When the First Lady last Tuesday warned parents and well-wishers of the graduates of the Jump Start programme not to "spoil youths for their achievements" it was clear that she was not simply referring to those achievers. Her words brought to mind the overflowing of appreciation shown by the authorities in the last month to Keshorn Walcott in the wake of his winning a gold medal at the Olympics.
Surely I am not the only person who believes that the Government went overboard in their recognition of this achievement.
The First Lady adjured adults attending the function at which she spoke to allow the young people who achieved, "room for growth" and not to give them the idea that they have done it all. I could not have put it better myself and it is advice that this Government should have been given and should have heeded when they clearly went to extremes in their bid to applaud the achievement of 19-year-old Keshorn.
Undoubtedly Keshorn excelled and without doubt he is a role model for the youth in T&T. We recognise as well that this is the first Olympic gold for T&T in 36 years. Further, that it is the first time anyone in the Commonwealth Caribbean has won a field event. Naturally one expected honours to be bestowed on him — but was it necessary to hand him the Order of Trinidad and Tobago at the age of 19?
Look at this in perspective. The Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago was installed as Trinidad and Tobago's new highest national award 2008 (replacing the Trinity Cross). Its design acknowledges the contribution of the first inhabitants of Trinidad and Tobago embodied in the crest surmounting the medallion. The waves and constellation tell the story that Trinidad and Tobago consist of people from all over the world and their descendants. It is 18 carat yellow gold and hangs from a short ribbon in the national colours, red, white and black. The Order is for Distinguished and Outstanding Service to Trinidad and Tobago.
There is no other higher award and it would follow that someone like Keshorn Walcott has no "room for growth" (to use the words of Her Excellency) as it were, as far as national recognition is concerned.
Compare this to the case of Usain Bolt who won three Olympic gold medals in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 at the age of 22. What did the Jamaican Government do? I am unaware that they then named a school, a housing development or anything of that nature after him. Instead he was awarded the Order of Distinction in the rank of Commander, (CD). This Order is sixth in order of precedence of the Orders instituted in Jamaica in 1968. The Motto of the Order is "Distinction Through Service".
The Order of Distinction is conferred upon citizens of Jamaica who have rendered outstanding and important service to Jamaica, or to distinguished citizens of a country other than Jamaica. The Order has two ranks: the higher class of Commander, and the lower class of Officer. Commanders take place and precedence immediately after Members and Honorary Members of the Order of Jamaica, the fifth highest Order.
It was only in 2009 that the Government of Jamaica conferred Bolt with the Order of Jamaica (OJ) and the diplomatic title 'Ambassador-at-Large', for his outstanding achievements in the field of sports. Subsequently a highway was renamed after him.
Can we say by any stretch of imagination that Keshorn Walcott's achievements can compare to those of Bolt? I am sure that Walcott who appears to be a balanced and sensible young man would be the first to admit he has a long way to go to achieve parity.
For instance, Bolt became the first man in history to defend both the 100 metres and 200 metres Olympic sprint titles in 2012. While there has been much recognition internationally for his achievements: he was awarded by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) the Male Athlete of the Year, three years, 2008, 2009 and 2012; the Jamaican Government has not gone overboard in its acclamation as we in T&T have. His coach, Glen Mills, founder of the track club, Racers, commented that he "[Bolt] has a very bright future."
Our own Keshorn Walcott may have a very bright future as well but should he repeat his gold in the 2016 Olympics how will the Government recognise it? Unlike Jamaica where there are still four other levels for Bolt to reach before their Order of National Hero we have already given our Olympic hero our highest.
Our First Lady is right when she observed that in this country when a young person shines in a particular field adults allow them to be spoilt by their indulgences. She warned that the promise of an outstanding future may be compromised by lack of wisdom displayed by adults who spoilt them. In this way we contribute to derailing them and their fame becomes short-lived.
We must trust that this does not happen with Keshorn Walcott. While he undoubtedly deserves many accolades for what was a stunning achievement in his field it would have been much wiser to hold off on this top award and leave him hungry for greater recognition in our scheme of awards.
What is done is done however and one can only hope that those who administer these national awards will be much wiser in the future and not go overboard when it comes to recognising the successes of our sport or other heroes. Let the awards really mean something and save the highest award for lifetime achievements. As for Keshorn he will have to look towards international accolades to motivate him since there is nothing more that T&T can give him when it comes to national recognition.