Saturday, May 14, 2016

UVI 2016 Graduates Excel Despite Turbulent Circumstances

Patrice Harris gives the 2016 Commencement Address.
UVI Graduates Embrace the Future … 

The University of the Virgin Islands Class of 2016 took their first steps into the future at Commencement Ceremonies, which were held on May 12, in the Sports and Fitness Center on St. Thomas and May 13, on the Albert A. Sheen Campus on St. Croix. See commencement stories for some of UVI graduates below:

Crystal Peter celebrates after receiving her
diploma on the Sheen Campus
A Winding Road Leads to Crystal Clarity

(Crystal Peter, Albert A. Sheen Campus; Elementary Education)

Crystal Peter’s journey through college was long, circuitous and untraditional, but it produced a young woman who is ready – and undeniably able – to achieve any formidable goal she sets for herself. Not only does Peter already have her sights set on an eventual run for Congress, she also strives daily to make her world a greater place. Ultimately, her biggest goal is to be an aid within her community. “Everybody has a chance,” she said. “Each and every one of us has the opportunity to do great things.”

Her thoughts were not always as such. Peter graduated from the St. Croix Educational Complex in 2007, where she described herself as a “mediocre student.” She nevertheless did well during her first semester at UVI. However, her grades plummeted during her second semester due to her inability to focus, and the overwhelming demands of her job. She became discouraged. Unsure about whether or not the academic life was for her, she moved to Massachusetts where she became a certified medical assistant.

Armed with a more lucrative way to earn a living, Peter decided to give college another try. She moved to Georgia where she planned to work as a medical assistant while she finished her Bachelor’s Degree. This time she had a deeper appreciation for the value of a college education, and was determined to be more disciplined about her studies. “I made a vow to myself while I was in Georgia that I would get A’s and B’s, and I stuck to it.”

In Georgia, however, Peter’s problems turned practical. The only available jobs were at least an hour away from where she was living, and she didn’t have transportation. So she moved back to St. Croix where she immediately found a job as a medical assistant, and resumed her studies as an Elementary Education Major on the Albert A. Sheen Campus. She worked for Dr. Guy Garman, an ear, nose and throat specialist. Sadly, he died tragically in 2015 while attempting to set a diving record.

“I was devastated,” said Peter. “Dr. Garman was one of the most extraordinary people I have ever known. I worked forty hours a week in his office and loved every minute of it. He recognized my potential and was so supportive that he would tell me, ‘Crystal, I don’t want to see you working in this office three or four years from now.’ He was so determined for me to finish school by attending UVI full-time that he adjusted his schedule to accommodate mine.”

Determined to honor the extraordinary faith that was placed in her not only by Dr. Garman, but also by numerous family members, friends and classmates, Peter threw herself at the task of completing her bachelor of arts degree, while at the same time embracing a heightened level of community involvement. She is the current president of her sorority Zeta Phi Beta, she teaches children at church, and actively participates in numerous community outreach projects through both her sorority and the church.

Upon graduating, she will head to Guatemala where she will work for the Peace Corps as a youth in development specialist. She will teach children as she has been trained to do, and when the opportunity presents itself to become political, she will run for congress on a platform of mental health and education. Crystal Peter is the first of her mother’s children to get a college degree, and her family is very proud of her. “I actually think she’s a little more excited about it than I am,” exclaimed Peter. “But I’m excited too. My path was sort of all over the place, but I’m grateful for each and every one of the experiences that made me who I am today.” “I thank God for the journey I was placed on. I look forward to all future endeavors.”

Felicia Emmanuel sings at the Commencement Ceremony on the Sheen Campus
A Graduate Who Has Found Her Voice

(Felicia Emmanuel, Albert A. Sheen Campus; Communications)

When Felicia Emmanuel enrolled at the University of the Virgin Islands in 2011, her goal was to go school and then come home – period. She had always been quiet and shy, so the world of campus clubs and organizations held no appeal for her. But her self-imposed seclusion was no match for the spirit of community involvement that dominated the Albert A. Sheen Campus. Before long, Emmanuel found herself swept up in a torrent of activities which – to her surprise – included the UVI Voices of Inspiration Community Choir.

“I never thought that I would sing in public,” said Emmanuel. “But I was drawn to the idea of singing for UVI. It can be intimidating, but I know that when I’m representing my school and my community, I have to do my best.”

Realizing that community involvement had the potential to enrich her college experience, Emmanuel expanded her presence on campus through a variety of activities. She served as the public relations officer for the Student Government Association; became co-chair of the Community Service Society under the Golden Key International Honor Society; and worked for the UVI Voice as a reporter and copyeditor. Despite her busy schedule, she maintained high academic standards which led to several semesters on the Dean’s List, and to her appointment as a Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) Scholar.

