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Remarks at the University of the South Pacific's 50th Anniversary Closing Dinner.

December 13, 2018       Grand Pacific Hotel, Suva.

The Pro Chancellor, Chair of the University of the South Pacific Council and Chair of the 50th Anniversary Steering Committee, Ambassador Winston Thompson

The Vice Chancellor and President of USP, Professor Rajesh Chandra

Your Excellencies, the Ambassadors and High Commissioners, and members of the Diplomatic Corps

Senior Management and Staff of the University

Distinguished Guests and Stakeholders of the University

Ladies and Gentlemen

Ni sa bula vinaka and good evening.

Thank you for inviting my wife, Sarote and I to dinner this evening and for giving me this opportunity as the immediate-past Chancellor of the University of the South Pacific to deliver some brief remarks at the 50th Anniversary closing dinner. 

We have been personally privileged to be part of this journey with most of you present here tonight from when it began on our first Opening Dinner and to the closing that we are celebrating tonight. 

I believe it is only appropriate to commend and acknowledge the hard work that the 50th Anniversary Steering Committee has put together to make the commemoration of the University reaching its 50th Anniversary a memorable one.

I have been a part of the commemoration for a good part during my tenure as Chancellor, and I can proudly say that this has been a huge success. 

Tonight we come together as motivators and advocates for excellence in education to build a brighter future for the Pacific Community and beyond as we reflect on the 50 years journey and look towards the next 50 years. 

I believe that to chart a more successful way forward, it is crucial for one to learn from the lessons of the past. One needs to recollect and reflect and to look for opportunities for a more assured future. 

As we were watching the 50th Anniversary video, I recalled my early days when as a young soldier in the then Royal Fiji Military Forces, I was often assigned for security guard duties for the Laucala Campus which was then the Royal New Zealand Air Force base for its Sunderland Flying Boat Squadron before the establishment of the University of the South Pacific (USP) and the influx of the first Administrative/Academic Staff and Student body. The endurance of standing for long hours and to witness the many students entering the campus to study was a personal motivation for me to excel in my career as a soldier. It enabled me to witness the long struggle that students go through in order to be educated, have successful careers and to give back to their respective nations and their families all that they have learned. That experience accounted for my early involvement with the University.

Ladies and gentlemen, I believe that the University of the South Pacific has done extremely well in the past 50 years. It has taught more than 60 thousand persons from within the Pacific region and beyond. These personnel are now proud achievers and members of the USP alumni. Many of our Pacific leaders and Senior executives of Governments and private corporate entities studied at the USP and contributed immensely to the socio-political and economical development of their respective countries. Many more, who we can consider as unsung heroes, also studied at USP and were very involved and most effective in improving the education agenda and programmes of their communities and overall national developments.

In fact, as I handed out certificates to the graduates during my tenure as Chancellor, I was impressed with the increase in student numbers, and interestingly, the increase in female graduates.  These are clear indications that the University is continuing to perform very well in attaining its Vision of: Achieving excellence and innovation for sustainable development of the Pacific Island countries. I believe that the USP should also be proud of its achievements, especially in the areas of promoting quality tertiary education and in empowering our women and girls.

In celebrating the 50th anniversary, we have put together many memorable events including the Opening of the 1997 Time Capsule, the Unveiling of the RNZAF Commemorative Monument, and the Opening of the Sports Research Symposium, to name a few. All these have been milestone achievements for the University. 

I am aware that it has not been an easy feat for the organisers, as Ambassador Thompson can attest to. The 50th Anniversary Committee had some challenging moments many of which were beyond human control like the heavy downpour during the Unveiling of the RNZAF Commemorative Monument. But despite all these challenges, I strongly believe that the Committee did extremely well and should be commended and congratulated for their efforts.

Ladies and gentlemen, I may have completed my term of Chancellor of the University, but I wish to say that I remain a Chancellor of an equally important institution – the Fiji College of Honour, which oversees the Order of Fiji. And I confirm that I have received the nominations to recognize the staff of the university under Fiji’s Honours and Awards System. I ask that you all bear with me. Given the numerous national events that we have had to facilitate, the investiture ceremony for both the 2017 Honours Roll and the USP 50th Anniversary Awards will now be held in the New Year between January and February.  In line with my personal wish to cultivate our Culture of Appreciation, I look forward to recognizing people who have contributed significantly to Fiji’s development as a Nation and reward them accordingly. 

Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, is a night of celebrations. It is another of many opportunities to acknowledge and rekindle our pride in the university’s achievements. 

And I wish to thank you all for your contributions to the year-long 50th Anniversary Celebrations. 

On behalf of the Fijian Government and people, I wish the University and its entire staff and its students every success now and well into the future, as the journey continues.

Sarote and I also wish you all a Blessed Christmas and another resoundingly successful New Year.

Vinaka Vakalevu, Thank you and May God Bless us all and continue to bless our beloved nation, Fiji.