This year’s top performer at the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Community College embraced the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic to help to achieve her goal.
Keonna Simon, 18, who is from Bequia but lives in Fair Hall, has been declared winner of the Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves Award for excellence in post-secondary education.
The Girls’ High School alumna, enrolled in the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Education (CAPE) programme and obtained Grade 1 in chemistry, biology, computer science, pure maths and communication studies during her first year.
In the second year, she obtained Grade 1s in chemistry, biology, computer science, pure math, Caribbean studies and integrated mathematics.
“I’d say that determination and hard work was majority [of] what helped me to be successful,” she told iWitness News.
“I wouldn’t say I have any natural gift. You just have to have a goal and work towards it. And I’d say just try to improve every time and don’t worry yourself over other people and their performances just focus on beating your past performance and not surpassing other people,” she said in encouragement to other students.
When she graduated from GHS as valedictorian, Simon had already secured a Grade 1 in maths, a subject she wrote in Form 4.
Then at the end of the two-year CSEC programme, she obtained Grades 1 in 11 subjects and a grade 2 in a 12th subject.
She told iWitness News that her academic success is largely because of her hard and focused work.
“I wouldn’t say I’m naturally gifted in some subject areas. I’d just say I’m very determined,” Simon said.
She told iWitness News that she did a lot of practice over the two years of her CAPE programme.
“So by the time that exams rolled around, I’d already done all the practice papers that were available for the subjects — like all the years. So, I just had to review them and study them. So, it’s just lots of consistent practice, that every time a topic is finished, I do the questions pertaining to that topic.”
Simon said she was “a bit surprised” about her performance in some subjects in which she “wasn’t expecting to do so great.
“But I did work quite hard. So I was happy that my hard work paid off.”
Simon completed both her high school and post-secondary education at a time when the nation was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said the pandemic affected her preparation both negatively and positively.
Since she was not in the physical classroom for some time during the pandemic, there was “somewhat less distraction, as I was basically at home every day.
“So I’d be more motivated to do work, I guess. And negatively in the sense that after a while, there’s less social interaction. So, it kind of got frustrating.”
Simon said that in her second year at Community College she was “experiencing burnout”, adding that there was less of a break between online sessions.
“… because in person, you’re able to walk from one class to the next, but online, you just switch from one link to the next, as in right into the other class.
“And it was kind of tiring, especially because I had back-to-back classes because it was like I was going, going, going. So, yeah, I definitely started to get drained.”
Simon said that in order to cope, she watched Netflix from time to time and “just tried to slow the pace”.
The scholar’s support network included her mother, Helen Stowe, and her friends, who “were definitely great. We’d all work together to help each other reach our goals.
“And my mother was also a great support system. Whenever I was frustrated she always gave me advice. That was quite helpful,” Simon said.
“I’d also say the teachers were a great support system. They always gave a lot of encouragement and I find that they really went the extra mile to make sure we understood and provide a lot of opportunities for us to revisit where we are weak.”
As regards extra-curricular activities, Simon used to play the steelpan during secondary school but stopped because it just became a little harder to do so during COVID-19 pandemic.
She was also a ranger and a Girl Guide and in her last year in Community College, was a young leader for the Number 1 Kingstown Girl Guide Company.
“So I would, basically, assist with the guiding activities,” Simon said.
Simon is into her first year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
As a first year student at MIT, Simon does not have a declared major as yet.
“But I plan to study computational biology, because I would like to become a bioinformatician.”
This entails studying people’s genomes.
“And specifically, I’d like to see how their genetic makeup affects how they respond to treatments and medication to better tailor medications and treatments for people facing serious illnesses,” Simon said.