June 25, 2019

Jessica Pope
Communications and Media Relations Coordinator

VSU President Highlights Belize Partnership with Commencement Address

Dr. Richard A. Carvajal, president of Valdosta State University, delivered the keynote address at the University of Belize’s 26th commencement ceremony on June 15.

Dr. Richard A. Carvajal, president of VSU, is pictured with Harrison Pilgrim, chairman of the University of Belize Board of Trustees; Dr. Clement Sankat, president of the University of Belize; and Patrick Faber, VSU alumnus and deputy prime minister of Belize.


VALDOSTA — Dr. Richard A. Carvajal, president of Valdosta State University, celebrated the academic accomplishments of 1,041 students when he delivered the keynote address at the University of Belize’s 26th commencement ceremony on June 15.

“What an honor it is to have come all the way from America to serve as your commencement speaker,” he told the graduates and their family, friends, and educators.

Carvajal then spoke about VSU’s connection to the University of Belize. He said it all began with the Consortium for Belize Educational Cooperation, which was established in the 1980s to link Belize with the United States and other countries.

“Since then, the Consortium for Belize Educational Cooperation has officially registered with the Secretary of State of Georgia as a nonprofit institution, with VSU as its address and home of the organization,” shared Dr. Ivan Nikolov, director of VSU’s Center for International Programs and consortium treasurer. “Our university has been a major moving force for the consortium from its early day and remains nationally the third largest campus in the United States by the number of Belizean students.”   

The Consortium for Belize Educational Cooperation promotes mutual understanding and friendship through bilateral and multilateral programs and activities that make significant contributions toward higher education in Belize and enhance the international dimension of member institutions like VSU through the cumulative experiences of students, faculty, staff, and administrators. It encourages collaboration in research and teaching, study abroad, and the systematic and comprehensive planning of educational development efforts.

In the mid-1980s, Carvajal said, “Several American universities had begun trying to help Belize develop, but Belizean officials had trouble sorting through all those offers of help and wanted an easier way to request from one source what was needed. An American educator responded to that call and assembled a group for what became the first meeting of the Consortium for Belize Educational Cooperation …. That man was my friend and a friend to many here, and his name was Tracy Harrington.

“Tracy spent the vast majority of his career at VSU — my university. Over the years, Tracy and my university hosted many Belizeans in America, helping them to earn degrees there, but he also made sure that our faculty and staff at Valdosta State came here to help Belize grow its own educational system. One student he helped bring to America was your own former minister of education and current deputy prime minister, the Honorable Patrick Faber … a Valdosta State alumnus. One American educator Tracy helped to come here was me, when he arranged the first of my now four trips a decade ago.

“People like Tracy and Minister Faber had a dream. They believed that investing in education could help individual Belizeans rise up out of poverty and that an investment in education on a national level could help Belize become a clear leader of this region. Further, they believed that a partnership between universities such as mine and your nation would be beneficial for us all. They were right.”

Carvjal reflected on how much Belize has changed as a result of the Consortium for Belize Educational Cooperation.

“In just the decade I have been coming, I have seen dramatic growth and development,” he said. “Your primary and secondary educational system has improved significantly, as has access to quality healthcare. Tourism is thriving, and more Belizeans are creating their own businesses.

“One aspect of a stronger Belize that Valdosta State is particularly proud of is the emergence of the University of Belize as a first-rate institution of higher learning capable of educating a new generation of Belizean leaders. In the University of Belize’s early days, American universities had to send faculty to provide the content and instruction for a fledgling institution. Now, American universities such as mine enjoy mutual benefit from a partnership with the University of Belize, where faculty here are learning what it means to become leaders in their fields.”

Carvajal told the graduates that they represent the better-trained workforce that Belize needs to continue to thrive. 

“… no matter what career you are pursuing, because you’ve made the investment in yourself that you have, there is now no limit to what you can be …,” he said. “… you came to university because you wanted better for yourselves and your families. Many of you struggled to find the money to pay tuition and fees, and others of you left loved ones each week or traveled great distances daily to get to your classes. You spent so many late nights studying, and you made countless personal sacrifices to not quit and keep going.”

“… everyone faces challenges, but a leader is one who continues to push forward despite those challenges,” he continued. “All of you have overcome significant obstacles in your life to get to this point. The fact that you are here today is evidence enough that you did not quit.”

Carvajal then encouraged the graduates to take their hard-earned degrees and their never-quit attitudes and do the work necessary to improve not only their own lives but also the lives of their family, their friends and neighbors, their fellow Belizeans, and the world.

“You’ve earned the credentials you need to now pursue a better life, and we can’t wait to see you do that,” he said.

“Work hard, become leaders in your careers, make your families even more proud of you than they are today, and help Belize take its next leap and become even more prosperous for your children and for your children’s children,” he added. “If and when you do that, perhaps the Class of 2019 will forever be known as the class that changed not just the University of Belize, and not even just Belize, but because of all that you will do, you will be known as the class that changed the world.”

Following the commencement ceremony, Dr. Clement Sankat, president of the University of Belize, said that he hopes the two institutions of higher education can build an even closer partnership in the near future. He said this includes additional training of University of Belize faculty at VSU, the development of new programs, and facilitating student transfer between the two schools.

“This was from our perspective a most satisfactory and memorable visit of Dr. Carvajal to our university, one which lays the groundwork for a much deeper engagement with us in Belize,” he added. 

Visit http://archives.valdosta.edu/cobec/index.php to learn more about the Consortium for Belize Educational Cooperation. Visit https://www.ub.edu.bz/the-university-of-belize-ub-celebrates-its-twenty-sixth-commencement-exercise/ to learn more about the University of Belize’s 26th commencement ceremony.