J.A. Roy Bodden thought he was retiring Monday night.
In a more than three-hour ceremony, the president of the University College of the Cayman Islands was praised for his nine years at the helm of the school, which was badly foundering when he took the job, and honored with the title of president emeritus.
Convinced he had achieved his goals and positioned the school for a stable future, Mr. Bodden said he was looking forward to leaving at the end of the month to manage his farmland and enjoy the quiet life of an author. He has several books on Cayman to his credit already.
Education Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly had other ideas.
“Cayman society has grown leaps and bounds in its development process,” Ms. O’Connor-Connolly said, addressing a crowd of more than 200 people in the school’s Sir Vassel Johnson Hall. “But from a social perspective, there are still many lacunas. And who better to fill the gaps than the Chef of Flowery Language?”
Mr. Bodden picked up that nickname, the minister said, during his 16 years as a member of the legislative assembly.
“I’m asking President Bodden to write some of my textbooks,” she continued. “I’m determined to put textbooks back in school so our students can know from where they come.” Calling Mr. Bodden’s retirement a “milestone,” Ms. O’Connor-Connolly, along with education counselor Barbara Conolly and UCCI Board of Governors Chairman Anthony Ritch, took part in helping Mr. Bodden don the ceremonial robe and hood of president emeritus, the first such title bestowed by the school.
The minister also took the occasion to announce plans for a UCCI extension campus.
“Within the next two weeks, I will announce that we have agreed on a new property on Cayman Brac,” she said. “It’s going to be an extension for students who want to attend UCCI.”
That same time period was all she was giving to Mr. Bodden as well.
“It’s thank you but not farewell,” she told him. “You have two weeks to check your mango trees.”
Alluding to a quotation from the book of Joshua, she told Mr. Bodden to prepare himself.
“Get some good sorrel and some turtle and good Christmas beef, because there is still much land to possess, and possess it we will.”
In his response, Mr. Bodden did not seem to shy away from the challenge.
“I shall take some time for respite and I await your call,” he said.
It left an open end on what was otherwise a final bow in Mr. Bodden’s career as an educator. Cayman born, he went abroad to earn his college degrees before returning to spend several years as a school teacher.
The evening’s master of ceremonies, former legislative assembly member Gilbert McLean, said when Mr. Bodden was denied the high school principalship he’d been promised, he decided to go into politics. He served in the Legislative Assembly for 16 years.
Mr. Bodden joked about the end of his political career.
“I was unceremoniously dumped by my constituents,” he said.
That rejection happened to coincide with a crisis at UCCI. The previous president had misappropriated funds and left the school deeply in debt. Mr. Bodden told Monday’s crowd that he believed it was “ordained that I come to UCCI.”
During the evening, which was punctuated by musical and dance performances as well as video tributes, a parade of speakers talked about Mr. Bodden’s success in bringing the school’s finances under control and elevating its academic offerings. Many mentioned the way in which he personally engaged with the students, faculty and staff on campus. He became well known for his nearly daily strolls around the school, where he talked with students. “He represents two ‘p’s,’ president and police,” chairman Ritch said. “He walks the campus multiple times per day. He knows his students. He knows their goals. He knows their aspirations.”
“I shall miss those walks and miss the students’ inquisitive questions,” Mr. Bodden said, “such as, were there gangs when I was growing up and was I a member? Or was my departure voluntary or otherwise?”
Faculty representative Terica Larmond heads the school’s nursing program, one of Mr. Bodden’s signature accomplishments. She said he touched everyone on campus.
“He has scripted love and enduring respect on the hearts of all of us,” she said.
She likened his leadership to that of Moses.
“You have taken the university to the promised land,” she said. “You have guided us through the financial desert and you have positioned the university college for financial prosperity.
“We will always remember you as a courageous leader,” she added.
Mr. Bodden addressed his final remarks to Mr. Ritch, who earlier in the program said that the president had restored national pride in the school.
“My passion has been to serve the people of the Cayman Islands,” he said, adding that UCCI should be at the heart of Cayman society.
“The education offered at UCCI must be world-class,” he said. “It must be an exemplar in creating an inclusive society. It must be the soul of a society whose future lies in diversity and tolerance.”
He said he believed he was handing off a “well-run organization” to the new president, Stacy McAfee, who takes office in January.
“I have come to this moment, this time, this hour and I wish to say to you, sir, from the bottom of my heart, I am humbled by your recognition,” he told Mr. Ritch. “I have labored not expecting such a reward, but it is the dream of every president upon completion of a term to be named president emeritus. I shall long cherish the board’s award.”