Office of the Vice-Chancellor

Office of the Vice-Chancellor

Address by Her Excellency the President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Dr Hilda Heine, Graduation ceremony at the Laucala Campus – FALE & FSTE, Thursday 19th September


  • The Pro-Chancellor and Chair of Council of The University of the South Pacific, Mr. Winston Thompson;
  • Vice Chancellor and President, Professor Pal Ahluwalia
  • Honorable Ministers and Senior Officials of the Fijian Government;
  • Excellences and Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
  • Heads of Regional and International Organizations;
  • Members of Council, Senate and their Committees;
  • Members of the USP Senior Management Team;
  • Graduands, their families and friends;
  • Members of staff and students;
  • Ladies and Gentlemen

Iakwe and a very good morning to you all.

Before I proceed, I ask that we all observed a moment of silence in honor of the passing of two great Pacific leaders: the Prime Minister of Tonga, HE Akilisi Pohiva, who would be laid to rest in Tonga today; and former President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands and Irojlaplap HE Imata Kabua, who passed away in Honolulu, Hawaii yesterday.

I am greatly honored to be able to make a few remarks on this unique occasion, and to express to you graduands my heartiest congratulations on your achievements.

It is also my pleasure to commence my short term of service as Chancellor of the University of the South Pacific. I am very conscious that I am following in the footsteps of many distinguished leaders from 12-member countries of USP, including the first Chancellor from the Marshall Islands, Iroojlaplap Amata Kabua.

As a national leader, I get a unique sense of belonging when I realize I am actually a stakeholder, a co- owner, in this great enterprise, in this great partnership.

USP - envisioned by the leaders of our region, patiently fostered and nurtured by successive Pacific Island governments, and converted by USP leadership and dedicated professionals from a mere idea to a constructive and living institution that we have today.

All this, was done and executed in the face of indescribable setbacks: little money, challenges in geographical and logistics, incredible cultural diversities and language, incomparable differences in natural resource endowment, and different colonial and political experiences.

I believe the secret to our collective strength lies in our sheer ability to continue to build and strengthen our own respective countries, while recognizing when to subordinate our needs as individual partners to the over-arching interest of the common-weal. Some people have called this Pacific Solidarity.

I believe this is the underlying magic if we should ever want to systematically cultivate a truly Pacific perspective, our Pacific way of knowing. Our point of reference. Even a strong ship must have a mooring.

Whether the subject matter is a research program, technology, academic pursuits, or challenges of climate change. They all must spring from, and converge on, a common need, a common purpose.

The question is: how do we creatively and constructively translate our differences and diversities, our latent talents and limited resources, into strength.

And that is when the University of the South Pacific comes in; with your creativity, your constructive analytical powers. And I don’t just say these things because I want to make you comfortable. But the entire region, and I dare say, beyond our borders, there is acknowledgment of what this university has done for the people, institutions and development of this region.

And I should know because as former College President, former Secretary of Education, as former Minister of Education, and now as President, I bear witness to the products/outcome in my own country. Everywhere I observe, in key policy-making positions, there sits a graduate from either the Foundation, undergraduate or post-graduate programs of USP. I can see in real and tangible form, the transformation in the horizon of our human resources capabilities. I can see also a strong and similar trend emerging at rapid speed in regional organizations. The once elusive goal of self- reliance–both at national and regional level- is now finally within reach.

I am grateful that USP had, so far, escaped the usual criticism that universities are monolithic institutions, forever buried and entrenched in their own academic pursuits and research, incapable of changing, incapable of taking its gift of knowledge to the community. May you never take that route.

The region is proud of your accomplishments. However, your proven record allows you little time to rest on your oars, now or in the future. They say that if you want things done, take them to the one who is the busiest.

USP is called upon to seek viable and effective solutions to climate change, and to do so with unrestrained speed, for the clock is ticking for the critically vulnerable ones among us.

An article which appeared in the Economist issue of August 17th 2019 entitled “A World Without Our Beaches” states: ‘Low lying atolls like Kiribati may be permanently submerged’. We know that Kiribati’s fate is the same fate as Tuvalu, Marshall Islands and all low lying atolls in the region.

I commend USP for the quality and relevance of its research program- at the cutting edge of climate change adaptation and mitigation and further challenge this institution to consider the establishment of an Atoll Center of Excellence that would catalyze research, policy and strategies to safeguard the front line vulnerable countries. The Atoll Center of Excellence is important because what happens to Atoll countries will certainly happen to bigger island nations. The RMI USP Center would be pleased to host such a Center.

I urge you to use every means in your intellectual powers to bombard ceaselessly every door to the world community, and remind the polluters of their moral duty to safeguard the vulnerables. Point out to them from your research, irrefutable proofs of the multifaceted threats that envelope us: from the loss of land to the very existence of our culture and way of life. Of the increase in oceanic temperature which causes tuna migration, of the damage to our soil from increased salinity, of increase in complexity in lifestyle diseases, of the shifting in crop patterns.

In the Marshall Islands, we have a legacy that has been with us for nearly seven decades: the nuclear legacy of the nuclear weapons testing program. We have lived with it, and it has become part of our lives. It surrounds us. We know when and how it happened. And yet we have very little knowledge of its long-term effect on land contamination and future habitability. We have little understanding of its long terms effect on the sea environment and the health and well-being of our people. I am dangling that carrot as bait perchance it might whet the appetite of USP research scientists to take a look.

I understand that more and more young women, in fact a higher percentage of those graduating today are women, have taken up the challenge of achieving higher qualification and I want to specifically acknowledge your roles in building our region today, and well into the future.

Up to now I have reserved my comments to the most important people on whose honor and behalf this celebrating ceremony is being held: the graduands.

So, graduates, the diploma you will soon be holding in your hand will mean nothing if you ever forget who you are. It will have no meaning if you ever forget that you have come from the bosom of caring and loving families. That you have been reared in the midst of communities that fed you with a strong dose of cultural values, and traditions concerned with the livelihood and the prosperity of your neighbor. Be humble and grateful in your accomplishment. Boast of your academic achievements if you must, but serve your families, your community, your country and the region. I remind you of what the Apostle Paul said: Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.

Ni sa bula; kommol tata

Disclaimer & Copyright l Contact Us l 
© Copyright 1968 - 2021. All Rights Reserved.
Page updated: Wednesday, July 22, 2020
The University of the South Pacific
Laucala Campus, Suva, Fiji
Tel: +679 323 1000