PREMIER OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS AND MINISTER OF FINANCE
HON. NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
OPENING CEREMONY - ESHS CAMPUS REDEVELOPMENT PROJECT
3 JANUARY, 2023 – 10 AM
A pleasant good morning is extended to all the beautiful people of these beautiful Virgin Islands, especially the principal, administrators, educators and students of the Elmore Stout High School (ESHS).
Today we celebrate another proud milestone in our journey of recovery from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and in the continued development of our Virgin Islands. But most importantly, we celebrate the fact that our secondary school students, teachers, administrators and principal on Tortola, are returning to their rightful home and a facility that is fit for purpose and conducive to teaching and learning – a facility that they deserve to have.
The completion of these buildings for the ESHS campus is a monumental achievement for our people. It is yet another testament to what we can achieve by working together, having a positive attitude, and maintaining confidence in the capabilities of our people.
Upon being elected in 2019, this was one of the top priorities for me and for the administration of which I was a part. And I give praise to the Most High God that we have been able to get to this point despite the obstacles.
I want to thank the students, teachers and parents for their patience. We know it was not easy in the temporary accommodations. And yes, the temporary arrangements had our students in a disadvantageous position, especially where they were not able to have full time classes.
That building was not built to accommodate a school. But, lest we forget, we were short on options at the time because of the extent of the devastation that was wreaked by the 2017 hurricanes. And, therefore, I wish to thank Clarence Thomas Limited for making that space available when we were short on options, so that our children could continue to have access to education albeit that the situation was not perfect.
I must recognize the agitation of the teachers and parents in helping us get to this point. Early in this administration, the Ministry of Education, the RDA, and Construction for Change starting working on a master plan and conceptual designs for a grand junior high school that would be very expensive and that would take too long to build.
Teachers and parents who were in the unsuitable conditions at Pasea made it clear in no uncertain terms that we needed immediate and urgent action.
I called the then Minister of Finance, seeking his support, and I must say that I also thank our Creator that I had a Minister of Finance and a former Minister of Education who was so supportive. I speak of none other than Mr. Andrew Fahie, and just in case you were wondering whether his name would be spoken this morning, there is no way that I would allow his role and contribution to not be acknowledged this morning.
It was through our collaboration that the move with a purpose project was birthed!
We must also recognize the positive contributions of the Financial Secretary Mr. Jeremiah Frett and the team at the Ministry of Finance, who made it possible for the financing to be realized for this project. Dr. Drexel Glasgow and the Project Unit were intimately involved. We must also recognize the hard work of Permanent Secretary Dr. Marcia Potter and the team at the Ministry of Education for their role in guiding and accelerating this project. I also could not stand here and not acknowledge the work of Miss Lorna Stevens, who is a stellar public servant and a patriot for the BVI in continually advancing the interests of the education system through monumental projects such as this one. Let us also thank Mr. Anthony McMaster and the team at the Recovery and Development Agency (RDA) as they continue with their excellent track record of delivering project after project after project. Many said this project was impossible to achieve in the timeframe stipulated, and this project would have been achieved in September if not for a few snafus outside of the RDA’s control. And I must commend the BVI private sector, our architects and our contractors, who have again done quality work and who continue to deliver. Anyone who has played a role in this project, we commend you. And I must commend the Minister Honourable De Castro for grabbing the baton and running with it. And there are other persons from within the Virgin Islands who continue to contribute to our successes and our development.
The facts bear out that our Virgin Islands people are capable of rising above and beyond all challenges. That has been our reality and our truth throughout our history. And that is why I continue to say we must have confidence in ourselves. We must not let anyone convince us that we are lesser people or that we are not capable of doing great things. We have all the proof we need to continue believing in ourselves and for us to break free of the psychological prison that some people try to keep us in.
Let us not allow anyone to rain on our parade on this occasion. Unfortunately, there are persons among us who will never have anything good to say to encourage us. Unfortunately, some persons have tried to throw cold water on our efforts and just may try to continue to throw cold water on our efforts. We should all be overwhelmingly happy at today’s achievement.
Today is a lesson that we should press forward to progress and not allow the minority, even if their voices are loud, to stifle progress for whatever misguided reason. If we had allowed those negative voices to hold us back, we would never have rebuilt our high school, and our children would not have a proper place for education, as they do today.
I am saying to you – and to all of us – we must stop letting persons who do not recognize our worth, who do not share in our vision for our Virgin Islands, or who do not believe in our abilities, dictate what we should and should not do when it comes to the pursuit of national development.