Emmanuel was overjoyed to attend the TMCF Leadership Institute last November, which she described as a pivotal moment. “I was so excited to be there when Dr. Hall was honored. He’s so ambitious for us students, and for the University; it was incredible to see what great leadership is about, and to see that leadership be recognized outside of the territory.”

Sadly, Emmanuel’s father passed away shortly after she returned from Washington D.C., turning the aftermath of an amazing experience into a bittersweet moment. “I’d been praying that my dad would be able to attend my graduation,” she said. “He influenced my life in so many ways. He was a musician, a guitarist. I got my drive and meticulousness about music from him. We were able to perform together once on St. Thomas in 2014. I will never forget that.”

Emmanuel chose to major in communication because it seemed like the best way for her to use her talents in writing, drawing and music. She is currently working part-time as a producer’s assistant for WTJX, which she enjoys. She will start to look for a full-time job in her field after she graduates. She is grateful to have been surrounded by many supportive people throughout her college experience, and is especially thankful to God who she feels is responsible for redirecting her life and giving her a second chance.

Daricia Wilkinson
Embracing the Human Side of Technology, and Herself

(Daricia Wilkinson, St. Thomas Campus; Information Systems and Technology)

In many ways, Daricia Wilkinson’s journey through the University of the Virgin Islands reads like the quintessential collegiate success story. She arrived from Nevis knowing precisely what she wanted to study – Information Systems and Technology – and she not only achieved but surpassed the majority of her academic goals. What she did not anticipate was the degree to which those aspects of her education that she expected to be purely peripheral would end up shaping her future.

“Most of my electives were from the computer science department, and also in the school of business,” said Wilkinson, who described her compulsion to branch out from technology as one of her greatest challenges, but also as a source of inspiration. “When I started to merge my new interests in the way people think with my original interests in information systems, I discovered that I could solve human problems and technical problems at the same time. That’s when I realized that I wanted to become an entrepreneur.”

Wilkinson’s interest in exploring how people use technology, and how technology can be used help people to make better decisions prompted her to become an Innovation Fellow. That led to two opportunities to visit to the spiritual homeland of human-centered technology and entrepreneurship – Silicon Valley. In 2014 she was invited to speak at the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Innovation Summit, which took place at Google Headquarters. There, she got the opportunity to participate in a hackathon that was hosted by Facebook. She returned to San Jose in 2016 to speak at the University Innovation Fellows Program Annual Meet-Up, which focused on training students to develop a broader awareness of innovation opportunities on their campuses through curriculum change and community outreach.

Wilkinson is especially proud of the work she has done through the University of the Virgin Islands Innovation Design and Entrepreneurship Association (UVIDEA) club. Together with her student colleagues and faculty advisors, she has contributed to the launch of annual hackathons, the opening of the Innovation Center, and the acquisition of a 3D printer on both UVI campuses. She is currently participating in a program that uses the 3D printer to build affordable prosthetic limbs for people in the community. She is also developing a mobile phone app that will use analytics to reduce alcohol intake and curb drunk driving.

After graduation, Wilkinson will attend graduate school at Clemson University in South Carolina where she will start a fully funded Ph.D. program in Human Centered Computing. She is excited about the many research opportunities that await her, and is looking forward to using parallel careers in academics and entrepreneurship to impact people’s lives by making technology more accessible.

Other Interesting Graduate Stories, St. Croix

Lisa Lucien
Lisa Lucien was a freshman at the University of Tampa when she discovered that she was pregnant. “It was definitely a surprise,” she said. But instead of relinquishing her goal of obtaining a college degree, she transferred to UVI, moved back to St. Croix and got not one, but two jobs. With support from her mother and family, Lucien hardly missed a beat. At 23, she will graduate with the first class of Hospitality and Tourism majors that has gone through the full program at UVI.

“I am totally overwhelmed,” she said over the phone while driving to campus from her full-time job as a customs broker. “I was lucky that most of my classes were at night so I could work during the day and on weekends. But it was still really hard. There were a lot of tears and many sleepless nights.”

Lucien said that her daughter was her main source of motivation. “Every day when I would come home from work or school she would ask me: ‘Did you go to school today, Mommy? Did you go to work?’ I would always say yes, and then she would say: ‘I’m proud of you Mommy.’ That’s what kept me going. I want to give my daughter a great start in life.”

Another challenge for Lucien was deciding on a major, but after she discovered her passion in Hospitality and Tourism, she never looked back. “I love to plan events, work with people, and move around while I’m working,” she said.

Lucien served as the president of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, vice president of the UVI class of 2016, and the treasurer of the Hospitality and Tourism Club. Soon she will begin to look for a job in her field, but in the meantime she is looking forward to catching her breath while she savors her accomplishment and spends a bit more time with her daughter.

When Denis Lynch started his college education at UVI’s Albert A. Sheen Campus in 2006, he did not think that he would be a member of the Class of 2016. But the scenic route suited him; at age 27 he will soon graduate with an Associates in Arts Degree in Process Technology, a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Administration, and plans to attend graduate school.

