financed. There is no better investment.”
During his commencement address, Mr. Singel, told the graduates they needed to be aware of what was going on to the north.
“The United States of America is now under siege from within,” said Mr. Singel, a former politician who served as Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor. He is also an adjunct professor at Harrisburg University, which recently established a relationship with UCCI.
“We are suffering from people who are blindly flailing away at the underpinnings of democracy,” Mr. Singel told the crowd of more than 1,500 gathered in the campus’s Sir Vassel Johnson Hall. “If the United States is in trouble, we’re all in trouble.”
Mr. Singel said the graduates had important choices to make in order to “face the challenges of the future without abandoning your principles,” and encouraged them to be supportive of one another.
Kattina Anglin, 46, said support from her fellow students helped her through her classes. She was one of 10 students receiving a legal support and administration certificate. Ms. Anglin, who likened the small group of students to a family, is now attending Truman Bodden Law School and is studying contract law.
“I came here for all the gray-haired people,” Ms. Anglin said, “for all the people who haven’t done it yet. You won’t finish the journey if you don’t take the first step.”
Ms. Anglin said she took a 20-year detour from college when she made some “bad decisions,” but had decided it wasn’t too late to accomplish her goals.
“Tonight is proof that if one tries hard enough, the goal can be accomplished,” she said. “I’m feeling very accomplished.”
Sean Bent, 35, was getting his associate degree in business administration. With a full-time job and two daughters, he said going back to school was a challenge. He did it so he could advance in his career.
“If you don’t have the degree,” he said, “you won’t get as far. I’ve been promoted since I started school.”
Victoria Ramos, 22, said she too is hoping to advance in the business world with a planned degree in accounting. She was sitting with fellow student, Sabrina Dennis-Elgueta, 20. On Thursday, they were receiving their associate degrees in accounting. Both are already working on a bachelor’s degree and plan to become certified public accountants.
Ms. Ramos motioned to a group of graduates in light blue robes sitting in front of her.
“We’re seeing the people in their bachelor’s gowns,” she said. “We’re like, ‘Yeah, in two years, we’re going to be there.”