By Lara Pickford-Gordon
Earning a national scholarship takes a lot of determination. It would have been even more competitive with the number of scholarships awarded by the government reduced this year from 400 to 100. Catholic schools received a total of 29 scholarships. CLICK HERE for full listing by the Ministry of Education.
The Catholic News spoke to Chelsea Ragbir and Giordanne Lovell, both past students of St Joseph’s Convent, San Fernando about the path to scholarship success.
“Elated, thankful and, most of all, humbled” was how 19-year-old Chelsea Ragbir described getting a national scholarship. Although, she added, it has been something she dreamed of getting “one day” since she was in primary school.
“It seemed quite difficult to achieve especially coming closer to CAPE exam (Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination) given the subject combination that I chose and the recent reduction in the number of scholarships,” she said in an interview with the Catholic News, April 15. She studied Advanced Level Economics, Sociology and History at St Joseph’s Convent, San Fernando. Communication Studies and Caribbean Studies were compulsory subjects.
The final exams for Unit 2 were last July; Unit 1 exams were in 2019. She gained all 1s in Units 1 and 3, 1s in Unit 2 and grade 2 in History. Her study regime involved getting up 5 a.m. during the week and 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. on weekends to study a few hours. She said it was the “best time” for her to study and time when she “grasped things… and [can] really focus and concentrate”. She also got in some study late at night. Her preparation involved numerous past papers, writing many essays especially for History and Sociology.
“You have to ensure that you write in a way that is clear for the examiner to understand,” she said. Ragbir also had lessons; these sessions helped further clarify concepts, give other perspectives, provide new angles. Chelsea said for History she had to “dig deeper” reading extensively from various sources.
“Most times especially on Saturday mornings I would be at the NALIS (National Library Information System) library looking for information to write the essays…we use the school library; we use the online library”. This was to “wow the examiner.” She also had to remember the format to follow for essays, quoting from sources and recalling their names correctly. “It seemed like, how can I learn five sources per topic and I have to learn this for five topics, ten topics?” The students were exposed to History workshops at UWI where they got insight into what the examiners expected. Though helpful, this added to her anxiety.
She told of her challenges with time management and self-doubt. There were the comments about the difficulties of getting a good grade in History and Sociology and while they may have been intended to convey reality, they caused self-doubt. “For months I questioned the combination and whether I wanted to take up this challenge,” Ragbir said. She considered stopping when it felt too difficult, but her Catholic faith kept her “anchored” during the overwhelming times.
“Prayer life strengthened me”
“Prayer helped me bridge that gap between anxiety and peace, especially around exam time and making choices about subjects that was one of the times I probably prayed the most because it would ultimately determine where you are in the future”.
Prayer reminded Ragbir she was not alone. She said she cultivated a deeper devotion to particular saints during her studies. She named St Thomas Aquinas, St John Paul II and St Joseph of Cupertino. She commented that St Joseph was not the “smartest person but when he had to appear for exams he used to pray, ‘God whatever I learnt bring that on the paper’…He was like my close friend”.
Ragbir said, “The saints were always there to offer my prayer to the Father. It was a beautiful experience. In the trials, God was there…and that was when my purpose was basically refreshed because I said ‘God, you created me, you have me here for a purpose. You brought me here not to leave me. Help me’.”
Ragbir thanked God for her success, then family and friends who gave motivation. Her family ensured she had everything she needed while preparing. She thanked her teachers for their devotion to duty and being available before and after school hours.
Asked if she is naturally gifted academically or a hard worker, Ragbir replied: “I would believe it is a bit of both but for me hard work was extremely crucial.” It was difficult striking a balance between studies and relaxation. Most of her time was consumed with reading, doing past papers and preparing course work. However, she said she “had to find the time to unwind”. Ragbir laughed after saying, “If you just studying, studying you will reach a point where you can’t take it anymore and you feel like you going crazy”. She took a little time to stroll, watch music videos, spend some time with family and friends. Mediation also helped to reduce the anxiety especially at exam time. Ragbir also did colouring.
CN asked for three tips to persons pursuing their academic goals; she gave four:
1. Work hard and be committed. “Procrastination is something you don’t ever want to do. Yes, it will happen but when it happens pick yourself up, brush yourself off and go follow your goal again.”
2. Strong support networks. “Good friends and even family and teachers will be a strong source of support. They will be there to advise and motivate you.”
3. Be not afraid. “It is okay to pursue areas of study that are not preferred by many people…don’t give up your dream….walk that road nobody else wants to”.
4. Compete against yourself. Comparing oneself with others only leads to frustration. “Each day try to be better than you were yesterday”.
Ragbir is pursuing a degree in Economics at The University of the West Indies, St Augustine. She hopes to one day be the kind of economist whose input can help improve quality of life, lower poverty and income inequality.