Young Caymanian Leadership Award recipient Natalie Urquhart reflects on the past year, which was filled with speaking engagements and interactions with the youngest Caymanians, as well valuable conversations with peers and mentors.
Since being given the top honour at the May 2011 gala, Urquhart’s schedule has been packed not only with YCLA duties, but with responsibilities pertaining to the opening of the brand-new home of the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands. Urquhart, the director of the Gallery, said she’s been busy but that there’s been a lot of synergy between her roles in YCLA and the Gallery, where she promotes a creativity in education and harnessing the passion of young minds.
“It’s really fortuitous how this has worked together. My platform has been very much about thinking outside the box in the way we learn, and taking a creative approach to education,” she said during an interview at her office in the Gallery, which officially opened its doors to the public 1 February. “Of course that’s what we do every day on the ground here.”
Within the first couple of weeks of receiving the award, Urquhart spoke at a dozen high schools during graduation season, but throughout the year, the focus has been on visiting primary schools. She said it has been a great motivation to talk to the younger students, who are full of energy and ideals. “They’re at that age where anything is possible,” she said.
“One of the main goals I’ve been trying to achieve in my reaching out to schools and young people is to talk about passion and choosing a career path that might not be as straightforward as some of the more well-known ones in Cayman, such as banking, even tourism, accounting. For sure when I was at school at Prep, those were the two or three career paths you were encouraged to move toward, obviously because there was a success rate of employment and upward mobility in those particularly roles. But picking an industry like the arts was very unusual at the time,” she said.
Urquhart liked to end her presentations – whether it be to a single classroom or a student body assembly – by asking the students what they want to be when they grow up. The range of responses was fairly all-encompassing, including doctors, lawyers, accountants, firefighters, police officers, and even the occasional fairy princess. While perhaps not as ambitious as fairy princess, Urquhart’s choice of pursuing a career in the fine arts was rather unusual for the time, and would not have been possible without the support of her parents, she said.
“YCLA’s never had a fine arts recipient before, as it were. So we’re trying to grow access and interest in the visual arts and culture in general, and also the way cultural heritage and living culture is so critical to a healthy, balanced environment and also a healthy, rounded individual. I haven’t focussed on the visual arts. Obviously I want to make sure that the approach to being creative and the approach to culture is a lot wider than that,” she said. “The visual arts is one small element of a very vibrant, thriving culture in the Cayman Islands. YCLA has allowed us to take that platform out there and use a creative energy to talk to students and ask them what it is they do that is creative, and how they approach their studies in a creative way.”
The organisation’s focus on primary schools was a bit of a change from approaches in previous years. “The young people that I’ve spoken to are all really enthusiastic and passionate. They’re all wanting to interact, all wanting to ask questions,” Urquhart said. “We’re looking at the ways the community can harness that enthusiasm. In a world where we’re looking at a lot of challenges and issues in Cayman – we know from statistics that we’re having difficulties in the numbers of students graduating to a high standard – and so how do we build a bridge from that young creative enthusiasm and make sure that’s continued throughout their academic school career and beyond?”
Top remembrances of the year include speaking to young students on Cayman Brac and also students at the Cayman Islands Lighthouse School.
“We had a wonderful visit with the girls at the Lighthouse Schools, and we were invited to go back to their Christmas Concert. It was one of the highlights of my year, YCLA or otherwise,” she said. “It was really a wonderful, joyful experience.”
In addition to speaking directly to students, Urquhart also had opportunities to talk to teachers and try to gauge their needs, and to help them gain access to the educational resources offered by various groups in Cayman.
“They have an enormous schedule to try and achieve every year. There’s all these amazing community resources out there, but they have very little time to go out in the community, to coordinate field trips and meet the financial support to do that as well. We’re really talking to them to find out how can YCLA support them, how can the Gallery support them in ways that fit in with their framework,” Urquhart said.
One of the ways the Gallery tries to help is by creating proper lesson plans to go along with visits to the Gallery, so that when students take field trips to see the art, they also have assignments that can relate to their current class projects.
“That way when they come in, do a tour and go back, we can help teachers do some of the work, rather than saying, ‘Come in see the work and interpret it yourself’,” she said.
Apart from the chance to get involved with the school system, the programme enabled Urquhart to engage with the other finalists and be mentored by past recipients.
“It’s a learning process for each of the nominees and recipients as much as it is us giving back and teaching over the year. I’ve made some great connections,” she said.
Urquhart said, “YCLA is not just recognition; it’s a great support system going forward.”
This year’s awards ceremony takes place Saturday, 12 May, at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. The five finalists are Garth Arch, Dara Flowers Burke, Casandra Morris, Orchid Morrison and Samantha Widmer. The theme of the event is “Lead by Example”.
The headline speaker for the ceremony is interior designer Leigh Anne Tuohy, who was portrayed by Sandra Bullock in the movie “The Blind Side”, about the Tuohy family and adopted son Michael Oher, who now plays professional football for the Baltimore Ravens.
KPMG Managing Partner Roy McTaggart has been appointed as chair of the group’s Honorary Board. He has been a member of the board since 2003.
Urquhart isn’t on this year’s panel of judges, but she’s eager to see who this year’s recipient will be. Being a finalist is an honour in and of itself, she said.
“You do what you do on a daily basis, and you work really hard because you have a passion and you believe in the work that you’re involved in. We’re all very different. I think that’s what’s interesting about YCLA. People have been nominated from all aspects of the community,” she said.
Going forward, Urquhart is animated about the organisation’s nascent Speakers Bureau, which will have a portfolio of past award recipients and finalists available to speak at future events.
“I think that is a great way, looking at the talent they have with the alumni, of making sure there’s a continuity to it. That’s going to be a really exciting initiative,” Urquhart said.