By Feona Morrison
In all its 55 years in existence, yesterday was a momentous day for the University of Guyana (UG) when it held its 52nd Convocation. The occasion saw the inaugural conferring of Honorary Doctorates to four individuals who have contributed effortlessly towards the development of Guyana in the various fields.
Those honoured were legendary vocalist Dr. Edmond ‘Eddy’ Grant; stellar businessman Dr. Yesu Persaud; international entrepreneur Dr. Jairaj ‘Jay’ Sobhraj; and Dr. Laura George, a pioneer of the Amerindian People’s Association.
The quartet was credited at three convocation ceremonies held at National Cultural Centre (NCC) where inspirational speeches and testimonies of hard work and perseverance, along with the values, history and tradition of the institution were reflected upon by members of the Chancellery.
Their exemplary works were recognized along with those of 379 graduates spanning the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, Faculty of Earth and Environmental Science and the Faculty of Health Sciences and Humanities of the Turkeyen Campus. There was a lone graduate from the Institute of Distance and Continuing Education (IDCE).
Of the graduates, 296 were from the Faculty of Education and Humanities, 49 from the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry and 33 from the Faculty of Earth and Environmental Science. They were conferred with Degrees, Diplomas and Certificates from over 120 undergraduate and graduate (post graduate) programmes offered by the institution.
Reflecting on the life of Dr. Edmond Grant, commonly called ‘Eddy Grant’, Registrar at UG, Professor Nigel Gravesande, described him as a rear example of an artiste extraordinaire.
Apart from illustrating Dr. Grant as a singer, songwriter, band leader and producer, Professor Gravesande said that Dr. Grant is also a social activist.
Dr. Grant was born on March 5, 1948 at Plaisance, East Coast Demerara, and later emigrated to England with his family in 1960. His music career began as a teen when he began embracing various genres of music. Five years later, he formed his own band, the Equals, which comprised of another singer, a drummer, and a guitarist.
The legendary vocalist has released over a dozen albums and singles, which trended in the United States, United Kingdom, Belgium and Ireland and numerous European countries.
In accepting the Honorary Doctorate of Letters, Dr. Grant expressed gratitude to his entire family, more so his wife of over 50 years.
Growing up, the singer reflected on how badly he wanted to become a doctor and that his father always believed in him. He said, “I know what it is to be thought of as nothing. But I always considered myself as number one.”
Introducing Dr. Persaud, Professor Gravesande said, “I present a saint who sells rum, a merchant, a banker, a Chartered Accountant and a corporate executor. I present a giant of the industry, yet a small man definitive in stature, yet great in humility.”
Born on October 18, 1928 at the Diamond Sugar Plantation, East Bank Demerara, Dr. Persaud’s first job was as a rat catcher in the cane fields. Years later, he moved to London where he qualified as a member of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).
Always hailed for his business contribution towards Guyana and the region, Dr. Persaud retired as Chairman of the Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL). He was behind the formation of the Demerara Bank and the Institute for Private Enterprise Development (IPED).
In 1981, he was awarded the Golden Arrow of Achievement, a national honour, for the expansion of the distilling industry in Guyana. In 1983, he received the Cacique’s Crown of Honour for developing many new industries.
Dr. Persaud is the recipient of many international honours, including the Ghandi Organization Plaque, Lifetime Awards from the Guyana Manufacturer’s Association and Georgetown Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Honorary Doctorates of Law from the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus.
He also received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Warwick University. As well, this same university renamed its Centre for Caribbean studies as the Yesu Persaud Centre for Caribbean Studies.
In accepting the Honorary Doctorate from UG, Dr. Persaud urged those gathered that if they want to build a nation, they need to put aside race, and work together, not only to create wealth but jobs.
Receiving an Honorary Doctorate for Excellence in Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy was Dr. Sobhraj, fondly called ‘Jay’, founder of the Jay and Sylvia Foundation. Described as one of the most successful Guyanese in the Diaspora, Dr. Sobhraj is the Senior Vice President of US-based Zara Realty.
A qualified engineer by profession, Dr. Sobhraj earned his degree at the Middlesex Polytechnic of Central London in the 1970’s, and became a Chartered Engineer and Member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, United Kingdom in 1984.
He has worked in Guyana at the Guyana Bauxite Company and in Abu Dhabi with the National Petroleum Construction Company, as plant Superintendent on an oil production plant in the petrochemical industry in the Middle East.
Upon leaving the United Arab Emirate, Dr. Sobhraj co-founded Zara Realty, named after his daughter, with two of his nine brothers. The real estate empire started out in New York and now spans several American cities. The foundation was formed 11 years ago, and has gifted over $400 million in Guyana and the US.
The foundation’s work focuses on technology, education, mental health and development of children and young people. Some of the major projects of the foundation include the donation of US$475,000 to the University of Guyana to build a new building that will house mental health resources for community wellness, among notable contributions.
The Foundation provides scholarships for five students at the university annually, and has pledged another US$200,000 for student related support in the next 10 years.
Another honoree was Dr. Laura George, a proud Akawaio, who hails from Region Seven, Cuyuni Mazaruni.
She was educated at the Campbellville Secondary School, the Government Technical Institute and the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE). This passionate advocate for indigenous rights is currently the Governance and Rights Coordinator at Amerindian People’s Association (APA).
Dr. George has worked with various indigenous communities throughout Guyana on several issues including land rights, mining, forestry, labour exploitation, and women’s rights. Her experience working with indigenous organizations has seen her participating at international conference.
Also notable is that she has been engaged in humanitarian work and as one of the APA’s volunteers in seeking food and other supplies when several communities in Region Eight were flooded in 2016. Dr. George is working on various projects, and also does hospital visits when persons from the interior need support, and has advocated for prisoner support in cases of wrongful detention and imprisonment.
Noting that the success of the graduates was a team effort, Vice Chancellor and Principal of the University of Guyana, Professor Ivelaw Griffith, reminded that it was the combined efforts of professors and lecturers at the University, families and individuals at places of employment.
The inspirational story of one Robinson George, who hails from Region Seven, was told by the Vice Chancellor, who described him as persistent. According to Professor Griffith, George at age 29 developed hearing impairment when he began teaching.
He enrolled at the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE), and went on to the University of Guyana from where he graduated yesterday with a Bachelor’s of Education in Primary Education, said Professor Griffith.
Delivering the keynote address at the first ceremony was Professor David Phoenix, Vice Chancellor of London South Bank University. Professor Phoenix sits on a number of national bodies overseeing UK higher education such as Universities UK, National Centre for Universities and Business as well as MillionPlus.
Among other things, in 2010 Professor Phoenix was made an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for services to Science and High Education and appointed as Deputy Lieutenant of Greater London in 2015.
Prior to the ceremony, there was the Chancellor’s procession which consisted of the Registrar, Librarian, Deans of Faculties/Schools, Directors, President of the University of Guyana Students’ Society, Chief Marshall, Members of Academic Staff, Representative of Alumni, Bursar, Deputy-Vice Chancellors, Keynote Speaker, Honorees, Vice-Chancellor, Pro-Chancellor, Mace-Bearer and Chancellor.
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