Husband, wife graduate UWI with identical master's degreesSunday, October 17, 2021
BY ROMARDO LYONS
In sickness, in health, and in higher education. It's the tale of two graduates – husband and wife.
Michelle Paul-Thompson, 44, and Richard Thompson, 46, have been married for 14 years and are both graduating from The University of the West Indies (UWI) with master's degrees in educational administration.
Both Michelle and Richard are principals at Fruitful Vale Primary and Infant School and Titchfield High School, respectively.
“I'm really excited to be graduating with my husband. I really wished it was normal times for both of us crossing the podium together with our children and family watching, but I'm really happy. We decided that we were going to study together and the timing was right,” Michelle, who completed her first degree at International University of the Caribbean (IUC) told the Jamaica Observer.
The couple are parents of two children – nine-year-old Chelsea and 19-year-old Kaleem.
Richard did his first degree at The UWI. He said he feels “honoured” to have Michelle by his side.
“We have always supported and encouraged each other in our respective careers as educators, so this feels quite appropriate. We made that decision to study together. We wanted to set an example for our son who started his first degree. I was appointed principal quite early in my career and at a young age and had to throw myself into the job with very little thought for my personal development,” he said.
Michelle's dining area became their classroom. And, while studying at home, she said she remained “mommy” and, therefore, was “in the kitchen and running the house”. In the first semester she had got a “low grade” and cried for two hours.
Further, they would be around their computers all day and parenting in-between. Richard recalled preparing Christmas dinner while writing a final paper for submission last year.
Michelle was alone at home the day when results were released. She recalled being so nervous that she called her husband so he could check his results first.
“It was a couple of days before my birthday and one of my classmates called me to check my results. I was a nervous wreck and Richard was not home, I called him to check his and when he told me he was successful, I then checked mine,” she said, laughing.
“I said a prayer immediately. That evening, we called a family meeting with our children and told them.”
Richard, on the other hand, told the Sunday Observer that he was more confident but admitted that waiting on the results weighed heavily on his nerves. Even so, when Michelle called and told him to check, he wasn't even a tad bit hesitant.
“I was confident because our grades were good throughout the programme. However, awaiting the final grades was nerve-racking to be honest, so I was a little nervous. When I saw the results, I was very pleased. I was a lot happier for her than myself because she took a greater risk with her final research paper and had to overcome that particular challenge. I played it safer.”
Interestingly, at first, no one else in the programme knew that they were a couple.
“Not even the lecturers,” said Michelle.
“But over time, our classmates found out because they would always see us walking together. We encouraged each other. Our writing styles were completely opposite, we never attempted the same questions, I was very organised and he worked in chaos. But, at the end of the day, we pushed each other really hard. We always remembered our why.”
Richard interjected: “We were keen not to attempt the same assignment task except in group work because we knew the scrutiny would come from lecturers. However, we were in the same groups and did our presentations together. I would break down the questions, we did research, she would create the PowerPoints, she would present, and I would explain. So, we worked well together. We had a system,” he said, noting that adjusting to virtual learning was difficult for him.
While home and work life both had a common denominator, which was school, the couple told the Sunday Observer that they vowed to leave work at work.
“At home we are not principals. We are just partners trying to raise a normal family the best way we can with all the attendant challenges of parenting. Nonetheless, we bounce ideas about the job and compare notes about how we can be more effective at work, even while trying to prevent work from interfering too much with our family time. We planned well and we made the necessary sacrifice to pay for our tuition. It was a good investment in ourselves,” Richard said.
But, according to Michelle, work stayed at work until the novel coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on the education system.
“Richard is secondary and I am primary. My day is completely different from his. It is hard on his part, but we compromised. However, COVID-19 changed all of that. I think COVID-19 was a blessing in disguise because we could be home with our children and not travelling into Kingston. But the work was more challenging. We had to be doing a lot of research papers, which was a tedious task.”
In addition, Michelle said her husband was the leader of the team.
“He would wake me up, and he made a timetable for studying in our first semester. We would pack lunch and snacks and hop over to Hope Gardens to study all day. He came up with mnemonics for us to remember theories and so on. We would go home to cook, eat, and back at the books,” she shared.
“I hated those study times,” she whispered, jokingly.
But Richard is adamant that, in some ways, his wife also took the lead, which helped them in the long run.
“When I was out taking care of business, she would do some of the research and save articles in a folder for me. I would then write my paper at nights. In return, I would proofread her papers and suggest alterations. So we complemented each other,” he told the Sunday Observer.
Both Michelle and Richard underscored the necessity for strong support systems, touting themselves, family, and friends.
“While they expected us to do well because of our background, they were delighted because they saw the effort that we had to put in to achieve. Having a good support system is important, even as adults. Our children understood and supported us with the technology and were our biggest cheerleaders. Our parents and siblings encouraged and prayed for us,” Richard said.
Michelle shared similar sentiments.
“They knew and understood the pain, the sacrifices, the tears that went into my journey. My daughter is one of my biggest cheerleaders… my son, too, but she's always sitting in my classes. She knows my classmates and lecturers. This is going to be a momentous occasion for all of us,” she said.
Naming her daughter who was born with spina bifida – a condition that affects infants' spine – as a major source of inspiration, Michelle said doctors had told her and her husband that their daughter would become a “human vegetable if she survived”.
“She is the most normal child I know. She inspires me to always be my best and no matter what, never give up. At the end of the day, when you know your children are depending on you, your friends and family are rooting for you, and a husband that has your back, you just have to push through. Word, sound, and power. While I'm happy, I'm humbled by this experience. I have learnt a lot and met some incredible people along the way with Richard by my side.”