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by Dr. the Rt. Excellent & Rt. Hon. Sir Kennedy Simmonds
I welcome the opportunity to have a conversation with the Youth of our Nation. I am opening the conversation today and I want you hereafter to carry it on among yourselves. Today we celebrate National Heroes Day. What makes a National Hero? What is the common thread? The common thread is SERVICE. Service to the people of our Nation, and it is the people who make National Heroes. Not one of the 5 of us would be National Heroes without the support and opportunity for service given to us by the people.
Speaking for myself, I would not be a National Hero without the support of the people, some of them your mothers, your aunts ,uncles , brothers and sisters, who gave me the opportunity to become Prime Minister and the privilege to lead our Nation into Independence. I thank the Government and people of St. Kitts and Nevis for the signal honour given to me while I am yet alive. I thank God for life every moment of the day.
Doing well in school, becoming a doctor and helping people recover from illness would not be enough. Even though I worked and studied at one of the best hospitals in the United States, Allegheny General Hospital, and became a member of the Heart Transplant Team under the leadership of the renowned heart surgeon Dr. George Magovern, that would not make it happen.
However, doing well in school is an important 1st step in your journey to personal success. When you achieve success remember to build a better life for your parents and guardians who sacrificed much and deprived themselves so that you can make it. Learning in school, striving to be the best you can be is the foundation on which you can build the rest of your life.
Now I am going to give you, all of you, some advice. I know some people don’t like to take advice, but I’ll give it anyway, because it’s personal. This is how I lived it.
1. Every day, pay careful attention to the teacher in class, and try to understand what you are being taught. If you do not understand, say so.
2. Assuming that you are going straight home from school, when you get there do not open a school book at that time. Go outside and play. Go jogging, practice football, cricket, basketball or netball, or tennis. This applies to boys and girls. Devote 1- 1½ hours to exercise. This is not book advice, this is how I lived every school day. You can do it too. The habit of exercise is essential for your health now and for the rest of your life.
3. Later that evening, every day without fail, go over what you learnt that day. It might be easy and straightforward, but if you have to, wrestle with it like a dog with a bone, and don’t give up until you know and understand what you were taught that day.
4. In addition, be sure to complete any homework assignment before you go to bed
You notice something? No time for xbox or tv yet. That’s the point. You have to get your priorities in order.
I know you are going to tell me that things have changed from my time. That’s true. We didn’t have x-box, or ipad or tv, some of us didn’t even have radio. Yes, things have changed. You the young people of today face greater challenges and distractions than we ever faced. Our Country appears to be responding in like manner to the epidemic of crime and violence which is plaguing the Region and the World. Some people say that our young people are responding to peer pressure. I am calling on you, our young people not to react or respond to a peer pressure that drags you into the morass of crime and violence, but to yourselves create peer pressure, a peer pressure that has respect for God and your peers, a peer pressure that works to ensure that “Our Land of Beauty,.. where peace abounds, returns to and remains in that beautiful and peaceful state.
The good news is that it is happening slowly but surely.. I felt privileged when I was introduced to some young students who had made a robot and earned recognition in an international competition for their work. Made a robot…in St.Kitts? That is the kind of peer pressure we need. Youth of our Nation, you must delve deeply into the world of science and technology, and finance and languages and trades, and give full expression to your creative and innovative instincts.
Some people like to spread the falsehood that if you good at working with your hands you don’t need no load o’ book learning. For them, to be a mechanic you just have to put on some dirty overalls and tamper, and you may eventually have a workplace which becomes a graveyard for vehicles. The mechanic who has a sound basic education and learns the science of his craft and continues to update his knowledge is the one who will sell cars, repair cars successfully, sell parts and employ others. The mason who is just satisfied to run blocks and use his trowel expertly may be employed by the one who learns to read plans, build a house or even become an architect and design not just a house but a whole community. In this day and age, any field you choose to enter will require you to have a good basic education and a desire to continue to learn more about your chosen field. To make it in this computerized and rapidly changing world, you must love to learn, for the need for knowledge never ends.
