Speech by the Prime Minister

Prime Minister Holness Commencement Speech at Delaware State University 2024 Graduation Ceremony

Prime Minister Holness Commencement Speech at Delaware State University 2024 Graduation Ceremony

Delaware State University

Class of 2024

Commencement Speech

Delivered by Most. Honourable Andrew Holness, ON, MP, PC

Prime Minister of Jamaica

May 10, 2024


Back home in Jamaica when we greet friends, we say wha gwaan! So, wha gwaan Delaware State!

Thank you so much for that kind introduction and welcome. I feel I am among friends.

Allow me to salute Chairman Leroy Tice and other members of the Board of Trustees, the academic staff, and executive leadership of this great university and I thank you for this kind invitation and honor.

Special thanks to your President, Dr. Tony Allen, a visionary, and inspirational leader. Dr. Allen has pursued cooperation with Jamaica and now hundreds of Jamaican students are accessing post graduate studies through Delaware State University. In fact, I understand 38 Jamaican students are in the 2024 graduating cohort.

It is my great pleasure to have the opportunity to address this audience of:

  • elected officials and other dignitaries on the platform,
  • well wishers gathered, and of course,
  • you, the DSU graduating class of 2024. We are all proud of your journey and achievement, and today we celebrate you!

As a parent of college students myself, you will understand if I specially acknowledge the parents, family members and sponsors who are here to celebrate your achievement.

Let me join you in saying a big, “thank you” to them for their sacrifice and contribution to your success.

 They are fulfilled vicariously through your achievements. You can only repay them by paying forward, ensuring that your children, the generation coming have the best educational opportunities possible. Securing generational access to education is the surest way to create generational wealth and economic independence.

It was not so long ago, … about 33 years ago, I started my own university journey.  It was a struggle for me, I often tell the story that I went to university on an adventure, … I didn’t know where I would get the first cent, … but I had faith that God had a plan for me!  With the sacrifice of my parents, my mother, a clerk in the civil service and my father a small farmer, by working part time, and with student loans, I made it through.

Now as Prime Minister, I have the opportunity to pay it forward, by ensuring that policies are in place to make it easier for the students of my country to access student loans, grants, and scholarships.  My Government has removed the guarantor requirement for student loans, we have removed fees for technical education and skills training, and the Government has significantly increased the number of scholarships.

As I survey this proud and accomplished class of 2024, I see some faces that remind me of my younger self and I see some faces that look like me now.  I am sure from this cohort there will be great leaders in your respective fields, who knows, maybe another President of the United States?

Recently, I was talking with a group of students, and a young lady popped out her phone ready to record me while asking, “Prime Minister, what advice would you give to your younger self?”  I later discovered that this is a social media trend. I was taken by surprise, but since then I have had some time to think about advice that I could share with you from my experience.

First,… perspective is important! Life will always throw up challenges, obstacles, and struggles. At the least, that is how they may appear from your station in life, from your frame of mind, from your own understanding, from your point of view.


  • obstacles are sometimes stepping stones,
  • challenges are usually opportunities to be discovered, and
  • our struggles are oftentimes exercises to make us stronger.

Our point of view, … our perception,… may not be the full picture of the reality. We can benefit immensely by approaching our problems from a different point of view.

To achieve this, we must accept that:

  • Regardless of how much knowledge we believe we possess, there is still more to learn, so we must open our minds to new ideas.
  • Our understanding is never sufficient, therefore we must seek advice and have the patience to listen and learn from the experience of others.
  • Sometimes a different point of view can be achieved by having the humility to step back from a problem.

This is how we gain perspective, … the holistic view…, the ability to see the picture through the eyes of others and the ability to see the picture outside of the frame. With perspective we can make more thoughtful decisions and find elegant solutions in moving forward

The second piece of advice I will share with you today and which I found useful throughout my journey, … is to embrace your struggle and grasp your opportunities.

In navigating life, not every struggle is worth fighting and not every opportunity should be taken, but there are some struggles and opportunities that are life shaping, career defining or may even be an important calling for humanity.

  • As Nelson Mandela was called to the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa,
  • As Martin Luther King was called to the struggle for Civil Rights in America, and
  • As Marcus Garvey was called to the struggle for Pan Africanism and Black Consciousness.

 Today, we stand in a better world because these heroes embraced our struggle.

I know it can feel overwhelming when confronted with challenges, and uncertain when presented with opportunities. Getting perspective will help you to wisely select your battles and take your chances.

In today’s world there is a growing perception that life should always be easy, that we can be successful without sacrifice. … I know that no one in this graduating class believes that because you have all had to work very hard to be here.

