Golden Jubilee & Handing Over Ceremony
January 16, 1967, was a very important day for Berbice High School. On that day the school passed over to the complete control of the Government after fifty years of ownership by the Canadian Presbyterian Church. At the golden-jubilee and formal handing over ceremony the Minister of Education announced that Berbice High School will now have a status similar to that of Queens College and Bishops' High School.
In accepting the school on behalf of the Government, Mrs. Winifred Gaskin, Education Minister, said, "Entry in this school will be achieved by performance and Free place winners who are placed highest on the list at the Common Entrance Examination and by Berbice secondary school students who qualify well at the first sitting of the G.C.E Ordinary Level."
After announcing the higher standards, Mrs. Gaskin added, "I wish to make it unequivocally clear that these and only these qualifications will be accepted for entry in the Berbice High School from now on."
The ceremony, attended by prominent people from Guyana and overseas, as well as parents and students, was held at the Town Hall, New Amsterdam. There was standing room only as hundreds came to witness the important event and hear a long list of imposing speakers.
That morning B.H.S. students and staff had worked feverishly preparing the campus grounds for the upcoming celebration. Unfortunately, heavy rains cancelled all their efforts and the venue had to be changed at the last moment to the Town Hall.
The opening of the historical occasion at the Town Hall was marked by devotions conducted by Rev. W. L. Jagnandan, Minister of the Guyana Presbyterian Church at Port Mourant, and an old boy of the Berbice High School. He was followed by another old-boy, Mr. S. F. Carew, now Chairman of the Board of Governors of B.H.S. Mr. Carew extended a very hearty welcome to the dignitaries on the stage, as well as to parents and friends in the audience.
The Hon. W. O. R. Kendall, Minister of Health and Housing. was the next to come to the podium. The Minister has always been interested in the welfare of the school, and on many occasions has urged Government to provide better facilities for Berbice High pupils. Through his effort the Government grant to the school had been increased on two occasions. Because of his deep interest he took time off from his heavy duties at the Ministry, not only to be present at the function, but also to participate in the programme by introducing the Chairman of the afternoon’s proceedings.
Mr. Aubrey Alleyne, an old boy from the first year of B.H.S., and now Speaker of the National Assembly, acted as the chairman. He introduced the first speaker, Rev. Joseph Lattimore, Chairman of the Board of Missions, the Presbyterian Church in Canada.
Rev. Lattimore announced that the Canadian Presbyterian Church had passed a motion on the fiftleth anniversary and transfer of the school. The motion stated in part: "Good wishes are extended from the Mission Board for a stronger and wider programme of secondary education in New Amsterdam and throughout Guyana."
Rev. Lattimore said that the Canadian Presbyterian Church was grateful that it had played a part in advancing education in Guyana for the coming generations; "We have tried to keep the standards high, and the quality of many of the graduates who have gone on to occupy important positions speaks eloquently of the dedicated efforts of those who have guided the administration and who have taught here.
"Now we rejoice that the Government desiring to advance the field of education, has seen fit to take over control of this school. And with thankfulness for what we have accomplished in the past under God’s guidance and with confidence that the standards will continue to rise ever higher as the school serves the people of the community in the years ahead, we turn it over now to the control of Government and we pray that it and those who serve in it, may be blessed and guided."
Following Rev. Lattimore two old boys, both of whom have risen to prominent positions, paid tribute to their ‘alma mater.’ Attorney-General and Minister of State Mr. S. S. Ramphal noted that the days he had spent at the school, in the period 1943-1945, were "the happiest days in the special adventures of my youth."
Mr. Ramphal stated that B.H.S. graduates had done much for the progress of Guyana, especially in the field of education. He pointed out that Modern High School in Georgetown was founded by his father, one of those from the original class of B.H.S., and that out of Modern High and J. C. Luck’s association with it, Central High School emerged.
The Attorney-General said, "Today marks yet another link which fate had forged in contriving my presence here as the school is about to pass into the safe keeping of the Government of which I am a part, and under the trusteeship of my distinguished colleague the Minister of Education."
"But the range of work of the Canadian Mission in Education was by no means confined to their efforts at secondary education in New Amsterdam. The school at which my father himself served gives some indication of the range of this vital work in education that the Canadian Mission were undertaking in those early days."
"They were not, of course, alone among religious bodies in the field of education, but they were pioneering their work in the rural areas and in so doing were making a tremendously significant contribution to our development as a society. The Guyana Presbyterian Church will, through these traditions, forever occupy a distinguished place in the chronicles of development of education in this country. Long may they prosper in their continuing work and service to Guyana."