Now is the time for those among us who have vision, ability and courage to step forward, and provide the guidance and inspiration to those who are looking for hope, direction and leadership.
These are the first buildings built on this Elmore Stoutt High School Campus since Lavity Stoutt was alive. I was able to benefit from what he and others did. And I am grateful that my children and all of our children will be able to benefit from what we have achieved together. This is not the end of our efforts. We will immediately begin planning for our cafeteria, which I hope will be named after one of my heroes, Janet Stoutt, affectionately known as Granny. And we have many more buildings to build as we seek to build our people.
This is what it is all about. Education is about preparing persons for the roles and challenges that are waiting for them on the horizon – and for nation building. And if we want to equip our youths to be the best they can be and to achieve their highest potential, then there are things that we must be doing as responsible adults – and responsible Virgin Islanders.
We must cater for and provide our young people with the tools and resources to have a quality education and to succeed in their academic preparation.
We have a responsibility to tear down as many of the barriers that stand in the way of their success – whether that means reforming how Government business is done, eliminating weaknesses and threats to our economy, or changing Constitutional arrangements that are working to our disadvantage and holding back our progress.
We also have a responsibility to inspire our young people. Our people are being bombarded on the blogs, on social media, on some of the talk shows and other forums, with narratives that they must temper their aspirations because they are from a small country; that they must know their place because we are an overseas territory; and so on.
I am saying that we know better. We have the facts. We have the experience and the knowledge. And we must start speaking our truth. We must start telling the real story of the Virgin Islands and what our people have achieved. We must remind our young people - and ourselves too – that we belong to a people who have endured much; who have persevered; and who have achieved great things.
We must instill in them the courage and self-belief to not be daunted by obstacles – real or imagined, and to boldly go after their dreams. And this is where I believe some of our senior statesmen and stateswomen need to step forward to be seen as role models and heard as leaders in our society.
ESHS is a fine institution. Most of us present today attended this high school – some during its prior incarnation as the BVI High School. Most of us have children who presently attend or formerly attended this school. Most of the persons who have held top positions in the public and private sector in the Virgin Islands attended this school. I am a proud graduate of this school.
ESHS has a healthy track record in terms of passes and honours. Graduates have moved on to great accomplishments. Many have doctorates in various fields, and many work in top positions in companies in the Virgin Islands and abroad.
So, I want to tell our students that they have all the reason to be proud of their school, to believe in the institution and to trust their teachers and principal. Do not doubt that your teachers are fully committed to developing and bringing out the best in you. They demonstrate this commitment every day, and more so through all the tough teaching conditions since the 2017 hurricanes.
You are being equipped and prepared for success. So, cooperate with your teachers. Absorb all the knowledge they are imparting to you. Maintain dedication and focus on your studies. It will help you to create the best future for yourself.
May I also say that the success of the Virgin Islands depends on your success in your education. As our Territorial Song says, “Educating your people is the golden key to maintain the success of this Territory!”
In a few years from now, it will be you, young people, who will be running the affairs of our beloved islands. You are the future businessmen and businesswomen who will be dominating our economy. You will be running the tourist board, the airport, the sea port, financial services and the businesses big and small. You will be running the departments and Ministries in the Government.
Sitting among you are future Ministers of education, health, natural resources, works and finance. One or more of you is a future Premier, Deputy Premier and Deputy Governor. With Constitutional Reform and completion of our self-determination, one or more of you may be the first Virgin Islander to become Governor or Governor General – or the first President or Prime Minister of the Virgin Islands.
When you dream, dream big. Set your bar high. Aim beyond the clouds.
Many of the things we take for granted today were unheard of or were thought impossible just a few decades ago. So, do not think that anything is beyond your reach and your abilities. And do not believe that things are bound to stay as they are forever.
To our teachers, principal and administrative staff, thank you for your dedication to the children of the Virgin Islands. The value of your work cannot be quantified, more so because the impact of your work is infinite. With every child you teach, you are positively affecting the prospects of all their generations going forward – continuously contributing to the development of the Virgin Islands.
We in the Government will do everything we can to ensure that you have the tools and resources that you need.
And to the teams in the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Finance, the RDA and other relevant units and departments, keep up the good work. We have a number of school projects at various stages of development, and our children are counting on all of us to deliver.
I have full confidence in you, because you have a solid track record. I look forward to seeing these other school projects coming on stream soon. Be proud of your work and keep working hard.
May God continue to bless our beautiful Virgin Islands and her people.
I thank you.