No doubt there may be a few who would be so fortunate, but for the rest of us mortals, we must be courageous in facing what life throws at us. … If we give up before trying, “we are already defeated in the race of life”.

At the age of 25, I was asked to represent the last available seat for my Party in the 1997 Parliamentary Elections.

No one wanted to contest the seat. It was lost in the previous elections by a wide margin of over 30% and considered to be a stronghold for the opposing party. From any point of view, it was a Herculean task, a losing struggle. Friends and colleagues tried to dissuade me from this course.

However, I did my own research, consulted with people who understood electoral politics, and I got to know the constituents.  From that, I gained a perspective which showed that the seat was actually winnable, and that the votes required to overcome the margin of loss existed, but the voters were not engaged. I took the chance and mounted an intensive two-and-a-half-month campaign which overcame the 30% margin of loss from the previous election and gave me a slim margin victory.

However, this victory was short-lived as our electoral authorities found that there were irregularities in the conduct of the election that warranted the voiding of the results and the holding of new elections. I was devastated! My Party had lost the Parliamentary elections, and the prospect of finding resources and motivated support to mount another campaign was a real struggle.

Nevertheless, I contested the new election with depleted resources… and lost,… but by a slim margin. At the end of that experience, I was financially, emotionally and physically drained.  From my point of view, and frame of mind, the situation was hopeless, and it seemed the inevitable end of the road.

A few days after, a senior colleague who was an experienced litigator and advocate, pointed out that there was still a chance. The extent of documented electoral irregularities was sufficient to have had an impact on the margin of victory and we should seek to have the results voided again. At this stage I could have decided to give up.  …Notwithstanding how I felt, I listened to the advice, I consulted with my constituents, but I also listened to the voice inside my heart calling me to serve the people of Jamaica.

With this perspective, we decided to take the chance and moved forward with the challenge.

The results were voided once again, and the election ran a third time. … I won! And the rest, as they say, is history. I have been serving my constituency and the people of Jamaica for the last 27 years.

So,… get a good perspective on life. This will help you to find your passion, make thoughtful decisions, embrace your struggle, and grasp your opportunities.

I will make some final observations. As beneficiaries of higher education there is a reasonable expectation, indeed a duty, that you will be active participants in your community and democracy. Your university motto, “Enter to learn, Go forth and serve” is an important guide as some of you transition from student to assume greater responsibilities in your organizations and communities.

Today, relative to the known history of mankind, we live in a time of abundance, there are infinite possibilities with the rapid advancement of technology, yet so many people are without; we are likely to get to Mars before we end food poverty. The Age of Abundance, is not necessarily the Era of Equity!

Today, we have access to more information than at any other time in the history of mankind, yet insularity, prejudice, and extremism are becoming more entrenched in our thinking, our community, and in global affairs.

We consume content without context. Ever so subtly, our reality is being shaped by algorithms that create or reinforce negative perceptions, unreasonable expectations, extreme positions and hardlines.   Information manipulation has always been a threat to democracy, but never before could it be done with the scale, speed and impact that is possible today. In almost every democracy around the world there is a growing sense of divisiveness, dissonance, and disaffection. The Information Age, as it is turning out, is not necessarily the Age of Enlightenment!

Bob Marley, a Jamaican music legend, and global icon in the struggle for liberation of oppressed people, who incidentally, lived in Delaware, in Wilmington for a few years, captured this paradox, this dissonance, in the lyrics of one of his songs “the rain ah fall but di dutty tuff” (the rain is falling but the earth is still hard). It’s a paradox of progress which creates dissatisfaction and divergence in democracy.

There is an optimistic point of view, that this paradox of progress, great wealth juxtaposed against so many wants, so much information yet so much ignorance, will resolve itself automatically over time. Wealth will lead to wellbeing and information will create enlightenment.

How exactly can this be achieved in a divergent, and dissonant democracy?

Martin Luther King wisely observed, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”. … I agree,… however the full picture is that the arc only bends towards justice because… Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus, because Dr. King himself dedicated his life to bending the arc, because people like Marley used their gift in word and music to inspire and arouse the moral consciousness of people globally.  Now more than ever, we need citizens who actively embrace the challenges of our time and engage with enlightened perspectives in community and global affairs. You are the ones to make our democracy work to deliver shared prosperity!

I charge you, the graduating class of 2024,

  • to embrace the struggle for good,
  • to be the voice of reason in your community,
  • to bring perspective to divisive issues,
  • to balance extremes,
  • to bridge divergent views, and 
  • bring stakeholders together to cooperate on local and global problem and find the elegant solutions that will keep bending that moral arc to greater wellbeing, enlightenment, justice and peace. 

I pray God’s richest blessings on your journey.

One Love!