A journey well worth it for Zantaye Thomas

IT was a long journey. Literally. Zantaye Annaleise Thomas, 19, had to travel from May Pen, Clarendon, to Campion College in St Andrew for seven years.

She had to wake up as early as 3:00 am to leave for school every morning; sometimes catching up on sleep on the ride into the Corporate Area. And heading back after school, she wouldn’t return home until the sun had gone down.

But along the journey she picked up some wins — deputy head girl and nine Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate (CSEC) grade ones across mathematics, additional mathematics, English language, English literature, French, Spanish, geography, chemistry and information technology.

Thomas also placed fifth and ninth in the Caribbean for geography and French, respectively. Locally, she was first for geography and fourth for French.

Across the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) Unit 1, she also got straight ones for communication studies, geography, Spanish, and French. In Unit 2, she received grade ones for Caribbean studies, geography and Spanish, and a grade two in French.

“I was very grateful to God when I saw my results because, though the exam preparation journey was rough, I had received the results I was hoping and praying for. For my CSEC and Unit 1 results, I remember crying tears of joy while looking at the screen,” Thomas told the Jamaica Observer in an interview last Thursday.

“However, for my Unit 2 results, though they were excellent I was a bit disappointed with my French grade because the languages are my strongest subjects. Nevertheless, I was pleased overall. I was very nervous waiting on my CSEC and CAPE grades. I remember waiting five hours after results were released to check my Unit 1 results because I was anxious. Thankfully, they were great results.”

Thomas, who enjoys singing, the performing arts, volunteering and spending time with her friends, grew up in Old Harbour, St Catherine, and attended Marlie Mount Primary and Infant School where she was involved in the choir, was president of the 4-H Club in grade 4, and bacame captain of the quiz team and head girl.

“I was raised in a family that would always encourage me to credit God for my successes and to lean on Him during my challenging times,” she told the Sunday Observer.

She then moved to May Pen, Clarendon, with her mother, father and sister. She eventually transitioned to Campion College and continued on the same high-achieving trajectory. At Campion, in addition to being head girl, she was president of various clubs and co-coordinator for the PEP Prep Programme.

“I spent all seven years of high school traveling every day from May Pen to Campion College in Kingston, which worsened my family’s financial situation due to all the additional expenses of travelling. I am super grateful for the sacrifices my family has made, despite how financially challenging it was, and I am thankful for the help and support of relatives and family friends,” she said.

“I had to adapt to this situation by napping during my long journey to and from school to compensate for the lack of sleep, as well as completing my assignments in the car and during my break times. I absolutely would not have been able to overcome these challenges without God, my family’s support, and the support of others.”

Her family, she added, has always been delighted by her academic strides.

“It makes me emotional because I appreciate their sacrifices and want to make them proud. I definitely would not have been able to achieve all of this without their constant encouragement, prayers and helping hands.”

Like many students, Thomas told the Sunday Observer that it was very difficult during the pandemic to make adjustments in relation to school-based assessmenst (SBAs) and labs.

“For CSEC, though most of our labs were completed before the pandemic, we still had to find a way to complete the remaining ones given the restrictions and protocols regarding gathering at school. It was also a challenge sometimes communicating with group members for SBAs given the technological difficulties. Fortunately, my school was able to be proactive and made this transition period less difficult for us students,” she related.

Thomas is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in integrated marketing communications with a double minor in French and Spanish at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, where she also boards.

She said she plans “to work within the marketing and communication department of companies, as well as become a Jamaican sign language interpreter and a French or Spanish interpreter and translator”.

She also hopes to continue to do advocacy work and contribute to the deaf community through Sign Clubs of Jamaica, which she founded. There is also an ongoing fund-raiser in association with Jamaica Association for the Deaf to raise $100,000 to sponsor deaf students.

But right now, academically, it is all about striking a balance.

“My plans, now that I am in university, is to not only graduate with honours, but to also become involved on campus in order to achieve personal growth. As a first-year student I challenged myself to apply for positions that I am passionate about and to continue to successfully balance school and extra-curriculars.

“I am humbled to say that I am the integrated marketing communication representative on the CARIMAC Guild Subcommittee, the director of marketing and communication on the Faculty of Humanities and Education’s External Affairs Committee, and the deputy external affairs chairperson for the Tower of Olympus (The Elsa Leo Rhynie Hall).”

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