Andrea Brathwaite, a 39 year-old mother of six, started her journey toward a college degree from the University of the Virgin Islands 21 years ago, in 1996. Back then, she said, she was a teenaged mom whose parents valued education and were nevertheless prepared to pay for her education. But she wasn’t ready. Shortly after she started classes, she dropped out to raise her son.
Her first child led to a second, and a third, until eventually she was the mother of six. It wasn’t easy. In addition to the overwhelming work and expense associated with raising a large family while holding down a demanding full-time job as a para professional at Ricardo Richards Elementary School, Brathwaite faced a number of challenges that included the deaths of her father and half-sister; an accident in which she sustained numerous first and second degree burns; and a seemingly endless series of financial struggles. Throughout everything, however, she clung to her dream of one day earning a university degree.
Brathwaite returned to UVI several times over the ensuing years, but was always thwarted by a lack of time and money. Nevertheless, when she attended the graduation of a good friend and co-worker who had gone to UVI to pursue her dream of becoming a teacher, Brathwaite had an epiphany. During the ceremony, a nursing student was being honored for pushing through her studies and completing her degree even as she was being treated for cancer.
“I realized right then and there that if this woman could do it, I could too,” said Brathwaite. “I’m alive. I’m healthy. There’s no reason why I can’t do this.”
And so she did. With assistance and encouragement from a mighty support system that included her mother, sisters and significant other; her co-workers and friends; and eventually a growing network of professors and staff at UVI, she leaned into the completion of a Bachelor’s Degree in Information Systems and Technology. The journey has been a challenging one, just as Brathwaite suspected it would be, but her determination and persistence have earned her a consistent place on the Dean’s List since 2014, and very soon she will graduate on St. Croix with the Emerald Jubilee Class of 2017.
“I felt really excited today as I picked up my invitations,” said Brathwaite. “It’s been a struggle, but there have been so many professors that kept encouraging me. I was very fortunate to attend such an amazing and supportive institution.”