Lynch graduated from St. Joseph Catholic High School on St. Croix at the age of 16. His original plan had been to study engineering, but he soon realized that opportunities for engineers on St. Croix were scarce, and he knew that he did not want to leave home. Not sure where his education was headed, he scaled back on his coursework and went to work for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA.) The financial independence was attractive. So in 2010 he took an even more lucrative job with Hovensa. Despite his enjoyment of a comfortable lifestyle, his mother – a graduate student herself – urged him to return to school. So when Hovensa closed in 2012, he made the difficult decision to turn down other job offers and resume his studies full-time.

“It feels good to no longer have my mom’s resounding voice in my head, telling me that I should finish my degree,” said Lynch, whose 10-year journey awakened in him an appreciation for the intellectual stimulation that chasing money had not provided. “I have a good job now at the VI Water and Power Authority’s propane plant, but I’m planning to get my Master’s Degree in Business. My dad and I are big horse racing enthusiasts; I’m thinking about trying to develop that into a profitable business.”

Lynch ultimately hopes to follow in his mother’s footsteps with a Ph.D. as well, and to find ways of giving back to his community by working with children. “I didn’t always realize how lucky I was to have two parents who really care about me,” he said. “Not everybody has that, and kids are the future.”

Other Interesting Graduate Stories on St. Thomas

Patrice Harris
Patrice Harris will be the student speaker at this year’s commencement ceremony on the St. Thomas Campus, but she is not nervous. As a communications major whose dream job is to be a television news anchor, public speaking comes almost as naturally to her as walking, and she does it with the confidence of an elite athlete who knows she’s at the top of her game.

Originally from St. Kitts, Harris was one of the first students from St. Kitts and Nevis to receive a scholarship from UVI. She was excited to explore the world beyond the island of her birth, but the transition proved difficult. Intense homesickness brought on a bout of digestive complications that landed her in the hospital and took her out of commission for more than a month. Determined not to fall behind, she completed that semester with a 3.7 grade point average and went on to attend the Thurgood Marshall Leadership Institute. That, too, was difficult; Harris grappled with being a small fish in a big pond for the first time in her life. But instead of feeling defeated, she threw herself into the work at hand and was subsequently chosen to be a student ambassador.

UVI made it possible for Harris to attend the Washington Center during the summer where she had an internship as a congressional news correspondent. There she was in her element, especially while covering the opening of the Cuban Embassy in Washington D.C. But at the height of what she described as her “grand moment” she received word that her father had had a stroke. “I really loved my dad,” she said. “I wanted to go home, but he encouraged me to continue. I finished the program and got an A in the class.”

Toward the end of her final semester at UVI, while still in the throes of coursework and making tough decisions about her future, Harris received the call she had long dreaded: Her father had passed away. “So this has become a very bittersweet moment for me, and I’m not always sure how to handle it,” she said. “I still have all this work to do. It’s very difficult.”

Nevertheless, Harris continues to look forward to speaking at this year’s commencement, and feels proud of being named the 2016 Best Student Employee of the Year for her work at UVI’s Radio Station, and Best Communications Student. She was offered a job at the Hershey Corporation in Sales and Marketing, but has instead decided to pursue a career in communications and journalism. She is currently working with TMCF representatives toward securing an internship in her chosen field.

Yohance Henley poses with President David Hall.
Yohance Henley wanted to be a baseball player, so when his mother suggested to him, over and over and over, that he attend college instead, he felt irritated. He became rebellious. He had already gone to school for 12 years, he said, and since he had not received a baseball scholarship, he was done. But his mother gave him an ultimatum: if he didn’t continue his education at UVI, he would no longer be welcome to live in her house. The summer after he graduated from Ivanna Eudora Kean High School, Henley’s mother enrolled him in UVI’s Summer Bridge Program, which focuses on a student’s transition from high school to college during a five-week residential and academic program. She explained that it was simply unacceptable for him to do nothing with his life.

‘I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “She was trying to send me to school in the middle of the summer. But I went just to get her off my case, and that program changed my life. The faculty was so supportive. By the end of the summer, I was excited to start my first semester as a freshman at UVI.”

Yohance Henley and his 
mom, Kathleen Pascal
Henley became a resident hall assistant in one of the challenging areas on campus, which unearthed his gift for leadership. He has since gone on to become the 2016 Student Government Association president, a trained folktale storyteller, Virgin Islands Legislature Youth Advisory Council vice chairman, an esteemed role model and mentor for legions of his fellow students, a part of Brothers with a Cause, and one of the primary voices of the student body.

Henley is excited to remain in the Virgin Islands after he graduates, where he plans to get a job and coach baseball while he explores a few different career avenues. His interests currently include politics, education and motivational writing/speaking.