March 5, 2006 — Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit gave an inspiring address to more than 100 young people at a leadership forum Saturday on the St. Croix campus of the University of the Virgin Islands. Skerrit was invited by UVI's Golden Key International Honor Society, which encourages scholastic achievement among college and university students.
As the world's youngest prime minister, Skerrit, 33, touched on subjects of importance to young people, encouraging them to take advantage of educational opportunities, become involved in their community and stay away from drugs and gang violence.
Skerrit told the students that Virgin Islanders get complacent with advantages given to U.S. citizens and people from other islands come in and benefit from the opportunities.
"You absent yourself from the process," Skerrit said. "Others come in and fill the void."
Skerrit told the students the Dominica government is emphasizing education. He said universal secondary education was achieved in 2005, and the goal for 2015 is to have at least one person in every household earn a university degree.
"Education is the pillar of hope for every young person," Skerrit said.
Students from AZ Academy, Good Hope School, Kingshill School, Manor School, St. Croix Central High, St. Croix Country Day, St. Croix Educational Complex and St. Joseph's Catholic High School attended the lecture, which began at 9:30 a.m. The event was at the campus cafeteria.
Skerrit discussed the challenges young people face. "Young people get blamed for what is wrong in society but the vast majority of young people are engaged in positive activities." He said sensationalism in the media focuses on the negative while those who are achievers "get only small recognition."
Noting that the presence of gangs in the Caribbean is growing, Skerrit cautioned the students to stay away from gangs, drugs and alcohol. He also cautioned them to protect themselves against HIV/AIDS. He told the students if they don't do the right thing, they will find themselves "in jail or in the cemetery."
Skerrit said it's up to young people to change the world's perception of youth. As the youngest leader of a country, Skerrit said he faces pressure because of his age every day.
"Everyone is waiting for the day you fail," Skerrit said. "Many people feel young people have no business at this level of government. It is our task to reshape the attitude of the world in regards to young people."
Skerrit said there are several young people in important government positions in Dominica and they are encouraging more to be involved. He said in the last election, the youth vote increased by 70 percent and that was accomplished by involving young people in the process. Skerrit said young people are represented on every board and commission in Dominica.
"It's never too early. Christ started at 12," Skerrit said. "There is biblical precedence."
Skerrit challenged the youth to "harness and promote the ideas of young people," and "support young leaders."
He said the youth must demand their leaders show confidence in them and engage them in the decision-making process. He said politicians should "go into the communities and bring [young people] to the table."
"Young people have to stand up and be counted when the bell tolls," Skerrit said.
The lecture was followed by a panel discussion that allowed students to ask questions of young people representing industry, politics and medicine. Included on the panel were Albert Bryan, vice president and founding member of Generation Now; Jennifer Matarangas-King, president and general manager of Innovative Cable TV; Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville; Dr. O. Anne Treasure, physician; and Anthony Weeks of Columbia Equities, Ltd.
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