Let’s all be inspired by Janeil Odle

My dream is to have an all-inclusive Barbados. My vision is of an island where everyone is worth something, an island where in spite of one’s various challenges, or differences, their skills and talents are recognized.

–– Janeil Odle, the first blind valedictorian of Barbados Community College.

We had every intention of starting off this week just as we had ended last week –– highlighting the concerns raised by Dr David Estwick in last Friday’s lead story, in which he confirmed that the much touted US$250 million sugar revitalization programme was now officially on hold, due to a pull-out of major investors, in light of the island’s triple-notch downgrade by
Moody’s in June.

But rather than do as Dr Estwick would have us, which is to call out his own Government for the umpteenth time for what he himself now seems to be suggesting is unnecessary dithering, today we choose to set aside those concerns, if only for now, inspired as we are by young Janeil Odle, and her timely intervention last weekend at the Barbados Community College’s (BCC) graduation.

With the economy already down the tubes, and leadership in this country seeming to suck just as much as the current state of West Indies cricket, it is easy for newspaper editors to spill barrels of red ink each day and to become confused with the most miserable and lethargic armchair critics.

But not so with us, we are just as eager to hand out highly deserved bouquets as we are to deliver well warranted brickbats.

Today is one such day for the former.

But the prize for most inspiring speech delivered this past weekend does not go to anyone of the ilk of our dear Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, who is our undisputed master of prose, or anyone else, for that matter, who muses daily on Cicero or Virgil, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens and the like.

Sorry, Ms Mottley, we are not about to have another Queen B installation ceremony either, despite your obvious penchant for rattling off figures, times and dates, often without reference to a single sheet of paper.

Most deserving, we feel, of our accolades today is young Janiel Odle, the 2014 Barbados Community College valedictorian who, despite the loss of eyesight at the tender age of six, has gone on to achieve a near perfect grade point average of 3.97 and to be counted among the prestigious list of National Exhibition winners.

At the age of 18, young Janeil has already proven that disability is not inability, and that this society needs to give equal attention to needs and aspirations of those like her who refuse to be held back by physical challenge.

In fact, as we pondered over her valedictorian address at the BCC’s graduation ceremony last weekend, we couldn’t help but wonder where we could be right now economically and socially, if those with full eyesight were as productive and as exemplary a citizen as she.

To borrow her precise words, which she credited to her brother popular DJ Kashi, “a developing country is like a ship. Yes, the captain is important, but without the complete crew, the maintainance crew and the passengers, that ship is useless”. It was one of her piquant points said in her ten-minute speech.

Too bad Dr Estwick was not in attendance.

Maybe, he would then stop relying on the Prime Minister and the rest of the Cabinet to do something, much less his controversial UAE
funding proposal.

However, not to corrupt Miss Odle’s words any further, the lesson for us all is that “this island cannot progress until we wake up and realize that each and every one of us is needed for it to go forward”.

“Yes, it remains a privilege to say that you are striving to be a doctor or an accountant. But where would we be without our fishermen, our sanitation workers and our farmers? Our island would not be able to progress,” the young graduate rightly said.

Those who have ears to hear, let them hear, and those with eyes be prepared to “climb those hills” and navigate the dangerous bends that Janeil spoke of in her stirring address.

As we join in congratulating all the graduates of the BCC, we also fully endorse Janeil’s call for a fully inclusive society, in which physical difference is no longer viewed as a hindrance.

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