UWI’s First Graduates

Did you ever wonder who were the very first students and graduates at the University of the West Indies (UWI) – then the University College of the West Indies (UCWI) ?

You can actually see the names listed on plaques that are mounted on the wall of Founders Park, within the original core of the university.  They list the 33 medical students who were the first to matriculate at the UCWI in 1948, but whose five-year programme meant that they would not be the first graduates. That honour went to the persons completing the first three-year Natural Science programme, starting in October 1949. They finished in June 1952 and graduated early the following year. The first of the medics would finish in 1954, the year after the first Arts graduates who had started in October 1950.

Among those 20 Arts graduates is one name that especially stands out – that of poet and Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott who died on March 17, 2017 at age 87.

Among the science graduates is UWI Prof Emeritus Kenneth Magnus of Jamaica, who would work to on developing natural products chemistry at the university. The plaque also includes several bright students (Eugene Bertrand, Wilfred Chan, Lloyd Hue and Donat Vickers) who had completed their courses but were not actually allowed to graduate until they had completed their full-time residential requirement.

We know something about some of the other graduates. We’ve been fortunate to interview Arts graduates Dahlia Patterson-Reidel and Velma Corinne Ford-McLarty, who stayed fast friends and who spoke about their recollections of campus life; and a 1952/53 film of campus life allows us to put faces to many more names. Roy Bailey, who is immortalised in film as the first UCWI graduate to receive his certificate, taught and studied further before returning to work at the UWI Computing Centre from 1968. He also shared some of his recollections as did Prof Magnus who is a great raconteur and was a President of the Guild of Undergraduates..

Among the first medical students, we have been able to capture some recollections of Owen Minott, Keith McKenzie, Don Christian and Muriel Lowe Valentine.

Do you perhaps have contact with a UCWI grad who still has memories to share? How about getting them talking and recording their recollections, with their permission of course. We’d be happy to have them! And we can offer some questions to get you started. And if you have information on the life journeys of any UCWI graduates, we would be happy to add them to our research folder. One aspect of the UWI Mission, from the start, was contributing to the development of the countries of the Caribbean and the region as a whole. The journeys of the early graduates helps give shape to that contribution! Just send them in to <uwi.museum@uwimona.edu.jm> or post to The Curator, UWI Museum, UWI Regional Headquarters, Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica. Photos too!  (We are, of course, also interested in the stories of those who have followed and will be happy to collect any recollections in what will hopefully become an important memory bank).

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2 thoughts on “UWI’s First Graduates

  1. The Suspense Candidates successfully completed their examinations but had not satisfied the three year residency requirement and so graduated the following year. For Science, this affected about 25-30 students between 1952-1959

    • Many thanks for this detail. ‘Suspense Candidate’ seems such an archaic formulation! Do you know where it comes from? I guess it could be the University of London, to which the UCWI was associated, or the historic universities of St Andrew and Oxford which had supplied academics involved from the earliest stages.

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