fitzwilliam, speaking to the students of Union Claxton Bay
by Wendy Fitzwilliam
must thank the Trinidad Publishing Company for giving me
the opportunity to come and speak with you. This is something
Ato, Brian and myself discussed over the years on a few
occasions and Im very happy that the publishers of
the Trinidad Guardian and Sunday Guardian saw it fit to
make it a reality for us.
I was asked to share with you today my experiences in the
context of what made a difference in my life. You guys,
Im sure, know what led me to some level of celebrity.
But then the story behind Wendy as with every other human
being has its challenges. I would like to share a little
bit of that with you.
Today, I would focus on six guiding principles for me. Believe
me, when I was your age in high school I didnt have
guiding principles, or rather, I didnt think about
them as such. But being a part of this process has caused
me to sit and think seriously about the events in my life,
at least the ones I hold dear, that have brought me to this
point. I certainly didnt do it alone.
One of the most important principles is belief in your human
instincts. We all have the ability to differentiate between
right and wrong. Thats something inherent. The support
mechanism to that would be religion, school, parents/guardian,
all the structures that are in place to guide you along
the right path.
Instinctively, we all know whats right and whats
wrong. Thinking back on my life on the few occasions I didnt
listen to that instinct, I didnt take the advice that
Wendy, the person who I am, was giving me. And every single
time I didnt, I lived to regret it. For example, when
I was six I encouraged my 5-year-old sister to stick her
finger in the socket of one of the plugs for the Christmas
lights. There were really some bad decisions I made
knowing very well I should be studying for finals and choosing
to party up a storm, giving my parents really weak excuses
for where I would be. For every occasion I did something
silly like that, I have lived to regret it. I would never
make it back to my home on time; the partner who was taking
the crew got themselves high and couldnt be found.
And the repercussions were much worse than if I had just
taken stock of myself and postponed the party until after
Today I want to focus a little on some of my failures. Luckily
for me, Trinidad hasnt been very much made aware of
Wendys failures. But, I promise you, everyone who
is very successful or is perceived as very successful has
had a series of failures throughout their lives. It is from
your failures you gain your greatest lessons or values which
take you forward.
What failure does for me is spur me on and encourage me
to succeed. Upon failing, success is no longer a desire,
it becomes a necessity. I absolutely hate to lose. I enjoychallenges
very much , but with that comes serious responsibility and
a high risk of failure. You can plan as much as you want
but things dont always go your way. I would give you
a couple of examples, from failing my drivers licence
test the first time (which really annoyed me because that
meant that my father had to drop me to intercol matches
as opposed to having the opportunity to drive myself) to
much more difficult failures that forced me to learn coping
skills, real life skills. For example, if you read my resume
it looks really good but there was a lot of hard work that
went in to getting there. Every stage of my academic career
there was some degree of failure. On my first sitting of
Common Entrance I passed the exam for St Josephs Convent
but getting there, let me tell you, was nightmarish.
I think I was the only 10-year-old in Trinidad who was ready
to go to the pediatrician to take Valium because I was so
nervous for those exams. My academic record at that point
was just ok whilst my younger sister was always an A
student, and she is only one year younger than I am. So
she was in class with me all the way to Common Entrance.
Having the pressure of knowing her success and my limitations
was really difficult for me to deal with.
When you go to St Josephs Convent almost everyone
is number one from whatever school they came from. So I
went immediately from being in the top three to five in
my class to the bottom half.
CXC was no walk in the park either. On my first attempt
I failed mathematics. I didnt even bother with French,
which I really regret now. That experience was a little
more difficult to bring myself out of because when everyone
else was liming or at intercol matches having fun, I had
to take extra classes to rewrite mathematics for me to stay
in Form Six. That was no fun at all.
Even UWI, which got more difficult again, balancing
between academics and wanting to have a good time
the academics definitely had to take priority for me to
get out that system. Unlike most of my classmates who were
scholarship winners etc, I had to work really, really hard
to get there and to stay there. I had to work even harder.
I repeated my second year of the undergraduate programme
at UWI. That was a serious blow for me because that meant
finding an additional $30,000 dollars at that time to go
to school. And Im definitely not from a very wealthy
family. That was very difficult. I think if I made better
choices at UWI, knowing that I was not a number one academic
student, I would have done better and saved my family and
myself a lot of heartache along the way.The point is, I
have learnt from those experiences. I still, as you may
be aware, enjoy a good fete or two or ten, but my priorities
are definitely in the right place, I think.
