Olive Senior wants Jamaicans to know more about their island as she receives Dr of Letters Degree from UWI

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A report by Jediael Carter for Jamaica’s Observer.

Famous author Olive Senior has called on Jamaicans to hone their national pride by gaining knowledge about the island.

Senior, an accomplished practitioner of the arts, who on Friday was awarded a Doctor of Letters degree from The University of the West Indies, made the call while addressing graduates from the faculties of Humanities and Education and Science and Technology, at the institution’s Mona Campus.

Reasoning that modernity has brought about a situation where one world is broadened while another — that in which we live — is narrowed, Senior said Jamaicans tend to be “buying globally and neglecting what is in front of us locally.

“I have to confess that I am a bit concerned or bothered by how easy acceptance seems nowadays instead of scepticism or questioning. Acceptance seems to be the norm rather than what it should be, in my mind,” she said.

She further argued that modernity has also forced persons to compare themselves to others and develop a feeling of inadequacy, while not aware of the possibilities that may exist “right in their own backyards.

“Many of us yearn for lemonade in a country where lemons are scarce without knowing that you can make a better drink from limes or better yet Seville orange,” Senior said. “How many of you today even know what a Seville orange is?”

“This is in the same category as the high school graduate who told me recently she didn’t know who Hugh Shearer was, or the university graduates whom I challenged to name all the former prime ministers in Jamaica in our short path to nationhood and who could not,” she stated.

“I have tested this on the very people who scream loudest about their pride in being Jamaican and drape themselves in flags, especially when there is Usain Bolt to lead the charge in making us feel proud. But I think we should feel that pride on our own and that pride can only be nurtured by what we know, by our own knowledge of this place we call home,” the writer continued, to thunderous applause.

Reasoning that cultivating curiosity — a writing tool — will enrich lives, making better citizens, workers, parents, future leaders and future influencers, Senior urged graduates to be more conscious in employing the tool to know more about themselves as Jamaicans, the country and its heritage.

“Gazing into the outside world without any context foreseeing ourselves can be destructive, it can lead to envy and desire for what we cannot have, blind opinions, hatred and bad-mindedness instead of a rational evaluation of what our needs are and how to address them,” she said. “Knowing about our country and ourselves is what enables us to feel rooted no matter how far we grow, for that is something that cannot be taken from us. Lip service and posturing is not the same as knowledge.”

She encouraged people to develop an ability to put themselves in the other person’s shoes, in an effort to understand them — curiosity about the other. This, she said, leads to “an acceptance of the difference we exhibit as part of the human condition, to inclusion rather than exclusion, to the wider practice of kindness and civility.”

According to UWI Chancellor Robert Bermudez, over 3,000 graduates completed courses of study and are eligible for degrees.

Hundreds of students walked the stage to receive their degrees on Friday.

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