July 2011 Volume 8

Graduation Speech 2011

David G. Batts
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Father Abner Powell, the Principal, other distinguished members of the Head table, members of staff, ladies and gentlemen, and of course last but by no means least, GRADUATES, Good evening.

It really is an honour to be asked to speak here today.  When I received this invitation, I immediately discounted the possibility that the invitation was a roundabout means of securing another benefactor because it is so well known that lawyers and in particular this lawyer, have not the means to provide any meaningful donation to the school.  It must be therefore that I was invited because someone, somewhere, came to the conclusion that I had something useful to impart to you all.

And what could that be?  I thought at first that I would speak on some current legal issue.  That I would share with you my opinion that the report of the Manatt Commissioners is hopelessly flawed.  But then it occurred to me that such a discussion involving detailed analysis of law and evidence would put 50% of you to sleep and in our highly partisan society no doubt lead the other 50% who stayed awake to brand me as a supporter of one or other of the two political parties. 

I then thought I might speak to you of my KC credentials, but these really consist of the fact that myself and my three brothers attended KC.  At the time of school selection, there was a dispute in the Batts household.  I wanted to go to KC; my father thought it was a tough school and Georges, Wolmer’s or JC were better.  My mother intervened, “George,” she said, “Let the boy go to the school he wants.”

Two things flowed from this, I learned that if I stood up for something I could determine my destiny and secondly, the choice having been mine, I could not afford to fail lest those objecting say my selection was bad.

The results were good.  Not only did I receive an excellent secondary education at KC I also gained experiences and met individuals that I certainly would not otherwise have.  I learned that hard work and sacrifice were required, many an evening I studied while hearing my friends outside playing football.  At KC, I benefitted from that aura which only champions experience.  I also gained lifelong friends; indeed our bonds are so strong that the class of 1978 some 30 odd years later still has regular reunions.  We even have a website, visit us at www.KCFortis1978.com.

So you see my KC credentials are not such as to be the subject of a speech here today.  They are not particularly outstanding.  I was after all your average KC boy. Then I thought I might speak to you of the nobility of this institution and of its founder and his wonderful legacy.  The Rt. Reverend Percival William Gibson was not the Bishop of Jamaica in 1925 when the school opened its gates.  That honour was bestowed on him in 1956 when he became the first non-white to be so honoured.  In 1925 he was only a priest.  He had to borrow money to get the school underway and started at East Street, Kingston with 49 boys.  But he had a vision.  He saw the need for an institution that would provide a quality education and moral and ethical guidance for boys.  In those days (and for some time thereafter), a secondary school education was not easily had.  It was a privilege acquired only by the few.  Bishop Gibson wanted a school to provide this for the many.  He knew that if Jamaica was to prosper and achieve greatness future leaders had to be prepared. 

While Headmaster at KC from 1925 to 1955, he set standards and trained others to succeed him in the maintenance of those standards.  Excellence was his mantra, truth his passion and faith in Christ the underpinning of all he did.  He never received a Jamaican national honour while alive although he was awarded posthumously the Order of Jamaica.  His work and legacy survives because it was not about national honours or personal reward.  It was about moulding young minds to prepare them for leadership.  He recognized that if Jamaica were to prosper it required leadership of integrity which would not compromise on the values of truth, honesty and probity.  Bishop Gibson did not need to read the study commissioned in 2002 by the International Monetary Fund and edited by George Abel and Sanjeav Gupta, on “Governance Corruption and Economic Performance”, to recognize that without these values Jamaica would fail as a country. 

Many persons are only now seeing the connection between over 30 years of poor or corrupt governance and 30 years of economic decline.  You may not be surprised to learn that in 2008 Jamaica ranked 96th of 180 countries in the world’s Corruption Perception Index published by Transparency International.

No greater demonstration of this want of truth, honesty and probity is required than the recent performance on national television of persons in public life.  Bishop Gibson would I imagine, have railed from the pulpit against the many inconsistencies and the repeated refrain I can’t recall.”  It really was disgraceful and not enough of us, least of all the commissioners, are prepared to say so.  Gentlemen, I urge you to heed the teachings of our founder and as citizens and future leaders of our country, practice truthfulness, honesty and probity and in return demand nothing less from those who would wish to lead you.

The fact that I stand here and speak so passionately of this great man who started this great institution is an indication of the value of his legacy, because I never met him.  He died in 1970, three or four years before I entered the halls of KC. But the generation of teachers and headmasters who followed Bishop Gibson continue to propagate those values and to speak of that little man with a big heart.  But you all spent five years here and you know all this already.   I therefore decided it was perhaps not the best subject of discussion today.

Finally, I thought that I might speak to you of my own life and how the values acquired at KC contributed to my development.  In my time here we had educators who encouraged discussion and debate.  Many teachers relished a challenge by students.  This challenge was not always intellectual. 

My colleagues remind me of an incident when we were in 3rd Form.  Our history teacher came into class whilst we were in the middle of a “tie war”.  Instead of berating us or sending us to Mr. Bruce, the Vice Principal, for a dose of the cane “juice”, he grabbed the nearest tie.  In short order he fired a few salvoes sending us all for cover.  “You see boys,” said he, “I was once your age, but if you want to progress in life you have to put such childish things aside and listen to me.” He gained our undying respect that day and history suddenly became a favourite subject.