What I learnt out of university, partially, was the importance
of understanding your passion, knowing your passion and
following your passion. Which comes back again to your human
instinct. What you enjoy doing most is mainly what you should
spend the rest of our life doing, in terms of your career
choices etc. Out of the Miss Universe experience, a lot
of opportunities opened up to me. Things that I would have
never discovered before. Before going to that competition,
in my head I was going to be a fashionable lawyer. I just
wanted a decent wardrobe and a good legal career. The Miss
Universe experience, however, literally opened up windows
of opportunities. All of a sudden, out of singing two lines
of an old jazz song that my sister and I liked on the night
of that competition, I was offered a recording deal. That
is very rare in todays world. I told myself at the
time, however, that this was a great opportunity and I was
going to take advantage of it because I like to sing.
During the four-year period after Miss Universe, I pursued
a music career, with success, but not nearly as successful
as Mariah (Carey) or Britney (Spears). Coming out of Miss
Universe I was able to do certain things in that area, like
work with some of the best producers on the planet to develop
a sound that was Wendy. I traveled to Africa, Latin America,
all over, performing. I never performed in Trinidad and
Tobago because I know you guys would kill me if I didnt
live up to the very high standards of local audiences. My
intentions were to do go outside first and then come home.
But, again, if you are not following your passion, it becomes
another job. I learnt through that process that my passion
is really social work. Its what gets me up on a morning.
It really excites me.
But Im also a girlie girl. I like pretty things. I
love shoes. I really love shoes and clothing. I couldnt
figure out, after identifying that social work was my passion,
how to marry both. How do I enjoy a relatively high standard
of living and pursue what I really want to?
The music experience really helped me in figuring that out
because when you are on the road traveling as a musician,
what the audience sees is the glamour. You walk on stage
in a fabulous designer garment, you blow kisses, you sing,
everyone loves you and people throw flowers at you. What
happens behind the scenes to get you to that point is not
so pretty. Its a lot of hard work that goes into that.
All night sessions at recording studious, ugly, ugly negotiations
and a lot of loneliness as well. Life on the road, unless
you are consumed by music and its really your passion,
can be very lonely. Being in the middle of Angola or Mexico
may sound exotic and fun but if you do that often enough
and you are by yourself your friends, relatives are
in another time zone so you picking up the phone to make
a phone call is difficult and you just came out of an ugly
negotiation with a promoter it can be very difficult
and very lonely.
But if thats your love, if thats what drives
you, it makes the job bearable. Luckily for me, having come
back to Trinidad, Im now very much involved with a
company (Evolving TeKnologies and Enterprise Development,
known as EtecK) developing a new industry here which is
very much social work. Also, being here affords me the opportunity
to do what I enjoy most to assist in taking care
of some of our really less fortunate children.
I would like to leave two more points with you. One is the
importance of having someone to lean on. A true role model.
When I say that I mean not just a Wendy (Fitzwilliam) or
Brian (Lara) but also someone with whom you can relate to
on a daily or weekly basis. Someone who is important to
you and with whom you feel comfortable speaking freely.
In my case, there were two women while growing up whom I
really admired one a Trinidadian, the other an Austrian,
Audrey Hepburn, a very popular American actress and someone
I always aspired to be. The Trinidadian I call my local
Audrey Hepburn. She is a well known local model by the name
of Sharon Imbert. She is also a senior accountant with the
Ministry of Finance. Sharon taught me how to marry my passion
for law, my corporate world, my social world, entertainment
and the business of fashion or glamour. Often, when you
attempt to do something a little different, you are bombarded
with a lot of negativity and Im sure you guys have
faced this too. Before law school I decided to accept an
offer to sit for a very well known Trinidadian artist, Boscoe
Holder, as a model. My father went absolutely crazy and
it got worse when I was offered a couple of television commercials
and modeling gigs.
For my very first Meiling show, I thought he would have
a heart attack. We had many arguments over that. We got
to the point where I had to prove to him that I could balance
both. That I could complete school, pursue my career and
also successfully pursue that other part. Thats why
coming home after Miss Universe and finishing law school
was so very, very important.
But what Sharon taught me was that there is a great deal
of sacrifice involved in any activity. It is always a question
of making choices. If you are as greedy as I am and you
want two or three careers, your social life has to suffer
to some extent. Sharon was very instrumental in teaching
me how to balance both and to overcome challenges such as
daddy or a bad grade because of my failure to focus efficiently
on my academics as opposed to my fashion career etc.
The other point I want to make is that there is no revenge
on this planet sweeter than success. None. Use every really
negative comment thrown at you as a positive. If you stay
focused on dealing with negativity, its a waste of
energy. You know, a classmate at school might be a bit envious
of you if you win a regional competition and may want to
give you a hard time. Instead of engaging that person in
a fight, just do better. That person is insulting you or
criticizing you severely only because that person already
perceives you to be superior to them. You have to keep improving
and showing that you are superior by succeeding.
Fitzwilliam was crowned Miss Universe in 1998. She is now
President/General Manager, Business Development, at Evolving
TecKnologies and Enterpise Development Company Ltd.