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Promoting our brand

Ministers Haynesley Benn and Denis Kellman among guests.

Last Saturday evening the Coleridge and Parry community came together at Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the amalgamation of the Coleridge School and Parry School.

The gala affair, attended by Governor General Sir Elliott Belgrave and other old scholars who have made a valuable contribution to the island’s development, was addressed by Professor Curwen Best, of the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies.

Following is an extract from that speech.

What is the Coleridge and Parry legacy? It is all these things and people and much more. It is our roots, that is, where we have sprung from. But it is also a manifestation and adumbration of our routes, that is, the pathways that we must continuously navigate.

I know of some institutions whose motto, like ours, is success and reward through hard work (Palmam Qui Merit Ferat), but what distinguishes the Coleridge and Parry School in Barbados is its ethos? An institution’s ethos can be detected from its mission and vision statements; but over time you can look at an institution and you can say indeed what its character, its overriding quality, nature, disposition and spirit is, in your view. So that, my sense of the Coleridge and Parry brand is that, my sense.

One thing that sets us apart is our unassuming brilliance. Not that all things about us are brilliant. Not that all acts of greatness and their protagonists are unpretentious. For, some of the most arrogant people whom I’ve had the good fortune of meeting, were found within the hallowed walls of Coleridge and Parry. I won’t call the names, not now, not here. But, these were in the minority. They’ve had their vital role to play in school and in the society.

Although we might have lost some special qualities and some are fading over the years, I believe that our unassuming brilliance is an enduring trait. You see it reflected in the life and manner of Sir Elliott Belgrave and I’ve detected it in the demeanour of Kimberly Skeete and Gavin Millar, two students currently approaching fourth form.

One thing we have to think through though is the extent to which modesty can pose a challenge to and/or enhance our promotion and celebration of achievements.

Past Standards. Declining/changing social face

In its critical early decades the school was able to instil discipline, stress hard work and consequent success; and the majority of students seemed to be in sync with this orientation.

One of the challenges that most educational institutions have faced over the past 30 years has had to do with the sense of general declining standards, particularly within the body social of our nation, and region. I believe that teachers and principals of all eras have been committed and must be commended.

But when I speak to old scholars of an earlier generation than mine, I am amazed by their stoic defence of the school, and the tradition that shaped them. You begin to get a measure of this pride and passion in the book Foreign-Born African Americans: Silenced Voices in the Discourse on Race where Litchfield Thompson, an old scholar and outstanding sprinter of the 1950s, situates his upbringing in the context of school, politics, the economy, history, race and development.

I am moved by all this and it has inspired me, but I also know that many students who were going into the institution in the mid-1980s were doing so at a time when the struggles of forging, and contributing to the strengthening of an institution and community seemed less of a passion and innate political and personal undertaking, as the nation was itself beginning to embrace a new set of technologies, circumstances and even ideals.

Some students of my generation and certainly those that came later were also graduating into a society and culture that was beginning to place a premium on other kinds of allegiances and projects. A key motivator for scholars of earlier decades has been their background, location, parental motivation and a range of other guiding principles and incentives.

But in more recent decades there has been a shift in this dynamic. The school, though always a crucial socialising hub, has become in some respects less of a central symbolic space of contestation, where collective energies circulate to create moments of seminal action and brilliance that reverberate for decades, and more of an adjunct location for the playing out of these social, cultural, economic and political relations.

We all know that increasingly many of our institutions must wrestle with other agencies, real, virtual and imaginary for the interest and attention of emerging minds.

Other institutions and Coleridge and Parry – Asserting the brand

There is something to be said for other educational institutions that seem to have a bolder presence. But a closer look will also reveal that even these have encountered the kinds of challenges that we have had to wrestle with in recent decades.

Some institutions have clearly determined that expressive collegial hype can have an impact on retaining collegial affiliation; and, I would admit that this is excellent marketing and probably one of the more direct and immediate ways of consolidating and attracting bodies around our brand.

Still, I am not fully convinced that the majority of students of those other institutions have internalised their own history and through this have forged their personal understanding of what their institution means and where they are in relation to it.

I say this not to belittle other efforts, but rather to caution us to think of other strategies of and approaches to centring the institution, its history, its contributors, and harnessing its symbols, shaping its ethos in a range of meaningful and creative ways, utilising both traditional and leading-edge tools and methodologies.

We therefore eagerly await the defining text on the history of our institution, which is being researched and written by Mr Alwin Adams [former principal] and his core team within the alumni association. And our bloggers, Facebook, Twitter, social media and cyber activists must continue to promote and educate about the Coleridge and Parry brand. We must educate and stimulate younger minds to carry on this task in the real world and within the matrix.

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