TEARS seemed to have caught Kimone Beckford off guard last Thursday as she listened to her 17-year-old son's acceptance speech in awe.
Luckily, the proud mother's handkerchief was in her handbag, and when she darted from the podium to fetch it, the equally smitten audience at Jamalco's award ceremony for its Educational Assistance Programme empathised.
Giovanni Walker, a student of Glenmuir High School in May Pen, Clarendon, passed 10 Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations. Nine of his passes were distinctions, while the other was a credit.
The youngster was among 23 secondary and tertiary-level students awarded by the bauxite company located in Clarendon. His mother's grin was wider than his.
"I was very overwhelmed. I know that it was because of him why I was standing there and so I got a little nervous. I couldn't hold back the tears," she said.
Beckford's nervousness was brought on by the presence of dozens of other brilliant students and accomplished men, such as attorney-at-law Leo Lambert, manager of corporate services and government affairs at Jamalco; and Mark Nicely, recently elected president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association, who all listened attentively as her son spoke.
"I was very proud, a very proud mother standing there," she said, adding that she had done everything to ensure that Giovanni, the first of her three children, had enough to excel at school. Cleaning people's houses, she said, was just the start of her efforts.
"I do cleaning for a living. I don't have any other trade. I clean house on the weekends and if I get something, and I am not too tired during the week, I will do it," she said after taking the microphone from her son.
"But most of the times I didn't have any work so I had to hustle some mango, likkle ackee, and so forth. Sometimes is me even climb the tree and go pick them cause me can climb," she said with a laugh.
The audience laughed with her, and burst into louder laughter when she stressed that "nuh gyal" could not have distracted her son from his studies.
"He is a very bright child from primary school, even from baby school. He is always getting good grades and certificates," she boasted, listing a few of his certificates. "Is a good pickney, him polite and him go church every Sunday."
Giovanni said he would like to become an aviation engineer "because I'm very good with my hands and I have a passion for aviation". He said that he will start that journey by pursuing a degree in engineering at the University of Technology next year.
Among the other top awardees were Sheree Higgins, who passed 10 subjects with eight distinctions and two credits; Sashana Small, who passed nine subjects with five distinctions, three credits and a pass; and Shanelle Davidson, with seven credits and two passes.
Unlike Giovanni and many of the others, however, Relesha Tinoll, 19, had no guardians wishing her well during Thursday's awards ceremony.
Relesha lives with her grandparents in Lionel Town and has very little support from her biological parents.
The graduate of Vere Technical High School obtained seven CSEC passes with five distinctions, including chemistry and biology, and two grade two. She was a little upset during the ceremony but was bent on not letting her troubles greatly hinder her happiness.
"My grandmother runs a small cook shop, and it is she who sends me to school with the little money that she makes. Sometimes I didn't have lunch money or bus fare and I had to lean on my teachers to get through the day," she said, after accepting her award.
"I wanted my grandmother to be here but she had to sell in the shop so she couldn't come. And my grandfather has arthritis so he couldn't come either. But I got over it because I am used to it," she said.
Relesha also passed seven units at the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) level, and plans to pursue a career in Forensic Chemistry.
On Thursday, Lambert lauded the graduates and urged them to use their scholarship as a "visa in their passport to education".
"The global economy is in a crisis and the bauxite industry is a victim. However, instead of cutting back on education we have incrementally increased what we are spending," Lambert said.
"I want to congratulate the recipients and put the contribution that we have made as Jamalco stamping the visa in their passports."
According to Lambert, in the last five years Jamalco has invested over $50 million in the education of Jamaicans in and around the company's location.
This year's awards were valued at $3.5 million, he said.