CHANCELLOR, I PRESENT: Bucknor addressing the graduation body at UWI recently; introducing 2016 honorary graduand Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (below).
The dozens of fine literary texts in his office – on the shelves, one his enviably neat work desk – confirm that you have entered the hallowed space of a distinguished man of letters. It’s a golden Wednesday morning, and TALLAWAH has just trekked across the UWI Mona campus, ascending the stairs to the second floor of the Faculty of Humanities admin building to get to Literatures in English, where department head Dr. Michael Bucknor is on the clock in his warm and inviting work space. Glorious books, a mix of West Indian titles and international classics, surround him.
It’s a few days after the university’s graduation ceremony, where sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and poetess Lorna Goodison were presented with honorary doctorates for their outstanding achievements. Dr. Bucknor flashes a river-wide smile when he remembers the well-attended ceremony, not just because he had an excellent seat to see Goodison, one of his favourite authors, receive the prestigious degree, but because he had the wonderful job of writing and reading the citation to mark the occasion.
That’s just one aspect of Dr. Bucknor’s role as the newest Public Orator at UWI Mona, a post he will hold for four years. “I feel honoured and humbled and a sense of responsibility in representing well this department and the faculty,” he admits. “But I do like the creative space to do something different with the traditional citation and have some fun with language.”
For the record, he had a ball working on the piece about Goodison, in particular. “As a literary person, it was fun to go back and look at her work, and I was inspired all over again by the extraordinary creativity of her poetry and her prose.”
A man of impeccable credentials, Michael Bucknor comes to the post of Public Orator very highly recommended. In fact, there was talk of him filling the role from as far back as a decade ago, when his mentor, Prof. Eddie Baugh, ruled the roost. Since Baugh’s retirement, the role has been filled by government specialist and poet Prof. Brian Meeks and the late Prof. Aggrey Brown of CARIMAC.
The orator’s purpose primarily involves penning and delivering citations in tribute to honorary graduands, eminent UWI officials heading off to new chapters and awardees at the Vice Chancellor’s Awards ceremony in October, or at any other special on-campus function. “I do feel a huge sense of burden,” Bucknor says. “There are high expectations; you’re expected to produce citations of the highest calibre. But I enjoy using language in creative ways to draw people into the narrative of this person’s life. And being able to say as much about the person in a short space of time. These are really incredible people, and you have a responsibility to represent them well.”
A serious man who hails from the West, Bucknor was born and raised in Montego Bay, St. James, where he attended Cornwall College and later the Montego Bay Community College, before heading into Kingston at age 17 to begin teacher training, in 1982, at the Mico College, which he’d heard was “the best” institution for aspiring educators.
From as early as fourth form, young Michael knew that teaching was his calling, though his folks insisted on him going into medicine. But having mentors and motivators like Leo Oakley in his corner gave him the push he needed to chase after his dream and do it with relish.
Ambitious and relentlessly driven, he completed Mico in the late 80s and went on to teach at both Wolmer’s Boys and St. George’s College. He studied part-time at UWI before enrolling full-time. But, on reflection, he is quick to admit that his teachers’ college years had the most transformative impact on his life. “Mico was the best time of my life,” he gushes, eyes widening in delight as he heads down memory lane. “It developed in me leadership skills and a passion for not only imparting knowledge but also serving the community.”
To this day, that awesome feeling still gives him the adrenaline rush that the most devoted educators can attest to. “I wake up every day excited about the day. That’s what teaching does for me,” the lecturer, who also taught at the tertiary level for one year in Canada. “Growing up, I loved reading. All of my spare time was spent reading. If they sent me to the shop I carried my book with me. Now, I get to combine both of those passions and get paid for it. All these years later, I’m still excited.”
Playing an integral role in a youngster’s development on the road to productive adulthood is also part of the reward. “I enjoy seeing young people’s excitement about literature and witnessing their growth. It makes a teacher’s job that much more thrilling,” Bucknor, now 52, tells TALLAWAH. “I don’t regret the choice I made in not becoming a medical doctor. Now I get to enjoy the insights that artists can bring to us through their work. And I wouldn’t change that for a minute.”
“I wake up every day excited about the day. That’s what teaching does for me.”