Mr. Stuart-Young, the other old boy, and now President of the Berbice Chamber of Commerce, paid tribute by thanking the Canadian Mission for the wonderful work it had done. Mr. Patterson, Mayor of New Amsterdam, pointed out the many famous graduates from B.H.S who had contributed to the growth of Guyana in the fields of medicine, law, business, politics and education.
Before formally handing over the school to the Government, Dr. E. H. Johnson, Secretary of the Overseas Board of Missions of the Canadian Presbyterian Church, expressed his pleasure at the transfer, "Transfer was a plan that existed from the very beginning. We were convinced that Berbice would have a school comparable to the best secondary school in Georgetown. Fifty years ago, as today, our aim was to give Berbice a first class secondary school that would teach everything which is moral, true and useful.
Looking back over the past years Dr. Johnson said that the enrollment of the school had grown from 9 to over 750 students. He emphasised that the students and staff were composed of every race in the country. "The school has had a wonderful racial balance that is needed in Guyana. And it is not simply training youngsters to pass certain exams but to become useful citizens."
Dr. Johnson pointed out that the Canadian Mission had deducted $55,575 from the assessed value of the school ($175.000) in selling the property to the Government.
In accepting the school on behalf of the Government, Mrs. Gaskin Minister of Education, expressed her gratitude to the Canadian Mission Board for its cordiality and good-will in the negotiations that preceeded the transfer. She then announced: "No more tuition fees will be collected at this school. It will be a free Government secondary school of similar status to Queen’s College and Bishops' High School."
As she outlined the higher standards for B.H.S. she said that parents will have to enter in an agreement the same as at Queens and Bishops'. Parents will agree that any child who fails to pass twice will be asked to leave. "A child who does not intend to study is keeping a place from another child who is seeking a better education," Mrs. Gaskin said.
According to the Minister, unqualified teachers on the staff would be given two years in which to improve their qualifications and only when they do so would they be allowed to retain their positions. She stated that it is the staff, not the pupils who make the school.
In her speech she warned the people of New Amsterdam, "Let no rumour destroy the goodwill of your school. Let no ill—talk reduce your school to a battle ground of warring factors. It is a school for children, it is for educating them and correcting their mental attitudes. Parents should not impose upon their young ones their own narrow prejudices. Let them go with open minds."
To the teachers she said, "Let your students think for themselves. Teach them to discover for themselves what Guyana is and how Guyanese should live with one another."
After outlining plans for a new Technical Institute adjacent to the High School, Mrs. Gaskin said to the assembly, "It remains now for the people of New Amsterdam and of Berbice on the whole to accept this gift from the Government, to take pride and interest in it."
"This school that I have received on behalf of the Government, I now gladly offer you. Make it your very own, and may I live to see the day when out of Berbice High School comes the first Guyana Scholar to qualify in Berbice and out of the Berbice Technical Institute, the first Guyanese to gain a diploma in Technology in his own country."
After her address the Minister was presented a bouquet of flowers by Miss Sherry Yacoob.
Tulsidyal Singh, the Head Boy at B.H.S, expressed his thanks from all of the students to the Canadian Mission and to the Minister for the part she was playing in Education. "We are happier of our new and closer contact under our own Government, and under this contact we are optimistic about the future. Using old boys as examples we know what to strive for."
Before ending the ceremony, Mr. Alleyne recollected some incidents from the original class of 1916, of which he was an old boy. In closing he said, "Those of us who passed through this institution will feel a sense of humble pride when we recall and when we look at the work which has been done by this institution and the work the institution is doing."
"I want to impress upon you, the present student body, to take a leaf; to use those people who have passed through the school, whose name you have heard read here this afternoon, use them as inspiration. What they have done you too can do. They ate their food from the same plates as you, with the same knives and forks, with similar laces they tied their shoes, therefore you can do the same and even better."
Concluding, Speaker Alleyne said: "I urge you to keep the coal fires of this institution burning. Carry on this good tradition which the school has built. This is a great day for New Amsterdam in particular, and for the country of Guyana in general."
The next day, January 17th, Mrs. Gaskin and other dignitaries came to the campus grounds to complete the ceremonies. The Minister unveiled a plaque marking the historic occasion and participated in the planting of three new trees in the school compound. She also asked the Principal, Mr. Beharry, to convey her congratulations to Head Boy Singh for the excellent manner in which he had delivered the vote of thanks. Before leaving she announced that the occasion was proper for a school holiday.