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'I was destined for greatness and I knew what my aim was'

J'can student excels in Canada after refused entry by Kingston university

BY RACQUEL PORTER
Observer staff reporter
porterr@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, August 03, 2018

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OAKVILLE, Canada — Three years after being turned away from a Kingston university because her grades were not good enough to pursue law, Anika McNaught graduated at the top of the Faculty of Applied Health & Community Studies at Sheridan College in Ontario, Canada this summer.

The 24-year-old who pursued a three-year advanced diploma in child and youth care, said topping the class was a goal she set as soon as she set foot on the campus in 2015.

“When I came here I said, 'I'm going to be the valedictorian'. I spoke it into existence. I said I wanted to graduate as the valedictorian with high honours,” she told the Jamaica Observer.

She fell just shy of the goal — being named valedictorian of the faculty, not the entire school, and graduating with honours, not high honours. Her cumulative GPA was 3.85 out of a possible 4.0.

McNaught's speech at the convocation ceremony back in June provided insight into the mindset of a girl who did not allow the antecedents of growing in Jamaica's poorest parish and being barred from pursuing her dream career to define her future.

“I want you to imagine a field of dandelion flowers. Picture how they burst out of the ground, heading towards the sky with all of the strength that they have. We are like those dandelion flowers; no matter the obstacles that we may face in life, we will hold the mantle high,” she told her fellow graduands.

At the end of her tenure at St Thomas High School in 2012, McNaught had bagged eight Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate (CSEC) and three Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) subjects. But the quality of the grades were not what she expected.

“Sixth form wasn't all that good because I didn't get any ones or twos in CAPE. I just barely passed. I scraped through with fours. I knew I had the potential to do it, but I was just not studying hard enough, you know? I was doing football. I was doing so much at school and I thought I was doing great, but when I got the results...and then I started to doubt myself with thoughts like, 'I am not going to get a job',” McNaught told the Observer.

The less than stellar exam performance was only the beginning of a string of disappointments for the young woman.

“It was another disappointment. I felt like somebody took something and stick me. I sat there thinking, because I have always dreamt about becoming a lawyer. I said, 'Ok, I'm not going to become a lawyer anymore'. I said to myself, 'Maybe I just must go back to school and resit CAPE because if I want to go into the working field I must have at least a one or a two'.

“I tried applying to HEART Trust/NTA and I didn't get through. It was like disappointment after disappointment,” McNaught said, adding that she encountered her first blow when she sat the Grade Six Achievement Test and was placed at her second choice of schools.

By this time, McNaught said her friends were earning money from their summer jobs while she was sitting at home taking care of her grandmother whom she described as the love of her life. Still, the knowledge was stinging, she confessed.

But things took a turn for the better when, a few weeks later, her elder sisters greeted her with news that she was going to Canada to further her education.

“Is like mi glad bag bus!” she exclaimed. “When my sisters came down and gave me the package they said, 'You're coming'. I was like, 'For real?' and she was like, 'Don't tell anyone',” she recounted, adding that it was her sisters' second attempt to get her enrolled in a Canadian school.

On Sunday afternoon when the Observer met with her on Sheridan's Oakville campus — as part of the annual EduCanada Guidance Counsellors and Media Tour hosted by the High Commission of Canada in Kingston, Jamaica under the auspices of Global Affairs Canada (GAC) and Canadian education partners — it was obvious that she had created an impact during her tenure at the college.

“At first, I was a bit shy because of my accent. I wasn't too sure if a lot of people would understand me. Back home I was very active in high school; I was a form captain, I was on the soccer team, and on the choir as well...

“Because of that I was in culture shock. I didn't have lots of friends, so what I did was joined clubs,” she said, adding that's how she met other international students with whom she could relate.

Admitting that it was a tough journey, McNaught said her classes at the Brampton campus would start at 8:00 am and she would have to get up early in the mornings and stay up late at nights to ensure that all her assignments were completed.

“I did a lot of reading. Sometimes I broke down and was stressed out but because I was destined for greatness and I know what my aim was, and I said I was not going to come here and go back to Jamaica the same way I came. If I come here I must return a different person. I have to make my family proud of me and I know the struggles because CDN$15,500 is something not easy to come by for tuition. If I failed one course it's going to cost me CDN$15,000 so I am not going to let that stop me from doing my best,” she said.

So she doubled down, using her previous disappointment as motivation to plough through fresh obstacles that came her way.

“I remembered I had an assignment and I got 50 per cent on the test. I sat there, and I cried. I was saying to myself, 'Oh my gosh, I let my family down. What are they going to think of me? What are they going to say? Oh, I wasted my money'. You know Jamaican parents, right?,” she said, hinting at the strict parenting styles for which Jamaicans are known.

“So, I texted my sister and I said I failed my first test and she said, 'It's not the end of the world. It's the first test and you can do better. What you can do is just study harder and work harder on the second one',”.

The response, McNaught said, was typical of the kind of support she got from her family, and it helped her cope with the failure. She made a commitment to herself that she would never score 50 per cent or less again, even when her peers were trying to fathom why she was so hard on herself and were not too concerned about failing given the fact that they could do resits.

In 2016, McNaught joined the peer mentoring programme and managed to talk some students out of quitting.

Seemingly humbled by her accomplishments, and grateful for the opportunity to have studied abroad, McNaught has already begun a career in the field of advanced child and youth care. Going forward, she said her goals include creating a platform for unemployed youth in her community of Amity Hall.

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