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Full scholarship for top NCU theology student

Published:Sunday | August 17, 2014 | 8:00 AM
Kirkland Williams (right) accepts his Bachelor of Arts degree from NCU President Dr Trevor Gardner during the Second Commencement Exercise at the university's main campus in Mandeville. -Photo by Nigel Coke

Nigel Coke, Contributor

When American Airlines flight # 1545 left the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston last Tuesday, one happy Bible scholar was on-board.

Thirty-year-old Kirkland Williams, who had just graduated from Northern Caribbean University (NCU) two days before, was on his way to Connecticut in the United States to pursue yet another dream. His pursuit this time is a Master of Arts in Religion (with emphasis on biblical studies) at the prestigious Yale University.

Not that Williams had any ambition to become a pastor, but other ministers saw in him the true spirit of a shepherd of the flock and encouraged him to go to NCU. He then received his calling from God through a pledge he made to Him.

Williams is no ordinary student of theology. He was the top graduating student of the more that 900 who were listed for graduation with a grade-point average of 4.0.

This was no one-year achievement by Williams, who had over each of the past four years achieved the maximum merit for his Bachelor of Arts in Religion.

Two-year scholarship

To top it off, he was accepted by Yale and received a full two-year scholarship.

Born in Rae Town, Kingston, and raised in Rockfort, St Andrew, Williams comes from a family of nine children and grew up without the support of a father.

He started his educational journey at Calabar All-Age, then went on to Excelsior and Ardenne high schools before doing undergraduate studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI) where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics in 2006.

After an early stint in the banking sector as a teller, Williams was out of a job for seven months. During this time, he got involved in church work. It was during these activities that he was told by several pastors that he should pursue theology studies at NCU.

"During the time of unemployment I spoke with God and made a deal," said Williams. "I said to Him that if it is Your will, give me a job that is better paying than the one I had and I will save enough for my first year's tuition and go to NCU and study theology. That actually was my New Year's resolution in 2009. By February I got a call from JDF Credit Union and got a job as a risk and compliance officer. To my surprise it paid twice the amount of my last job. I had to say 'God, is this real'?"

After 18 months, Williams had saved enough for the first year's tuition and left his well-paid job in July 2010 to study theology at NCU. Life, however, after the first year at NCU, was not easy. He had to do 'canvassing' (sell Christian books) each summer of the school year locally and overseas to finance his education. He also worked as an assistant to the associate professor of Old Testament studies under the NCU work-study programme.

"I had financial struggles after my first year at NCU. I owed over $100,000 at one time in my third year (and) I almost didn't get to do my final exams. The dean of the School of Religion and Theology (SRT) had to write a letter of commitment to the finance department saying that I would cover the payment after I returned from New York from 'canvassing'."

Dr Newton Cleghorne, dean for the SRT at NCU, describes Williams as a very astute, diligent, creative, and resourceful person who goes beyond what he is asked to do inside and outside the classroom.

"That always makes him a cut above his peers," said Cleghorne. "He is a scholar and real academician who thinks outside the regular box and, therefore, becomes a challenge even to his lecturers.

"He also has the gift for research and is a natural leader. The SRT believes that as he matures, he will one day return and join the faculty at NCU."

Williams will not be alone on his journey at Yale, as he has followed in the footsteps of past NCU theology graduates, Randy Goldson and Kevin McKoy.

'philosophically altering'

"The journey at NCU was philosophically altering," said Williams. "In addition to my desire to become a pastor, I now have the passion to enter the field of biblical scholarship. I realised that I had a knack for biblical languages and a passion for Greek exegesis, which propelled my decision to do biblical studies at the master's level."

Danny Nicholas, who studied and worked with Williams for the past four years, believes that he (Williams) has a photographic memory.

"He can read information now and then recall it with accuracy, say an hour or so later, which might explain his GPA," said Nicholas. "He has good leadership qualities and knows how to motivate himself and others."

Nicholas, who also graduated last Sunday with a GPA of 3.96, had more accolades for Williams.

"He is very diligent and can be described as a perfectionist. He is highly ambitious and over-achieving. I don't know where he will end up, but I see him being successful at whatever he does."

Williams, who was baptised in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1996, served as youth leader in the church from 2007 to 2011. At NCU, he served as president of the Student Association of Literature Evangelist and president of Ministerial Association. He was also ordained as an elder at the Seventh-day Adventist Church at NCU.