July 2021

It has been fourteen years since we left Ontario to move to Malaysia and six years since we moved to this beautiful, tropical island but now the time is upon us to take the next step. Trip planning is a nightmare in this time of COVID-19 and we have had to make multiple adjustments for our onward journey based on limited and ever-changing flights, quarantine requirements and health insurance stipulations. Our initial plan to leave on June 26th, right at the end of the school year and the end of our lease at GTV was scuttled, leaving us with an unplanned three weeks to spend on island.

Initially we were somewhat dismayed because we had hoped to attend Family Camp with our grandkids in Ohio. As with many things in life that frustrate us, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Our friends Jeff and Amy are home for the summer and very graciously allowed us to move to their beautiful condo on Seven Mile Beach. We wake up to an amazing view of the beach and every morning we are down before seven walking and swimming and just reveling in the beauty of God’s creation. The pool is wonderful and we took advantage of it to have friends over for final visits and to share a few more sunsets with us.

Graduating students and parents had blessed us with gift cards and restaurants coupons so many of our meals were special reminders of favourite people and places here. Dear friends gave us a gift certificate to Grand Old House which has a wonderful seaside location with an amazing sunset view. We treated ourselves to Chateaubriand for two; a fabulous meal prepared and flamed in front of us.

Even got in one more visit with our dear friend Ms Nimmi who treated us to an Indian meal, Masala Dhosa, which was our go-to meal in Malaysia. Spent a last sunset at GTV with our friends from there with whom we shared so much of life over the past few years. Our Director, Jim and Andie invited us, along with our friends Rob and Rita and Ainsley for a BBQ at their new new home in Lime Tree Bay.

Seriously we should have ordered one and split it!

We had often sat on Barker’s Beach, one the the most peaceful places to read and picnic and watch the kite surfers ride the wind and waves. Often horse back riders would wander by before heading off into the water for a swim. My friend Kristi really wanted to experience this so she talked me into joining her for a ride and it was amazing, even if a bit terrifying. The ride lasted for about a half hour until the guide stopped to remove the saddle and have the horses wade into the water to a depth that they had to swim. It took some muscles that I did not know I had to stay on the horse but was an absolutely amazing way to enjoy the warm, crystal clear waters of the Caribbean Sea.

2015 saw a large group of about twenty five new teachers and staff join the faculty at CIS. Cherilyn came as a single, young lady but we had the joy of attending her wedding to Taylor two year later and have enjoyed they friendship through our Community Group as well as school. Joe, a young man man joined CIS as the Band teacher and we have been delighted as we watched him develop the music program at the school. Happily, he met the love of his life in another music teacher and our delay in leaving the island allowed us to be here to share in their beautiful seaside wedding. and reception at Grand Old House. Now our bags are packed and we are on to the next adventure.

Joseph and Elizabeth Millson July 15/2021

I was given the honour of being the keynote speaker at this year’s graduation. To put this in perspective, this had been the first time I had spoken at any graduation since my own from Grade 8 as Valedictorian in 1963, so in sum just shy of sixty years. So when my principal Doug revealed to me that I had been the overwhelming choice of speaker by the students themselves, I didn’t waste any time putting thoughts to paper. I knew that the problem would not be what to say, but how to limit what I would say to ten minutes, and that would take several edits.

Writing has never been the issue for me that it has been for so many others. I just go with the thoughts on my heart and let them run for as long as there is something to say. Then I will leave it alone for a time until I think of something else to say and without looking at the original simply add it to the draft. Depending on the deadline, I will do this for several days until I have exhausted all that I want to say on the subject.

Then begins an entirely different task: that of editing what you have written into a cohesive whole. Often when I do this, reading what I have written will stimulate new thoughts on the subject, and I add them to the draft as I think of them. This is where Google Docs is so brilliant. It will preserve every draft and even time stamp and colour code those edits so nothing you ever write is ever lost. If you wish to restore a previous edit, simply choose the draft from that date. Google, you have my respect.

When you edit a draft, you have to be conscious of two things: one is the audience to whom you are writing and speaking, the other is the unity and coherence of the text. Every piece of writing is aimed at someone, and you must keep their needs and their interests paramount in your writing. It must reach their hearts as well as their minds or you have simply been fooling or flattering yourself and your writing will spark no interest. At the same time, the text itself must have a unity of purpose and a goal to which it is aimed or it will have no meaning. These two things determine the effectiveness of writing. Though vocabulary and style may give a text a superficial gloss, if it sparks no interest and contains no unity of purpose it will ultimately be ineffective.

Then whether you release the text in print or in speech it is a good idea to say the text out loud, preferably into a recording device of some kind. This will help you spot grammatical inconsistencies as well as help you to adjust your phraseology, and in speeches, your cadence and emphasis. This will prompt further edits to the text that will help improve it further. I will do this several times when I am giving a lesson and I always like to give myself a day between edits to get some critical distance. On a speech as important as this one was to me, I went through 30 edits.

