US Navywoman gives back to Bog Walk
ACCESS to basic supplies is an everyday challenge for many Jamaican families. Having lived a similar story, Jamaican-born United States Navy Commander Janice Smith used a welcome home ceremony held in her honour at her alma mater, Bog Walk High, earlier this month to award scholarships to 12 students to assist them in the pursuit of their educational dreams.
“My average did not fall within the top 10 per cent of my class and I wasn’t a popular kid,” commander Smith told the over 1,800 students who had converged at the general assembly area for the ceremony.
“I faced many of the same challenges that hundreds of students here face today. I was from a single family home, often went without lunch money and bus fare, and sometimes even violence at home. But from very early, and with guidance from my grandmother, I knew that this institution and an education were my only hope for the future,” she continued.
The scholarships, valued at $50,000 each, were awarded to students up to the sixth form who had excelled but were also financially challenged. The awardees were Germaine Lindo, Shauna-Kay Walker, Dahael James, Jamaya Johnson, Michael Edwards, Hamoy Pinnock, Shelby Butler, Hanna-Lee Harris, Albert Robinson, Celene Fuller, Ginnel Williams, and Kimallia Simpson.
Walker, a visually impaired 12-year-old seventh grade student, heaped praises on Commander Smith, whose efforts she said would allow her to access a well-needed piece of technology to assist in her studies.
“I am very happy that I was selected for this award. It will assist me with purchasing a tablet to aid in my learning. Now teachers will be able to send assignments and notes to me via this technology, and I will be able to capture images of notes written on the board. Overall, it will also assist financially [because] it is oftentimes very difficult for my family,” the pre-teen told the Jamaica Observer.
James, another of the recipients, also expressed gratitude for his award, citing financial difficulties as a major handicap to his educational pursuits.
“I am frequently absent from school because my mother is terminally ill and much of the family’s resources have been used to care for her. This scholarship will go a far way to assist with paying for lunch and fare, as well as with purchasing school supplies,” he shared.
In spite of the difficulties they face, Smith, who is the first Jamaican and the second black woman to command a US warship — in this case the guided-missile destroyer USS Oscar Martin — urged the Bog Walk High students to hard work, be disciplined, and treat others with respect and dignity. Those traits, she said, contributed to her own success in the Navy.
She also made the case that non-traditional high schools, like Bog Walk High, do produce success, contrary to the age-old stereotype suggesting otherwise.
“I did not meet the academic requirements to attend a traditional high school,” said Smith addressing the students. “[But] I would never change my circumstances as it has made me who I am today. There are opportunities at non-traditional high schools too. Stop making excuses. Use them!” she appealed.
Two of Smith’s former teachers, now retired, also attended the early morning ceremony. Jennifer Manning-Edwards taught her mathematics, while Roma Francis taught her physical education.
“As her mathematics teacher in grade 10, I must say that she was humble, she was a hard worker and dedicated student. She was never a trouble maker and she was also pleasant and willing to learn, and when we see students with these attributes you know they have something to offer and I am so proud because my expectations have been fulfilled,” Manning-Edwards said.
For her part, Francis said she got a taste of Smith’s ability to influence and to lead when she was on the netball team. She described her as a top-class defender whom she lost in a tug of war with the track and field coach.
She was “a very humble, very respectful student who made it difficult not to love her”, said Francis.
Commander Smith spent four days in the island, departing on April 6.