The UWI often talks about its first students – the fabled 33 students from across the Caribbean, 23 men and 10 women, who in 1948 were the pioneers of a tertiary education product that would grow to reach tens of thousands at a time.
But there is another group of pioneers – the first students to graduate from the then University College of the West Indies (UCWI).
They do not overlap. Why? Because the first group was of medical students, taking a five year programme that would lead them into internship as young doctors at the new University Hospital of the West Indies teaching facility. The university’s second cohort, in 1949, included more hopeful medics but also the first batch of three-year degree students, working towards degrees in Natural Science. Arts would be added the following year, and so on.
So the first graduates, who completed their programmes in 1952 and graduated in January 1953, were natural scientists not medics – persons who had succeeded in speciality studies of three among chemistry, physics, mathematics, botany etc.
They received the B.Sc. (Lond. UCWI), the university then being a college of the University of London – until 1962 when it received its independent charter.
That first group was: R.H.A. Bailey (Jamaica); J.C.L. Drakes (Barbados); O.J.C. Francis (Jamaica); W.B. Le V. Johnson (Jamaica); C.A. Lewis (British Guiana); K.E. Magnus (Jamaica); T.C. McMorris (Jamaica); G.W.F. Morgan (Jamaica); T.A. Omardeen (Trinidad); K.M. Tam (Trinidad); J.W. Whittingham (British Guiana). Prof Robert Lancashire, co-author of The Department of Chemistry, UWI, Mona with Prof. Kenneth Magnus, notes that some lists of the first graduates also carry E.L. Bertrand (Trinidad), W.R. Chan (British Guiana), L.E. Hue (Jamaica) and D.O. Vickers (Jamaica) – however they had not fulfilled their full-time residency requirement at the university and were not allowed to graduate until the following year. Chan, who continued to postgraduate studies, is an Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at the UWI St Augustus campus in Trinidad & Tobago.
When graduation came, not all of those eligible were present, some having left Jamaica or gone to jobs outside of Kingston, where the founding Mona campus is located.
Roy Bailey, the first graduate to receive a UCWI certificate, recalls that he had gone to Cornwall College in Montego Bay, western Jamaica for a teaching job, but came back for graduation. He appears, receiving his certificate from the Principal Dr Walter Grave, in a 1953 film on the UCWI.
Also among the six attending graduation was Ken Magnus, who would receive a research grant to continue at UCWI in 1953 and go on to become a Professor Emeritus.
Two of the first graduates, Bailey and Magnus , were among visitors to the museum’s Freeze Frame & Annotate exhibition in February – April 2014. So too was Neville McMorris, a cousin of first graduate Trevor McMorris. The Freeze Frame exhibition aimed to engage with elder alumni in particular and gather information about the UCWI days – especially as portrayed in the 1953 film made by the Jamaica Film Unit.