(CNS Local Life): Outlining a vision of the University College of the Cayman Islands (UCCI) as “key to national prosperity” and promising that “the success of our students will be the stars that guide us through the night sky”, Dr Stacy McAfee officially took up the mantle as UCCI president and CEO on Tuesday, 12 March.
The ceremony, in the packed Sir Vassel Johnson Hall, not only marked the first-ever inauguration of a UCCI president but also the first woman to take the helm.
The overriding message from the various speakers was on moving the university forward, in keeping with the evening’s theme: “Charting our Future: Guided by our heritage, faithfully navigating new possibilities.”
Minister for Education Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, who has said almost nothing publicly about her vision for education in the Cayman Islands since taking on the ministry, delivered the shortest speech of the night when she was called onstage to offer a welcome message. “I have been asked to bring greetings this evening, and so I go. Good evening,” she said, and then walked off the stage as the audience laughed. (See video below, approx 8:30)
The formal occasion was in stark contrast to the official welcome received when recently retired president Roy Bodden took over UCCI in 2009. At the time, he was replacing Hassan Syed who had fled Cayman, and eventually was extradited, tried and convicted of misappropriating more than $700,000 from the university and sentenced to eight years in prison in 2017.
The board of governors assembled the academic faculty and administration, Bodden recalled, and simply introduced him as president. In comparing the two occasions, Bodden said that when he became president, the “circumstances (proved) a difficult challenge” and there was “no room for this kind of celebration”. He added that while he appreciated all the “pomp and pageantry”, he preferred to “go in quietly, work and prove my mettle and then go out with a ceremony”, which he was given in December.
In his welcome address, Ritch said that in the search for a new president to replace Bodden, they needed someone to “inspire” students and staff, adding that McAfee brings qualifications, vigor and skills and is “diligently earning” everyone’s trust. “The future is in good hands under the leadership of Dr Stacy McAfee,” he said.
Opposition Leader Ezzard Miller gave an expansive address on the potential and direction of UCCI. “Dr McAfee has the vision and obviously the courage to transform the university into an institution that understands its essential and singular role in nation building,” he said.
He extolled government and the private sector to become involved in UCCI’s transformation. “One important game-changer would be for both… to relinquish piecemeal training being delivered in their individual silos. I urge the two sectors, instead, to engage UCCI to provide their post-secondary education and training – whether professional technical,” he said.
After the official investiture in which McAfee was presented with the presidential seal, she addressed the audience. She thanked those gathered and acknowledged her family – Terry, her husband of 32 years, their three children and her sister – along with her friends who had travelled to Cayman for the ceremony.
She touched on how she views a life well-lived and how that influenced her decision to serve as the president and CEO of UCCI. “I chose this opportunity because I was inspired by the values you treasure that mirror my own, faith, family and belief in the power of the human spirit,” she said.
“Tertiary education played a formative role in shaping who I became, despite challenging life circumstances, allowing me to pursue a meaningful life, and instilling in me this insatiable desire to ensure that every person has the same opportunity to realise the life-changing potential of tertiary education that I experienced,” McAfee added.
She took the audience on a “narrated journey of the future of your UCCI”, saying the school provides a “student-centred education” with each student on an “individualised learning pathway that maximises personal development”.
After recounting the achievements of the university in such fields as art, music, technology, broadcast media and various research projects, McAfee said, “It seems that the UCCI has truly become an engine for economic development, innovation and social change leading to broad prosperity within the Cayman Islands.”
She then spoke directly to the “amazing students and their families” saying they were why she chose to lead UCCI. “There is no greater privilege than to serve as your president and CEO and set a course that can provide each of you with an opportunity to live out your dreams, love deeply, and achieve anything your heart desires,” she said.
She added, “As your new president and CEO, my promise to you is that the success of our students will be the stars that guide us through the night sky and the sun for navigation through each day. Our commitment is to provide an education that prepares citizens for meaningful lives and careers, recognising and celebrating each person’s God-given gifts and talents.”