I greet you this morning in deep sadness, but in a spirit of solidarity with you as the entire Jamaica College community continues to deal with tragedy.
One does not use the word lightly in a situation such as this:
• For the parents of Nicholas Francis, nothing that is said or done can fully assuage their grief.
• For the Jamaican society as a whole, the wanton destruction of a young life has sent immense shock waves across the length and breadth of our country, across the Diaspora and beyond.
• For you, who had the pleasure of Nicholas's company for three years and more, this blow has been more than severe. I am sure that many of the students - his classmates and others - are devastated by what has happened. After last Wednesday, as well, I expect that some of you may be saying "It could have been me"… but I am spared.
I use this opportunity also to commend all the members of JC Board, the Principal, Management and Staff, the Old Boys, the Parent-Teacher Association and the professionals from State Agencies who have contributed in different ways to comfort the school community, during the past five days.
This is a time when everyone needs to pull together, and in the circumstance, we understand your grief as expressed in a public yet constrained manner. Lady and I have come this morning to support you, and also as an expression of concern for you, and the nation, at this time.
As a community, I know that everyone is most concerned and bewildered by what happened last week. Inevitably, and understandably you must be asking "Why did this have to happen?" You are also concerned as to whether this kind of occurrence can be prevented in the future. If we find a way to prevent such a tragedy, although doing so does not ease the pain of family, friends and the Jamaica College community, at least we will be able to say that Nicholas did not die in vain.
There are no quick fixes in a situation such as this. I know that the security forces will not spare any effort to bring the perpetrator of this heartless and unconscionable deed to justice. The unfortunate fact, however, is that in today's Jamaica our children and youth are at risk, and even in our grief, we must find ways to change that situation. We must make decisions and take steps, which in the medium and long term, will make our country a safer place - especially for the young and the vulnerable.
As I pondered the horrific news of what happened in the very presence of other commuters, the ancient question recorded in the Bible, came to my mind, of that incident, when Cain murdered his brother and God asked him, “Where is your brother?” His angry, impulsive, uncaring, rash response was, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The huge question this morning that each one of you at JC and in the nation as a whole must grapple with, is, “do I have a duty of care to my fellow school mates, my fellow citizens, to watch over and defend them from danger, harm or loss?”
In the case of Cain, his response to God was “I don’t know where my brother is and I don’t care!” Thankfully for each one of you and the nation we are not at that place. Jamaica still prides herself as being a welcoming, caring society. People around the globe know that. We must continue to resist the threatening deluge of nonchalance and reignite the passion to care for each other especially our children and protect them from all manner of abuses.
While as a community we work at the specific measures to improve public safety, I would encourage all of us gathered here this morning to be guided by the principle being espoused by increasing numbers of young people that we can use ‘what is right in Jamaica to fix what is wrong with Jamaica’.
I encourage the gentlemen of Jamaica College not to give in to despair, instead what you can do now is to hold on to the values of respect, love, kindness, caring, sharing, obedience, collegiality, volunteering and personal responsibility, while you remain sensitive to some of the realities and conditions that seem to be taking a foothold in our society.
I also make a call to all our young people across Jamaica to attach yourselves to at least one of our recognized youth groups, vis a vis: Cadets, Scouts, Guides, Pathfinders, Brigades, or youth arm of our major civic clubs. Do not allow yourselves to be intimidated or pressured by those who seek to entice you into wrongdoing.
Support each other in pursuing your goals. Combine the courage of your convictions with the sharpness of your minds and the alertness to temptation and danger. Together, you can and will defeat evil, and in the traditions of this great institution continue to blaze a trail of excellence as you make a sterling contribution to this country and the world.
As you pick up the pieces and mend broken hearts, I leave with you a school prayer which I hope will help with the healing process and unite in memory of your departed student/schoolmate:
“This is our school
Let peace dwell here
Let the room be full of contentment
Let love abide here
Love of one another
Love of mankind
Love of life itself and
Love of God.
Let us remember that
As many hands build a house
So many hearts build our school”
May God bless you and keep us free from evil powers in Jamaica land we love.