I wish more than anything else that I could be present with you to share another ceremony to reward youth excellence and celebrate the young people of Jamaica.
Regrettably, this is not possible.
Your very presence here this evening sends a powerful message to every Jamaican: You can make a difference if you have vision, commitment and if you take personal responsibility to achieve that vision.
Our young people are making great strides in the areas of agriculture, entrepreneurship, arts and culture, sports, the service areas, academia, journalism among others.
This evening we honour you as young people who are not only making your mark but are outstanding in these fields.
You have devoted your time, talent and skills to achieving excellence and we celebrate your accomplishments with you.
You are here this evening because you are winners. I salute and applaud you for striving for excellence and trust that you will continue to set high standards in your various fields of endeavour for others to emulate. You have made your families, communities and country very proud of you.
I encourage you to continue to strive for the best. One of the things I will always remember when I was young, was the absolute excitement that I felt about life. My peers and I wanted to be achievers.
We had a vision;We were committed to that vision; and,We took personal responsibility for achieving that vision.
Times have changed but you too must have your vision and you can onlyachieve it if you show commitment and responsibility.
The last few decades have caused not only people to re-think how they live and do business . but countries and regions have been forced to re-evaluate their strategies for growth and national development.
Jamaica is part of that changing world and for us to survive, both as a country and a people we too must re-think our approach to economic, social and individual development.
In today’s global village, the world is your oyster. Soon within the Caribbean, you will be able to ply your skills in whatever Member country you choose. But that also means that you will be in the same pool of professionals and creative talent from which companies in the Region will be seeking to recruit the most gifted and hardworking.
The Government’s social, economic and foreign policies reflect an appreciation of these regional and global changes.
For more than a decade we have concentrated on building a new Jamaica with modern infrastructure. Our road and telecommunications network has the capability to support the many investment projects that we are now attracting. These investments mean more jobs and greater opportunities for entrepreneurship.
We have invested over $35b over the last decade to help families and communities fight poverty because we believe that every Jamaican has a right to a decent standard of living. But we also understand that poor families need a push start.
However, Jamaicans have a role to play in the country’s quest for progress and prosperity. As old time people say, “one han caan clap”. Let us talk this evening about three areas in which young people can make a difference to their quality of life.
The first area is health. Today, our young people are among those who are most affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Thirty-four percent of all newly reported HIV/AIDS cases in Jamaica are in the age group 30-39 years and 20% of all cases are in the age group 20-29 years.
Between 2001 and September 2004 Government and donors spent over $346.3m on reduction of HIV transmission, the treatment, care and support of HIV positive persons. In building our national capacity there has been special training for our health care professionals.
Yet, if Jamaicans do not practise safe sex our HIV rate will continue to rise. No matter what else we do, our young people must be committed to a healthy lifestyle, you must take personal responsibility for this.
The second area that I want to pinpoint is education. You cannot compete globally unless you are properly educated.
The world is changing and so are the demands of our education system.
There is general consensus that we need to go back to the drawing board to build a new system that will sustain our long-term vision of growth and development.
The simple truth is that we will never achieve success until every student in this country is committed to learning and assumes the responsibility through constant study to achieve academic excellence.
Remember, nothing but the best is ever good enough. And what of your respect for law and order? Our crime figures show that young people between the 12-25 age group committed 53% of major crimes last year.
We have to reduce the level of violence between each other. Too many young people are dying and mourning the loss of family and close friends.
You can play an important role in the search for peace in Jamaica by showing respect for others, developing tolerance for dissenting views, appreciating the differences of others and most of all, by valuing life.
I ask that you join us on the long walk back to a healthy, educated and crime free Jamaica. It is a difficult road but each of us can make a difference. Remember, if there is to be peace and good order in our land, it must begin with each and every-one of us.
I ask that you take this message back to your peers, communities, schools and places of work. Let this message ring out to the far corners of Jamaica: We can make a difference, if we have the vision, the firm commitment and take personal responsibility.
Let me congratulate those who have earned these Special Awards. I applaud you for being here tonight. With your steadfast support and relentless energy, the future of our country looks bright.
I pray that the Almighty will continue to guide your path.

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