Khareem Monteith's Remarks
Return to Program and Remarks
August 11, 2006
Welcome class of 2010.
The year is 1971. Drenched, he walks in. He moves quickly and frantically across the Bar, his face marked with intent, his clothes reeking of the violent seas. He addresses the Bartender. "Excuse me sir, may I borrow a phone; it's an emergency." The Bartender hesitates, acknowledges his name tag and replies, "Is it a local call Mr. Covert?" The stranger gestures with a nod, which grants him the use of the desired line. As he waits for the party on the other line to pick up, Mr. Covert tries to consolidate the evening's events. He ponders the well-being of the two students, left out at sea, on a lonely island, somewhere. Wrapped in their sails as the punishing winds stirred the groves around them; their thoughts ceased in time, this moment. Mr. Covert could not have thought a day like this could have turned into the night it has become. This cannot, this could not happen again. It was nothing short of luck that his battered boat made it this far to the local Pass-a-grille beach; with a little more gas, he may have made it back to the College. However luck is never that kind. The phone rings with no end in sight, then in an instant, click; "Hello."
The voice that answered that night was that of a Resident Advisor. He contacted the police, who then alerted the coast guard of the situation. They searched but were unable to locate the stranded students. Mr. Covert was transported back to the campus. He then borrowed a parent's boat and retrieved the students he had placed out on the island, some where safe, which was anywhere out of the way of the tempest.
It was this event that inspired the Florida Presbyterian Rescue Safety Team, which grew to become today's Eckerd College Search and Rescue program. What used to be a 12 student team has evolved into an organization that now counts about 60 highly trained students as its members. In 1971 the rescue service was restricted to only campus residents; it took about 6 years for Bill Covert to convince the team of students that they were capable of helping the community around them. The EC-SAR program is now recognized by the US Coast Guard for their services that range from refueling boats to cases where boats on fire need assistance.
My fellow students, I introduce to you the spirit of Eckerd College. Bill Covert, a staff member, did not seek help from an outside source when he began this unique program; he tapped into the greatest asset Eckerd has: its students. It is an embodiment of what this ceremony represents. It is where the torch of knowledge and experience is passed to the next generation. It is a synergy between the wisdom of a teacher and the eager curiosity of a young apprentice. This synergy that creates a flame that can be seen by the surrounding community, a flame that emanates throughout the world.
I grew up in Jamaica, where we have a saying for such a concept: "Wi likkle but wi talawah." Easily translated, it means that we are small, but we are mighty. (Repeat after me, "Wi likkle but wi talawah.") It is to remind us that things are not always as they seem. Class of 2010, are you prepared to enter a realm of scholars that think? This is a realm where students are given tremendous trust, the kind of trust that empowers us with over four hundred thousand dollars to do with as we please within our Eckerd College Organization of Students, or ECOS. It is an organization that includes over sixty clubs, ranging from sports to community service. We entertain and govern ourselves, answering to no one else but our fellow students, a community which as of today includes all of you. This is a realm where two students, Kyle Sullivan and Raymond Vasilas, created the first Club Lacrosse team Eckerd has ever had, a team created 4 years ago while the two young men were only a few months into their freshmen year. This same team finished ranked number 3 in the country by their senior year. We are in a place where my fellow scholars have taken advantage of an influential service learning program, which has allowed students to donate over fifty five thousand hours to our surrounding community. And when we say "community" we don't just mean St. Petersburg. We mean rural Georgia; we mean the rain forests of Costa Rica, the beaches of Uruguay, and even the small villages of Cape Town, South Africa.
In this place, just a little over a year ago, a shy little island boy walked into the ECOS office seeking advice regarding a small issue. Instead he was pushed in a direction he never thought he would ever take. Today that shy little island boy, from Kingston, Jamaica, stands here before you looking at the future that shall forever be known as the Class of 2010. What I see here this evening makes me want to shout to the hill tops.
I stand here looking at the same spirit that has made Eckerd a force in its global community. The same spirit Mr. Covert saw 35 years ago, the same spirit that gives us students the power of choice; the choice to make a difference, to be scholars that think. It is that spirit that whispers to us "Wi likkle but wi talawah."