The struggles made it unique, says NCU grad
Not wanting to disappoint her parents, Oneilia Bryan was on course for a career in the legal field when a question from a teacher jolted her to reality and made her switch paths.
“Do you see yourself doing this for the rest of your life?” Bryan said the teacher asked as she sat in a law class in lower sixth form, heading in the direction her parents had steered her.
“I really thought about it, and I said, ‘No’, but being a parent pleaser, I tried my best to pursue it,” she told The Gleaner.
At the end of the year, Bryan decided that she would not move on to upper sixth form. Yet, she was uncertain about what she would pursue.
She would find the answer while playing the role of a radio announcer at a church event. At the end of the service, she was approached by a visitor who commended her and enquired if she had training in media.
It didn’t take long for Bryan to do research and set off down a new path.
She headed to the Mandeville-based Northern Caribbean University (NCU) mainly because it was far from her Duhaney Park, St Andrew, home, but it soon became much more.
Bryan, the youngest of five siblings, said it was not easy adjusting to her new environment – learning to cook, clean and wash for herself.
“I think I surprised everyone. I was clingy with my parents, so everyone thought I’d be that student who came home every weekend, but I liked having my own space. I loved being away from home. I came home like every two months, touched them up with some love, and went back to Mandeville,” she said.
Boarding a short distance from the campus, she trekked to and from school daily.
In her first year, she could not afford to buy lunch at school, and so she would return home during the day and prepare food.
At the end of her first year, exams approached and her fees remained unpaid. Even though she was not cleared to sit the exams, Bryan was not stirred.
“My mother is a praying mother, and I decided that I would still study for my exams. My first exam was at 9:30, and at 8 o’clock, I was at the finance office. Persons who went before me were coming out, and they were crying,” she recounted.
While she waited to see the officer, a phone call her mother made to someone saw her being allowed to sit the exam.
In her second year, failing to see a way out of the outstanding fees, she decided to sit out a semester.
Bryan saw an employee of the NCU Media Group a few days later and begged him for a job. He called her in to do a series of auditions, all of which she failed.
“He still hired me,” she said. “He said he saw something different in me. I worked to pay off my first-year school fees. I went to work at 6 a.m. and left at 10 p.m. because I was being paid by the hour. It was about $90 or $100 per hour.”
Bryan said her parents had limited funds to contribute to her sustenance as her older sister was pursuing an undergraduate degree in nursing at the same time.
She would be allowed to continue the programme the next semester after paying a lump sum and with a constant stream of income secured from her part-time job.
“The moment I didn’t have class, I was working, or I had to work, go to class, and then [go] right back to work. I loved the job, and what I learned at work, I could apply in the classroom,” she said.
Bryan’s work ethic led to her becoming the burgundy jacket holder – a prestigious honour held by an outstanding student in the Department of Communication Studies. In this capacity, she served as an ambassador and planned activities for the overall enhancement of the department.
Contrax Creative Studios was birthed in her third year at NCU, when she recognised that students were in need of graphic-design services.
She seized the opportunity, applying knowledge she had grasped over the years, and began to offer flyers at an affordable cost.
“I realised that it helped me. I charged like $1,000 at first for a simple flyer, then I moved the price up to $1,500. That kinda paid the bus fare. Instead of walking home, I could grab a cab and buy likkle lunch,” she said.
She added photography to her offerings, and her focus now is on corporate clients, having worked with the Jamaica Pig Farmers’ Association and the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service.
Bryan now works full-time at Contrax, and she continues to sharpen her skills with online photography classes.
She was awarded a mass communication degree cum laude after making the dean’s honour roll for three consecutive semesters.
Bryan has hopes of entering the teaching profession in the future.
“The struggles made it unique,” she said, reflecting on her journey. “Without it, I would not have developed this strong and persistent character ... . It is the reason I’m surviving now.”