This Issue | Editorial | Feature | E-mail

A large cross section of the Guyanese community got together last Saturday, October 3, 2009 at the York Banquet Hall in Toronto for the 17th Annual Dinner and Dance of the University of Guyana Guild of Graduates, Ontario (UGGGO). Attendees included Guyana's Consul General Mr. Danny Doobay, Associate Professor of Women and Gender Studies and Director of Caribbean Studies at the University of Toronto Dr. Alissa Trotz*, and First Deputy Vice Chancellor of the UG, Dr. Harold Drayton, who flew in from the USA for the occasion.

In his opening address, Harry Hergash, President of the UGGGO, remarked: “Although we have been holding this annual dinner/dance for seventeen years now and it is considered one of the established social events in the Guyanese community, we started out doing this as a fund raising event to benefit students at the UG. Now, each year, around ten students at the University of Guyana receive a financial award from the funds we have invested in our former homeland. We have always focused on the students because we see them as the primary stakeholders and key assets of the University.”

Mr. Hergash continued “... In the early nineties members of the UGGGO were privileged to be part of a group that lobbied and saw the signing of an agreement between the University of Guyana and two Ontario universities - York University and the University of Windsor. As a result of the agreement between the UG and York, three third-year students from Guyana are now pursuing studies for one semester at York.” The students, Jamal Goodluck, Tricia Teekah and Lauriann Henry, were special guests at the event and each was presented with a copy of the book on the early history of the university that was published by the Ontario Guild some years ago.

The keynote speaker for the evening, Rhodes Professor of Imperial History at King's College London, UK, Dr. Richard Drayton, had a last minute family emergency and could not attend. However, his excellent presentation was delivered eloquently by his father Dr. Harold Drayton who was choked with emotions at times as he read his son's recollections of his early childhood years in Guyana at the University's temporary home at Queen's College, and his visits later on, to the new University campus at Turkeyen. As a matter of fact, Dr. Richard Drayton said, “I learned to love universities and to want to be an academic from my years in and around UG.”

Dr. Richard Drayton's central theme was the contributions that UG alumni and others in the diaspora could, through the use of their knowledge, skills and creative powers, assist in the optimization of human development in our homeland. “Your greatest debt to UG,” Dr. Drayton said, “is not the professional qualifications which allowed you to begin the road which led to your achievements in Canada, but that privileged time when you were asked to take knowledge and thinking as the most important thing in the world. For the point of UG was that it invited you to take your mental powers seriously, to believe that you could be more than whatever you had been and more, not in terms of wealth but of consciousness.” Perhaps one ideal target for overseas UG alumni could be “to create at UG some hi-tech, hi-speed internet facility” which would allow for conversations with the diaspora, and specifically for the presentation of lectures and seminars to UG undergraduate and post-graduate students, and later on to make it available to anyone in Guyana with a digital connection.” In closing, Dr. Drayton alluded to the unique character of Guyana as “the first human community where all the ancestral traditions of mankind - African, Asian, European, Amerindian - came into encounter… it is just the early dawn of that civilisation.”

In his preamble to Richard's address, Dr. Harold Drayton who was the person entrusted with the task of setting up the University in 1963 stated that his principal remit for this October Reunion in 2009 - some four decades later - was to read the address which his son had so wanted to deliver in person. But he hoped that Harry Hergash and other former students and now his very good friends, if not real family, would not mind if he made just one personal comment, “Much as I enjoy all the many flattering tributes you always shower me with, I want to confirm tonight what I have always acknowledged: despite the hard work of all those of us who were involved with the University project, it was Cheddi Jagan who was the unfaltering political sponsor of UG. And now that I am busily engaged in looking in detail, especially at the records of 1962, I can tonight sharpen that assessment. Had it not been for Cheddi's steadfastness, in firmly resisting those who as late as December 1962 made their last attempt to reverse the decision to establish an autonomous Guyanese institution for Higher Education and Research, UG would almost certainly never have come into being. That is our History.

*Editor's note: Alissa Trotz is the daughter of Neville Trotz and Marilyn Trotz who were also pioneers and contemporaries of Harold Drayton.

Guests at the UGGGO's Dinner Dr. Alissa Trotz, left and Dr. Harold Drayton.

Dr. Drayton represented his son Dr Richard Drayton who was billed as the keynote speaker.