The good thing about education is that it is a great equalizer. Here in St. Kitts and Nevis, whether your parents have money or are poor, you have equal access to education. The poor man’s child or the rich man’s child can rise to the top of the class.
I was born and raised in Rosemary Lane. It was a dirt road and we used to play cricket and football in the street. We never lacked for balls because we had a breadfruit tree. We would use one this big for cricket and one this big for football. We played barefooted. I used to sleep on the floor on “lodgings” for years until I graduated to sleep on the bed with my grandmother.
I wonder if any of you know what it is to be really hungry. Perhaps not, not with our school feeding program in place. In any case, I am not talking about the I had breakfast and as lunchtime is approaching I begin to feel a little hungry kind of hungry. I mean the I have not had enough to eat for the whole day and the piece of bread and the bush tea I had tonight ain’t pick me teeth – kind of hungry.
I was 6-7 years old and I used to fraid darkness and cockroach and spider. We used to call them donkey spiders. Our house was up on “nogs” with a cellar underneath. There was a back stairs to the house with a little landing at the top. The kitchen was a shed outside. The pots and pans were hung on nails under the steps and the coal pot was kept on the ground under the steps. The crocus bag of coals was in the kitchen.
I was living with my aunt and grandmother. This particular night I was hungry, and there would be no more bread in the house until Mrs. Hawley shop open in the morning. I was so hungry I started to cry and I told my aunt “I hungry.”. She said to me “ all I have in the house is some rice and butter, but I not going back downstairs.” “ I will cook some rice with the butter for you, but you have to go downstairs and bring up the coalpot, the coals and the pot.” Hunger was greater than fear so I took the hurricane lamp and went down under the steps. The roaches and the spiders started to run all over the place, and I had to make 2 trips. I had to leave the lamp down there and carry up the coalpot and the coals, then go back for the lamp and the pot. From being poor, hungry and afraid, I am here today before you, a living National Hero. The simple lesson is this, if from that background I can reach where I am today, so can you and you and you. LEARN and SERVE. This Country is yours.
Mr. Prime Minister! Not you Mr. P.M., Madame Prime Minister. Do I see a hand raised in acknowledgement. 30 years from now one of you will be Prime Minister of this Federation. Look around at your teachers. That’s where some of you will be. Some of you will be the engineers who will build that Bridge between St. Kitts and Nevis which I called for years ago before I became Prime Minister. Then later, while in office, we actually got the work started with the assistance of the late Sir Dwight Venner while he was Governor of the Central Bank. The soundings across the channel and some drawings were done. A certain local writer wrote in a local newspaper: “Simmonds is a crazy man” Yes I was crazy for the South east peninsular road. I was crazy for Port Zante. No! Port Zante was not built on the initiative of the Matalons of Jamaica as recently stated by a local luminary. I invited the Matalons to come to St. Kitts and to design and build a cruise ship facility in downtown Basseterrre so that our local vendors and small business persons would have easier access to the benefits of cruise tourism. The Matalons assisted greatly in securing the necessary finance and carried out very efficiently their mandate to design and build Port Zante. Yes, I was called crazy for the bridge which some of you will build. Our Anthem calls for it: “with God in all our struggles St. Kitts and Nevis be a Nation bound together with a common destiny.”
Our Nation has no shortage of role models. Look at Dr. Sahely, Mr. Keith Arthurton, Ambassador Constance Mitcham, Dr.Everson Hull, Dr. Spencer Amory, Mr. Richard Caines, Her Honour Mrs Marjorie Morton, Mr. Kim Collins. What an inspiration is that young man. He was the fastest man in the World in 2003, then the fastest over 40 years old. Now the other World athletes , his peers, have elected him by a landslide to represent them on the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Commission. Many of you would not know that Kim Collins used to be the messenger in the PAM central Basseterre constituency office.
“The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight;
But they, while their companions slept, were toiling upwards in the night.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1858.
Here, today on the 16th of September 2017, my challenge to you is that you take your God- given talent, mix it with a generous portion of hard work and dedication, and thus, prepare yourselves now, that you may better serve St.Kitts and Nevis and promise to this generation that you will make St. Kitts and Nevis better in your time.
May God bless our young people, the pride and joy of our Nation.