Since 1983, the last quarter of the year has been the time when new graduates of the University of the West Indies are formally presented to the Chancellor for recognition. In 2014, the UWI graduated 7,298 persons with first degrees, 2,083 with higher degrees, and a total of 10,433 including certificates and diplomas.
The 2015 cohort will be the UWI’s 63rd graduating class since the first set of degree holders crossed the platform on Tuesday January 13, 1953 and shook the hand of the then Principal, Dr Walter Grave. Those earliest grads were from the graduating class of 1952: 11 young men from Jamaica, Barbados and British Guiana (now Guyana) who had matriculated in 1949 to do the Natural Science degree offered in association with the University of London. Four others completed the programme that year but were not allowed to graduate until the following year due to various unfulfilled requirements. The graduating class of 1953 (who received their degrees in early 1954) included the first three women from the Natural Science programme, as well as the first medical graduates – the pioneers of the then University College of the West Indies (UCWI). They had started in 1948, but their five year programme meant that the honour of being the first graduates went to the Natural Scientists who did a three year degree.
The early timing of the graduation ceremony in January was to facilitate the attendance of the Chancellor, who travelled to Jamaica in the first quarter of each year to chair meetings of the UCWI Council. In 1983, to facilitate the time shift, some campuses had two graduations; one in January to present the 1982 graduates; and another in November to receive the newly minted 1983 graduates. The UWI was then 35 years old. 1983 was also the year when the university was undergoing structural changes aimed at giving greater control to the campus governments while retaining the functions and purposes laid down in the original Charter.
From 1965, the UWI was graduating students at more than one campus across the Caribbean Sea – the St Augustine Campus in Trinidad & Tobago having come on stream in 1961 and the eventual Cave Hill Campus in Barbados, in 1963. The Open Campus, with roots in earlier extra-mural and distance programmes, was formalised in 2008. Mona, in Jamaica, is the founding campus.
Our cameo exhibition on UWI academic dress continues throughout the month of October.