Then before I speak, I want to get a feel for the space where I will be speaking. I want to practice sotto voce what I will say and see how it feels. I want to practice to what part of the room I will say certain things, and even the gestures I will use to get over my natural hesitancy in public places. I do this in order that I may be comfortable in that space as I know from experience that if I am uncomfortable, my audience will be as well and then they will have difficulty attending to what I have to say.

Then comes the moment of truth: the delivery itself. Preparation will certainly help to overcome the nervousness most of us feel with speaking in public. But every event is different, and a keynote address is not a classroom lecture. This event resonated with emotion for me, and only my persistent preparation got me through it as I had to choke back the tears on several occasions. I have put the best part of my life into this profession, and this would be the final words I would have to say to the students, parents and colleagues I worked with in my last teaching position. I wanted so much to get it right. You can judge for yourself if I did by viewing it here, starting at one hour, fifteen minutes.

Photo Credit: Kent Pierce

Little did we know when we moved into GTV in August of 2019 just what this place would come to mean to us, the peace that we would find here and the friends we would meet. This was meant to be a place for our family and friends to come and visit rather than us travelling back to Canada at every break. The first few months we did have regular visitors including an amazing Christmas holiday with our son and his family, a fun week with our nephew and his wife and finally a very special visit with our nieces and their Mom. The icing on the cake was to be a visit with our daughter and her family beginning March 23rd. Just perfect.

The ominous warnings of rough times ahead began in January with the rumblings of a nouvelle corona virus coming out of China, already hitting the news. This was over shadowed somewhat in Cayman by a large dump fire which closed the school down for three days, followed soon after by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck just off the east coast of the island. When an emergency evacuation of a cardiac patient from a passing cruise ship brought Covid-19 to Cayman resulting in thirty two positive cases, our life changed. The repatriation of many expats began in earnest and the the airport was closed on March 22nd.

With the island in a hard lockdown, this little piece of paradise and those who shared it with us, became our entire existence. Our dining room was transformed into an online classroom for the remainder of the school year and virtually everyone else in the complex were working from home as well. We worked out a pattern of visiting every evening at sunset around the pool at the end of every work day, with proper social distancing of course. We would send up a collective cheer whenever we saw the occasional “green flash” as the sun’s last gasp. We set up a lending library on our patio, and shared jigsaw puzzles and any special treats we had with our neighbours. Any opportunity for a celebration; birthday, anniversary whatever, was cause for a party. When our beautiful gardens became overgrown, all of our young lawyers and accountants stepped in to replace the landscapers who were not allowed to work during lockdown by mowing lawns and harvesting the coconut palms.

Moving on from Cayman and GTV will not be easy and the people we grew to know and love through this time together will always be special to us. Chief amongst them are two little miracles whose untimely entry into this world, about the same time as Covid-19 was beginning, at seventeen weeks early and weighing in about a pound each was pretty frightening. We prayed for them and their Dad and Mom for months before we were able to welcome them back to GTV where we’ve had the joy of watching them grow into healthy, beautiful, cheeky, happy little toddlers. It is always nice to have some babies around to cuddle!

To say we will miss GTV and all our friends from here is a gross understatement to be sure, but we count ourselves as incredibly blessed to have been able to weather Covid-19 in a country which took the pandemic seriously and protected their people. We cared for others and felt the loving care of others for us. We leave this all with heavy hearts but also with the reminder that this is what community is all about. We also know we will find new, loving friends wherever we go from here.

I have taught a handful of exceptional classes over the years, but none to match the class that I have had this past year as I ended my classroom teaching career. They were largest, at 41 students, and on balance not necessarily the brightest, though there were a number of exceptionally bright students in the mix. But they were the most engaged class I have ever taught: with their own academic and societal development, in comfort and support of one another, and with the issues confronting the world that they will shortly inherit. 

Take for example the expansion of the port facilities here in Cayman that seemed like a fait accompli just two years ago. It was this class of students that led the charge to demand a country-wide referendum on the issue and then pushed for a significant delay in that referendum to allow for a proper airing of the environmental impact report on the damage to the fragile coral ecosystem that would have been destroyed by a port expansion Through their social media campaign, their networking with students in other schools, and their street marches and demonstrations, they were able to delay and eventually shelve that expansion that would have lumbered this country with immeasurable debt just when the cruise industry was about to collapse. 

Then there were the beach cleanups that they have conducted now for several years. Recently they extended these regular events to neighbouring Little Cayman where they removed and bagged an impressive one and a half tons of plastic waste in a weekend of effort. Most kids their age would have been out partying all weekend, instead of working towards a cleaner future for these beautiful islands.

