October 4 is significant for The University of the West Indies (The UWI) as it marks 75 years since the official opening of its inaugural Campus in Mona, Jamaica. On this day in 1948, The UWI (then called the University College of the West Indies) held its first class for 33 medical students—a chemistry lecture by Professor Dr. Cedric Hassall.
Among the 10 women and 23 men in that first class were Dame Dr. Ruby Lake Richards, who passed away earlier this year at age 101, and renowned Cardiothoracic Surgeon, Dr. Michael Woo-Ming is now the oldest surviving first member of the cohort.
Dame Ruby was regarded as one of Antigua and Barbuda’s outstanding medical professionals. Dr. Woo-Ming became renowned for his exceptional open-heart surgical services in Jamaica and the United States. Among many others in the inaugural 1948 class, their achievements ushered the successes of generations of UWI graduates over the past seven and a half decades. The regional university has grown into a network of over 250,000 alumni. It will confer degrees on over 7,500 new ‘UWI Pelicans as the 2023 graduation season commences October 7 and runs through November 11.
There is no sector of Caribbean society, including the highest levels of government, business, and civil society organisations in which UWI graduates are not found. Over 25 have risen to Heads of Government or Heads of State; countless more are leaders of all professions – locally, regionally, and internationally. Two of the three Nobel Laureates of Caribbean descent have direct ties to the University: Mona alumnus Sir Derek A. Walcott (Nobel Prize for Literature, 1992) and former Vice-Chancellor, Sir Arthur Lewis (Nobel Prize for Economics, 1979). Its notable alumni include the current President of the 78th Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA 78), Ambassador Dennis Francis, and the current Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Carla Barnett, among many others.
Since January, The UWI and all of its campuses have been deeply engaged in yearlong celebrations to commemorate its jubilee milestone, under the theme: UWI at 75. Rooted. Ready. Rising. A purposefully designed suite of initiatives and events continue to pay tribute to The UWI’s foundation as an excellent global university rooted in the Caribbean, but also spotlight its readiness, responsiveness and agility as a 21st-century enterprise, and one positioned as a development partner on a continuous rise. In that vein, in its 75th year, The UWI has taken the bold move to rebrand its Open Campus to the Global Campus. The top-ranked academy is set to expand its higher education services to a global marketplace through the launch of its new International School for Development Justice (ISDJ), a first-of-its-kind school dedicated exclusively to supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the next generation of experts to tackle the world’s multiple challenges.
The UWI at 75 certainly is energised for the future, and focussed on the region’s needs in 2050. Consolidating its beginnings, The UWI looks boldly and deeply into the future, focusing on claiming and owning its place among the best in the world