Portia Simpson Miller

Remarks at the Conferment of the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws - Sept. 30, 2017

Portia Simpson Miller
September 30, 2017— University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica
Print friendly

Simpson Miller gave this address at a special convocation held to confer on her the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws (LLD) from the University of the West Indies.

Chancellor Robert Bermudez
Vice Chancellor sir Hilary Beckles and Lady Beckles
Members of the senior management of the university
Members of the faculty

And I want to recognize the presence of my colleagues here this evening. I think it would take a long time for me to mention them by name.

University stakeholders
Members of government
Members of the private sector, civil society, and trade unions

And let me recognize in a special way, as well, the presence of my husband, Errald, and my other family members.

Dr. Phillips—so nice that you and your wife could be here to share with me this afternoon and I want to thank you both from the bottom of my heart.

I recognize ambassadors here as well and I want to thank them for coming to give support. Blessings.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, a pleasant good afternoon.

I use this opportunity to welcome Chancellor Bermudez as he commences his tenure here at the University of the West Indies. I do not intend to alarm you, Chancellor Bermudez, however I must point out that you are starting your leg of the relay in the very big footprints of Sir George Alleyne. In offering my welcome and congratulations, let me say I have no doubt, Chancellor, that you are more than capable to take on the task at hand.

I also extend my best wishes to Sir George. It is no secret that before I was paid this great compliment by the University of the West Indies, I had already received many awards. Whether you subscribe to the Christian faith as I do, one can readily appreciate the biblical reference about a prophet being honored in his own country. The same applies to being honored in one's own region or country.

I can hear the voice of former vice chancellor, the late professor Rex Nettleford, reverberating in my head. “This is my Portia, in whom I am well pleased.”

No greater accolade can be greater than being honored by the University of the West Indies, the institution which embodies the educational excellence and cultural identity of the Caribbean region. I see the conference of this award as a celebration of Jamaica and Jamaican-ness. I believe it signals an appreciation by the university of an authentic Jamaican political culture. Furthermore, ladies and gentlemen, it is recognition of the important role that organic political culture to community and national development. In honoring my contribution to public life and by service in the political sphere, UWI is in essence honoring the people of Jamaica.

It is the attainment of their dreams and ambitions that I have pursued for nearly 50 years of political life. As I say thanks for this honor being bestowed, it is to the masses of the Jamaican people that I dedicate this great tribute from this noble institution. It is their pain, hopes, and enduring experiences which have propelled my rise from a deep rural area but proud community of Wood Hall in Saint Catherine to Jamaica House and the many 46:51folder of the world.

And I want to say to parents here: speak positively in the lives of your children.

I remember coming from primary school. My father called me. He said, “Sit right here on my knees.” He rubbed my head and he said to me, “I just want you to know you will be the one to bring honour and glory to this family.

As a primary schoolgirl then I never knew what he was talking about. But I am humbled yet proud that I can stand as a living testimony that there's much good that can come from the very bowels of the Jamaican people. And that is especially so for our women, who rise every day, put one foot in front of the other, and excel against all odds.

As your tribute says, we often do so without the privileges of wealth, colour, class, and respected profession. I locate my humble beginnings as a product of the working class. It is from that class that I sprung and it is to their service and advancement that I devoted my life.

Despite this fact, however, I have been more than the poor people's defender, more than just the first female leader of government, much more than the seventh prime minister of Jamaica. I have been a prime minister for all the people of Jamaica.

I've been asked many times about my lifelong devotion to politics and the people. Questions such as, was it worth it? From what did I get the most satisfaction? Was it giving land to the landless, providing decent housing for the poor and dispossessed, spearheading the game-changing North South Highway, the transformation of the National Insurance Fund to finance all the expansions, or the mobilization of the Jamaican people and U.S congressional support for the necessary, fundamental reforms of the Jamaican economy in 2012.

In summary, my answer is that politics provided me with a platform to implement policies that fulfilled people's dreams and actualized my passions. Some of those dreams of the people included a cry for equality of opportunity, social justice, and respect. The educational advancement of their children so that they can have a better life than their parents did. A chance to live a quality of life that is beyond a daily hustling. And a life where basic social amenities such as water and shelter are guaranteed.

What have been my passions? They have been the protection of our children, the advancement of our women, the development of sport, the economic empowerment of the masses of the Jamaican people, and the forward movement of our Caribbean regional integration.

Let there be no misunderstanding. I wanted to do more, wanted to give, more wanted to achieve more for the people and for my country, because the Jamaican dream has not been realized. The needs of my people in Southwest Saint Andrew have not been fully met.

However, like the Apostle Paul, I believe that I have fought a good fight and I have finished my course in representational politics. I take satisfaction in the children I may have inspired. I'm encouraged by the youth I have helped to prepare for the world through education and training. I am consoled by the young leaders I have influenced, the pensioners who can sleep a little better, families saved from generational poverty by having a roof over their heads and a title for their land.

I have played my part and run my leg of the relay of representation and service to my country. To whatever ripples I may have created in the ocean of life, will be added currents of many others. In this way a tidal wave of positive change will be inevitable.

Chancellor and Vice Chancellor—today your kind gesture crowns my efforts. I thank the University of the West Indies in a very special way. I am grateful for the honorary award of doctors of law. I'm further humbled by your gracious offer to be a distinguished fellow here at the Mona campus. Through this engagement I will seek to share my life's work with students, staff, and the people of Jamaica and the Caribbean.

As you approach a 70th anniversary of this great Institution, your own mettle will be tested to do more and to be more. I have hope in your capacity to deliver on these expectations, because I'm convinced of the correctness of your mission and the firmness of your resolve to see that mission through. The UWI exists to advance education and create knowledge in the Caribbean region and beyond. you seek to achieve this through excellence in teaching, research, innovation, public service, intellectual leadership and outreach.

Let the light of the university continue to burnish the Caribbean vision of self-actualization and development. May that light illuminate our path towards a truly integrated region, offering tangible benefits and real hope to our people. May the UWI continue to fuel the passion of the people of our region for great achievements and excellence at all times.

I thank you. God bless you all. Love you all. Thank you.

UWI MonaMedia. “Special Convocation of The Most Hon. Portia Simpson-Miller.” YouTube video, 1:16:52. Sept. 30, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kFzdfXxETA