Chris Barnes graduating with his Bachelor of Science degree this year
24-year-old who failed 11 university courses now reading for his master's

When Chris Barnes went to pursue his Bachelor of Science degree in microbiology at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona in 2016, he was hell-bent on successfully completing his studies, without having to redo any courses.

This was because he was funded by the Students' Loan Bureau (SLB) and his parents, who he did not want to burden with additional expenses, especially since they were farmers who were not earning a high income.

Unfortunately, the 24-year-old failed a total of 11 courses during his transition from first year to second year in 2018, which impacted the rest of his university journey.

“I realised that microbiology was not for me, it sent me into a whole emotional spiral. I was denied a loan from SLB because I failed too much, so I had to write a letter of appeal. They eventually gave me the loan extension. In that same year, my family had a huge loss (aunt died) and my mother had to adopt her sister's son,” he said.

“I didn't want to be the one adding stress to my mother, so that also played a factor in me not telling my parents what was happening. I wanted them to think I was doing okay in town, but to be honest, nothing was okay,” said Barnes who grew up in St Elizabeth.

He said he then decided to do some “soul-searching” before switching his degree programme to biology with education.

“ I didn't want to be stuck in a situation where I will be uncomfortable if I am not doing what I am passionate about. I realised that education is where my passion is, so I switched. It was actually when I switched my degree I got my first A,” said Barnes.

It was at that point that Barnes's university experience started to improve. He also took on a few leadership responsibilities and got involved in extra-curricular activities which helped him to maintain his sanity.

“Because I was passionate about what I was studying, things became so much easier. It wasn't a struggle to study or even go to class, it felt like I was doing something that one day I could actually apply. That is what I am applying now. I was always involved, not just in leadership but also in the performing arts. I eventually started to get better. I realised that I had to take care of my mental health a lot more. I needed to be open to therapy and saying that something was wrong,” he told the Observer.

Switching the three-year degree programme resulted in Barnes staying an extra year at the university. He completed his programme in 2020, and was awarded his degree this year.

He graduated with honours, then worked part-time at the Ardenne High School for six months.

Now, Barnes is pursuing his master's in educational leadership and management at the university while working full time as a teacher at another educational institution.

Being able to make it this far in his academic journey, Barnes said he feels blessed.

“It's always said that what is for you will be for you and you will get it eventually. I went through a lot and just to reach this point where I am doing my master's while having a full time job and also being a resident advisor at AZ Preston Hall; it feels like what I use to dream of. I am living out what I thought was impossible. I thought I would've dropped out and been back in St Elizabeth,” he said.

“My parents, especially my mom, always pushed me to do better and you have to surround yourself with people who want the best for you and are willing to motivate you. I was lucky to have those individuals in my life especially on Preston Hall,” he added.

If he could change one thing about his university experience, Barnes said he would have switched his degree programme sooner.

“Probably I wouldn't have gone through therapy and depression because it would be easier pushing through obstacles when you're passionate about something. One of the major lessons I've learnt is to do what is right for you and not what society deems right for you,” he said.

BY BRITTNY HUTCHINSON Observer staff reporter hutchinsonb@jamaicaobserver.com

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