MARKING TIME & Getting it right

Dates and anniversaries can get confusing. Here’s an example of how:

Fifty years ago, in February 1965, the University of the West Indies (UWI) marked its recent elevation to full degree-granting status with its first independent Presentation of Graduates and the presentation of its first Honorary Degree. (UWI had previously been the UCWI, a College of the University of London).

Fifty years ago, in June 1965, the first cohort of Natural Science, Arts and Social Science students to have studied solely within the independent UWI after it was elevated in 1962, finished their three-year degrees. (The first fully UWI medical class still had two years of their five-year programme to complete). That first UWI cohort, the Class of 65, would receive their certificates at a ceremony in early 1966.

Since the mid-1980s, the UWI has presented their graduates in October or November of the year they complete their degrees. So the Class of 2015 will receive its degree certificates in 2015. But in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, graduates were presented in January or February each year – the year after they completed their degrees.

So when, in 2015, we look back 50 years to 1965, we see both participants in the first full-fledged UWI graduation and the first full-fledged graduates; and they are not one and the same. Most of the persons presented with their certificates in February 1965 were still receiving degrees of the University of London in association with the UWI. They were the Class of 1964. Seven of them did receive UWI Higher Degrees in Arts and Science including Engineering and Agriculture – degrees that had taken one to two years to complete. Several others received diplomas and other professional certification.

The 300 plus young people who, in 1965, finished their examinations and successfully completed the UWI’s first programme, would not shake hands with the Chancellor in the Presentation of Graduates until 1966.

So when we acknowledge the 50th anniversary of the first independent UWI Graduation; and when we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first graduating class of an independent UWI, we have to be clear that we are talking about two things that are worth celebrating; but that they are not one and the same thing.

Our cameo exhibition on UWI’s academic dress, most prominently worn during graduation season across the four UWI campuses, continues. Look out for our upcoming (November 6, 3pm) panel discussion on the MLK Moment – highlighting Rev Dr Martin Luther King’s Valedictory sermon at the UWI on June 20, 1965 and the relevance of Dr King’s visit.

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