A  number of the students from this graduating class were fundamental in starting a youth activist group called Protect Our Future. They host a Facebook page as well if you are interested in keeping up with their ongoing activities. Over the past several years they have not only put a stop to the unnecessary and destructive port expansion through their protests, protested the destruction of the mangrove stands so important as breeding grounds in the Caribbean, taking on this island’s largest developer in the process, fought for a change in the country’s road safety regulations, protested the country’s appalling record of managing the nation’s waste, sought to protect the coral reefs so fundamental to Cayman’s appeal as a tourist destination, and raised awareness of the overuse of plastics throughout the Caribbean through their indefatigable efforts at cleanups

Through it all they remained committed to their academic progress. Eleven students in this cohort graduated with a GPA above 4.0. Seven of those kept that average throughout the past four years in high school. They were invariably on time, invariably engaged with the lesson material, invariably pleasant and polite, invariably encouraging to one another. They have been an absolute joy to teach these past four years, and I will miss them terribly. Fortunately for me, through the miracle of social media, I will be able to follow their progress for years to come.

It is often said that life is a journey and not a destination and that has certainly been the experience for both of us. Our journeys have taken us to nearly 50 countries, numerous schools and hospitals and a seemingly never ending upgrade in our job descriptions and qualifications. So when Stephen retired last month one might have thought that this would be the end of that upheaval. Afterall, retirement is usually associated with endings, withdrawals and retreats: the end of the road. 

However, to us this time represents simply a bend in the road, a different way of doing life with new challenges and opportunities and freedoms that will take time, effort and creativity to successfully maneuver our way through. 

Initially, we find ourselves venturing into a new and unfamiliar world of excess time, lessened responsibilities and an uncertain future. For the first time in our lives time does not equal money and our work can be motivated by who we are and what we value. We now have the opportunity to use the knowledge and experiences we have gained in a lifetime of service to others in new and interesting venues. 

God willing, we are looking forward to continuing a way of life that has always defined us and to use this time for engagement, growth, connections, contributions and increased possibilities for service. Retirement is a gift that has been given to us and one that we do not take lightly. One we hope to use for God’s glory.

One of the casualties of the hectic life we have chosen has been our blog. Once we were both working full time here in Cayman, our posts became spotty to say the least and two years ago we finally let it go in favour of attempting to maintain our thoughts through a journal which we continue to publish in hard copy. 

As we start on this new phase of our lives, we have decided to revive our website and return to blogging. For those of you who wish to follow our adventures online we will occasionally link our posts to Facebook. We won’t provide that link for every post, but you are welcome to bookmark our weblog and drop in from time to time to see what we are up to next. We can’t tell you in advance what that will be, since we don’t know that yet ourselves. That is the joy and adventure that awaits us in this new chapter of our lives.

I have been a teacher for a long time; 46 years to be precise. But I trained to be a teacher several years before that and have wanted to be a teacher since I was in Grade 2 some 65 years ago. A lifetime of commitment cannot be part of your conscious self for so long without giving some thought to retirement. You start to collect tropes from others in the same situation – I’ll teach until I drop, I can’t wait to get out of here, I’ll stay so long as it is fun, etc. You become a collector of these rationalizations over time, trying each one on in turn and as a practicing Christian, rejecting them all as being unworthy of the God you serve.

The only reason that ever made any sense to me, on a practical as well as a spiritual level (we are all spiritual beings; some of us just are just more conscious of that reality) was that I would teach as long as God had a use for me in the classroom.

Not that I have ever used the classroom to proselytize my faith. That would degrade both my faith and my God by using my position to advance a personal agenda. But I have always seen my profession as more of a calling than an occupation. God finds us all in all the places He ordains for a reason. It was never too difficult to figure out what He wanted me to do, and I have always been happy to do it. I entered teaching with barely more than a change of clothes. He has taken me quite literally to the other side of the planet and enriched my life in countless ways. I would be a fool NOT to follow Him.

So when I had a (mild!) heart attack while teaching back in January, it didn’t take me long to realize that God was speaking to me and I should pay attention. Well, to be honest, it took an angiogram of my extensive arterial clogging, two surgeries, seven stents, and weeks of atrial fibrillation to get my attention. I’m a little hard-headed, you know. But when the penny did drop, as it did on March 20 while having a morning coffee with Pam in downtown George Town, it dropped with the settled surety of divine fiat.

Since then I haven’t given a stray thought to the possibility of staying any longer. Nor do I have any regrets for staying as long as I did. I have had an absolutely amazing career, teaching the subjects and grades I wanted and avoiding most of what is boring and tedious. I have taught on four continents, in six countries, in nine schools to thousands of students over the course of my long career and never met anything but respect and appreciation for all that I have tried to do.

My God has been sufficient for my every need. I have served Him with joy, and leave the classroom now with gratitude for this calling, and a lifetime of happy memories in store. May your own retirement be as fulfilling as mine has been.