Being offered a bursary to pursue post-secondary education was quite rewarding but even more satisfying was the fact that Cereise Ross graduated on time. At the beginning of Grade 10, she was diagnosed with a rheumatoid disease that has resulted in physical limitations and mental challenges.
Tears welled up in her eyes as she was introduced as winner of a bursary at the Alliance of Jamaican Alumni Associations (AJAA) Toronto chapter graduates awards ceremony at the Jamaican Canadian Association centre.
“I don’t think anyone could understand the joy and relief I felt to know that someone somewhere is recognizing me for my community service and academic achievement after all that I have gone through in the past few years,” said the 18-year-old Lawrence Park Collegiate Institute graduate who enters the University of Ottawa next semester to pursue International Economics and Development studies.
“Imagine being healthy one day and then learning the next day that you would not be able to function the same way you did yesterday. I had to accept that first before moving forward and being able to recognize that life would not be the same.”
Accepted by all four universities to which she applied, Ross plans to pursue Law at Osgoode Hall after earning her first degree.
Other high school graduates presented with bursaries were 19-year-old Stephen Leacock Collegiate Institute student Guillian Morgan who will pursue Chemical Engineering Studies at Ryerson University, 17-year-old Lekeeya Kinghorn of White Oak Secondary School who enters York University in September, York Memorial Collegiate’s Akilah Jenkins who is enrolled in Ryerson’s Business Administration program, Harbord Collegiate Institute’s Cecilia Thompson who is registered in York University’s Criminology program, Tiwana Anderson of J. Clarke Richardson Collegiate who will study Political Science at the University of Western Ontario and Oakwood Collegiate Institute graduate Deijaumar Clarke.
They were among 48 high school students of Jamaican descent recognized with certificates since the graduation program started in 1993. The bursary component was added five years later. In the last 23 years, the AJAA has presented approximately $184,000 in financial awards to nearly 100 graduates.
In her keynote address, Africentric Alternative School principal Thando Hyman-Aman reminded the students that high school graduation represents the start of a new journey filled with obstacles and uncertainty.
“While we stand together to celebrate your achievements, I caution you that your journey has just begun,” she said. “You will undergo or you may have already undergone many tests and challenges…To the young men especially, you need to stay the course because often times when choices are put in front of us, sometimes it’s easier to take the route less travelled or what you consider to be the easier path.
“Choices, not circumstances, will determine your success. One of the most important choices you will have to make or in some cases have already made is with respect to the quality and nature of education you will pursue. This decision is sure to direct the course your lives will follow. It not only determines where you live, how you live, what you will drive and where you will travel but, more importantly, it will influence and determine your career and purpose in life. This is a choice we all have to make.”
Hyman-Aman said that coming from a family of educators that includes aunts and cousins who are pre-school teachers and an uncle who was a university professor paved the way for her to successfully navigate the school system and become a school principal.
University of the West Indies anthropologist Dr. Barry Chevannes, Hyman-Aman’s maternal uncle, died in Jamaica last November.
“It’s those choices within my own family structure that has helped me,” she said. “I want you to ensure that the choices you make are ones of substance. There will be barriers put in front of you every step of the way but, in spite of those challenges, you must rise.”
By finishing high school, Hyman-Aman said the graduates have proven they can succeed.
“In the Toronto District School Board, a recently commissioned report cited that four out of 10 Black students will drop out of high school,” she said. “But you are the six out of 10 that are achieving that nobody in the media is reporting about or there has not been any commissioned study on your success.”
Two 18-year-olds were presented with the Victoria Mutual Building Society-sponsored Essay Writing Competition prizes.
Winner Lloyd Wright graduated from Bur Oak Secondary School and will pursue Film Studies at Brock University while runner-up Shardae Barclay, a graduate of St. Augustine Catholic High School, aspires to be a medical doctor. She enters the University of Toronto Mississauga campus in the fall to study Psychology.