Tue | Oct 27, 2020

Bright light in Bellas Gate - 17-y-o overcomes sister’s death to score CSEC success

Published:Wednesday | September 30, 2020 | 12:18 AMRuddy Mathison/Gleaner Writer
The 3ft-by-4ft stall that helped to fund Shanique McKenzie’s academic success.
The 3ft-by-4ft stall that helped to fund Shanique McKenzie’s academic success.
Shanique McKenzie shows off her awards at her humble home in Blue Hole, Bellas Gate.
Shanique McKenzie shows off her awards at her humble home in Blue Hole, Bellas Gate.
Shanique McKenzie has showered dad Echleston McKenzie and mother Marjory O’Conor for giving their all to send her to school.
Shanique McKenzie has showered dad Echleston McKenzie and mother Marjory O’Conor for giving their all to send her to school.
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The death of her older sister on February 29 could have derailed academic success for Shanique McKenzie as she prepared to sit the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examinations.

Her sister was her mentor and study partner who stayed up with her at night.

But Shanique overcame that emotional roller coaster to bag eight ones and a two.

“I was taking it very hard because she was everything to me ... . After she passed, I was devastated, but somehow I was encouraged by my mother, father and grandmother and I started to refocus,” said the 17-year-old St Catherine girl.

Shanique said she had made up her mind since she was in grade six at Bellas Gate Primary School that she would make educational excellence her hallmark.

The ‘wash belly’ or last of five children, Shanique grew up in the deep rural farming community of Blue Hole and transitioned to St Catherine High after passing the Grade Six Achievement Test.

Attaining perfect scores in mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology, English language, electrical engineering, information technology, Spanish, and a two in add maths, the humble girl from Bellas Gate said she wants to pull her parents out of poverty.

The teenager has credited the resolve of father Echleston McKenzie and mother Marjory O’Conor in doing odd jobs to carry her through school.

Echleston burns charcoal, dabbles in farming, and sells biscuits and drinks from a rough-hewn 3ftx4ft zinc stall. Marjory is a domestic helper who also cleans her daughter’s alma mater, Bellas Gate Primary.

“They make sure that I attended school every day. I really don’t know how they did it,” she told The Gleaner.

NOT DAUNTED BY JOURNEY

Shanique recounted her routine of waking up as early as 4 a.m. to travel to St Catherine High School in Spanish Town, a distance of about 35.3 kilometres (22 miles). When she comes home in the evenings, she does household chores before organising study time.

The daily two-and-a-half-hour commute, both ways, swallows a chunk of valuable time, especially after hopping into six buses or taxis all told. The daily spend for transportation is $500.

“I never allowed this to affect me since I am motivated by the thought of achieving at the highest level, and my Christian value of perseverance also helped in a huge way,” declared the young scholar, who will start sixth form shortly. She hopes to matriculate to university to study chemical engineering.

The St Catherine district’s rustic charm has produced prominent Jamaicans like playwright Trevor Rhone, who etched the community’s name into fame with the literary work Bellas Gate Boy. Shanique, no doubt, intends to reach those dizzy heights.

Her parents are convinced that her personal drive will bring her ultimate academic success.

“We are so happy for her. She made us proud so far and we have to see her through to the end. We know God will provide,” said O’Conor.