It was Achievement Day for St Francois Girls' College (SFGC) as hundreds of young women flooded the auditorium at Queen's Hall in St Ann's on November 21.
From 9 a.m., the pupils were greeted with the sight of their school colours of green, white and yellow adorning the stage. Attired in their uniforms and freshly pressed green blazers with the school's insignia emblazoned on the right pocket, the air was heavy with anticipation as graduates stood with their heads held high and waited for their names to be called and picture taken.
There was not a single seat vacant in the auditorium, which left a few tardy parents having to stand.
Embracing the theme for the academic year 2011-2012, "Celebrating Our 50th anniversary and beyond", paediatrician Dr Diane Alexander had some food for thought for the graduates as many of them get ready to enter the world of work.
A past pupil of St Francois, Alexander said, "It is an honour to speak to you because I was one of the first students of St Francois Girls. St Francois Girls' has evolved into being one of the better academic schools in Trinidad and Tobago."
"I don't know of too many schools that provide you with not only with the academic environment but provide you with much more; in the arts and having mentorship programmes and world of work programmes and character-building programmes. In many parts of the world, girls do not get educated. Children, both boys and girls, do not get educated because of poverty, war and tradition where it is not important for girls to be educated," she added.
"Some of you may take your five years or seven years at St Francois for granted but I hope after speaking to you this morning that you will reorganise your focus as to how you will use your years at St Francois Girls' College," she said.
During her presentation, Dr Alexander took a moment to highlight the plight of a 14-year-old girl from Pakistan named Malala Yousufzai.
Trying to pursue an education in Pakistan, Yousufzai began receiving death threats and was ultimately thrust into the public eye of the media, both locally and internationally, when she was shot in the head by the Taliban. She is now recovering from her injuries in Great Britain, Alexander said.
She noted that, while that extreme does not exist here in Trinidad and Tobago, she posed the question to the audience comprising mostly children between the ages of 13-19, "How many of you have decided on your career path?"
"At 14, Malala has decided she wants to be a politician and she wants to speak up for the rights of children and women in terms of education. Because of Malala's wish/desire, the Pakistani government two weeks ago declared Malala Day in Pakistan. Not only that, they have decided that they will pay every parent who wants to send their girls to school to do so. We here in Trinidad don't have to do that. You have freedom of education, you can achieve whatever you want to achieve. Malala, at 14, already knows what she wants to do and if she survives without any brain injury, she would probably be a very strong politician," Alexander said.
The moving story, which seemed to strike a chord with many of the young graduates who gasped aloud over the hardships Yousufzai suffered for the sake of an education.
Alexander said, "Obstacles may come your way but nothing in life is gained easily so obstacles should not stop you."
"At age 14, 15, you have to start planning what you want to do. You have to know what academic subjects you have to do to get into the field of your choice, whether it is law or accountancy," she said.
She noted that not having the finance to pursue the career that one wants should not be a deterrent since there are scholarships and other alternatives available to help guide students to their chosen field.
Coming from a large family, her mother could not afford to send her to medical school, Alexander said.
"I decided to work for a few years and then go into medical school as a slightly older student," she said.
The morning progressed with national songs being sung and played on the pan by the St Francois Girls' choir and pan ensemble.
The afternoon climaxed with the principal Jenifer Gittens handing out awards to Most Outstanding CSEC students Ria Ali, Kadisha Thomas and Ariel Franco. Awards for Most Outstanding CAPE students went to Chantelle Jacob and Fayola Pompey.
The Ideal St Francois Girls' Student award went to Maisha Richardson. Giving recognition to scholarship winners, Chantelle Jacob and Fayola Pompey students were also recognised in the area of sports and the performing arts.