I learned at KC that debate and the exchange of ideas were essential in the search for truth.  We developed the confidence to test our teachers and challenge theories.  We had no internet, the personal computer was unknown to me, and so the trek to the library or to the Institute of Jamaica was necessary whenever research was to be done. I developed an extreme nationalism and after leaving KC opted to attend the University of the West Indies.  When I entered University, I was already prepared for the long hours of study and research to come.  I was also aware that not everything printed in black and white was to be accepted without question. 

When I embarked upon the practice of law, I was confident and felt that no challenge was too great, no problem so intractable that with application and preparation it could not be overcome.  Two experiences illustrate this, one very early in my career and the other occurred in 2009.  While awaiting the results of my final examinations I worked as a volunteer at the Norman Manley Law School Legal Aid Clinic.  I was then 23 years old and was convinced that legal services should be available for the poor.  It was while at the clinic I received a call inviting me for a job interview with a law firm I had not applied to because I had never heard of it even though it was the 2nd largest and the oldest law firm in the island.  You see, not only was I the first member of my family to be admitted to the University of the West Indies I was the first Batts ever to be trained as a lawyer.

I borrowed a jacket, put on a tie and went to this interview.  About six or seven grey haired, very serious looking persons interviewed me.  These were some of the Partners.  Only one of them had a skin colouration that matched mine.  I said to myself I will never fit in here, but I looked behind the panel of interviewers and saw a wall lined with books and law reports and I felt this is the kind of place I would like to work.  They asked me a lot of questions and eventually asked whether I had any questions for them.  I did, and notwithstanding the esteemed surroundings, notwithstanding the obviously conservative nature of the individuals interviewing me, I was bold and honest enough to ask the question that was troubling me:  Would the firm if they employed me allow me to do legal aid?  I was subsequently told that there had never before been a candidate for the job who posed such a question.  They had expected the usual questions about salary or whether car loans or other benefits were offered.  I was offered the job; I did legal aid for several years. 

In 1994 I was offered a partnership.  Today at 49, I am one of those who sit in on interviews looking no doubt conservative and forbidding to the young applicants.  I believe gentlemen, I was offered the job because I was not afraid to put forward my truth, and neither should you.  In whatever you do whether in love, in commerce, at the workplace or in politics, honesty is always the best policy.

The more recent occasion on which that confidence in self was demonstrated occurred while I was arguing a case before English judges in England.  The English Queens Council representing the large multinational corporation on the other side had a C.V. that was so long it made me tremble.  He had authored legal texts and had done many big cases in England and all over the world.  When he rose to argue the case, he was smooth and had the court eating out of his hands.  He ended at 3:30 on the first day and the judges turned to me and asked whether I intended to “send in the night watchman or would I rather start tomorrow”. 

A trembling voice within me said, “tek the break and start tomorrow.”  But it annoyed me that my case seemed lost before it had begun.  I therefore surprised myself and everyone else by saying I would rather start now.

I rose before the five English judges, looked straight in their eyes put aside my notes and for half an hour spoke directly to them of what the case was about and why we ought to succeed.  The matter continued on the following day but I do believe it was that half hour before close of play on the first day that resulted in victory for a righteous cause.  Gentlemen, had I not been equipped with that self confidence which is the hallmark of the spirit of Fortis, I would have faltered that afternoon.  You too will face challenges in life but as graduates of Kingston College  in such times of crisis you must exude confidence and be steadfast.

However, on an occasion such as this I cannot spend 20 minutes speaking about myself.  Humility after all was also another lesson from the great founder of our school.  I therefore decided against a speech which was all about me.

On reflection, I decided not to give a speech on any particular subject.  Do you know that in the Fortis1978 chat room a member asked “who was the guest speaker at our graduation ceremony?” Very few could remember.  Indeed, my only two clear recollections of that 1978 graduation exercise are as follows:

The fact that I was handed a blank piece of paper with a whispered promise that the Graduation Certificate would be supplied at a later date (which it was) and, the fact that it was held at the Kingston Parish Church.  This stands out in my mind because that impressive historical structure captivated my interest.  As an aside, you should all visit that Church, pass by and say hello to its Rector, the Rt. Revd. E. Don Taylor, a KC old boy, former Principal of KC and former Bishop of New York City, and an amazing human being.  He will be happy to share a moment or two with you.

But I digress; I know you are all anticipating receipt of your certificates and entry into the wider world of higher studies or employment.  I will not delay further your graduation.  I will only give you the following advice:

There is no replacement for the long hours of study and practice required if you are to be successful.  Whatever you do in life, strive to do it to the best of your ability. As a KC graduate you should always let truth be your watchword.  In whatever you do, maintain your dignity and your integrity.

Be confident, you have every reason to be.  Your reasoned opinion is just as important as that of the other person.

Maintain your links to the KC fraternity.  Wherever in the world you go, be it, New York, Atlanta or Toronto, there is likely to be a KC Old Boys’ Association.  And if there is not, you can start one!  On the World Wide Web you can make contact with the click of a button.  In this way the KC tradition of excellence will continue and you can in turn contribute to ensuring that Bishop Gibson’s legacy survives for future generations.

In closing, let me therefore wish you all the very best and every success; FORTIS CADERE CEDERE NON POTEST!!

JUNE 24, 2011

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