When Sh’ton Pickering, 17, learned she had received a full scholarship to Morgan State University, she said she was shocked, speechless, bewildered, but at the same time proud, as that meant she was going to be the first person in her immediate family to pursue post-secondary education.
Morgan State University through Junior Achievement Bahamas, offered the recent St. Augustine’s College (SAC) student full tuition, full room and board and a $500 per semester book stipend. But make no mistake, this was by no chance happenstance for the teen. She said a free university education has been her mission for the past six years. It was a goal she wanted and worked towards.
“I never wanted my parents (Gregory and Donita Pickering) to have to struggle to pay for university for me in any way,” Sh’ton told The Nassau Guardian. She had already informed her mother that if she did not receive the offer of a full scholarship, that she would enroll at the University of The Bahamas.
“I really did not want them to have to pay that money…and look at the situation now (with COVID-19),” said the daughter of a sales manager at Island Wholesale, and a self-employed mom who manages the family business, Jubilee’s Party Rental.
She said her parents have shown her a strong work ethic.
Pickering, who seems to have her head on strong, said she realized what she wanted her path to a free university education to look like since she was an honor’s student in seventh grade.
“In the seventh grade I was on the honor’s list, and placed second at that time. I joined the SAC soccer team,” a squad she said that would go undefeated through the season, then lost the championship. The soccer team experience, she said, also made her realize she did not want to have to play a sport in college or have to rely on an athletic scholarship for a degree.
“The running up and down and working out was not for me. So, I said…Sh’ton, you don’t play an instrument, you don’t dance too well, so the only way you will get it is academics, and not sports.”
Pickering graduated with a 3.94 cumulative grade point average (GPA).
As for where she gets her brains, she said, “I think I get it from Jesus Christ, because none of my parents were on the honor’s list. When my mom graduated, she was pregnant with my oldest brother (Gregory Jr.) so when I graduated, she was happy I wasn’t pregnant.”
With her parents’ pride in her accomplishments, Pickering said she is more than happy and proud to take her family name onto her shoulders as the first person in her immediate family to attend university.
She plans to matriculate towards a Bachelor’s degree in finance with aspirations of becoming a chartered financial analyst. Long term, she plans to further her education in Germany, to pursue a Master’s degree in international finance. To make that dream a reality, she’s currently learning German in her spare time as preparation.
“It’s somewhat of a major accomplishment for myself as well as for my family, for me to get this scholarship, because now I’m able to further my education, to create a name for our family and to establish a legacy for the Pickering family.”
At the same time, she admits that the task before her is daunting and a little scary. With her family rooting for her, she said she does not want to disappoint them.
What she is disappointed in, though, is that she won’t get to step onto the campus at the HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) in the first semester of her freshman year.
In response to growing concerns pertaining to increases in positive COVID-19 cases and testing challenges, Morgan State University shifted to remote instruction for the fall semester.
“I’m a little disappointed that I don’t get the freshman HBCU welcome, but somewhat relieved – my first time around I get to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas at home.”
As she makes the transition to university education, Pickering, whose classes begin on September 9, said being at home means her parents are available to wake her up on time for classes and ensure that she eats. She is taking 16 credits with classes Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Asked why she set up a schedule that didn’t allow her to eat between classes, Pickering said she didn’t set it up and the schedule was what she received.
What she will miss most not stepping onto campus this fall, will be the new friendships made on campus, the conversations and exposure to different cultures from the many nationalities.
She had a baby pink and gray decorating scheme for her dorm room that’s now on hold. “And I wanted to have a dream board for my dorm for everything that I wanted to accomplish, but there’s not enough space in my room to do it at home.”
The newly-minted high school graduate said she’s really looking forward to the day she sets foot on the university’s campus.
As for how her third semester of high school learning virtually prepared her for remote learning in college, she said it didn’t.
“SAC only had virtual learning for about two weeks. About a month after [Prime Minister Hubert] Minnis decided to shut school down, we were just speaking with teachers via WhatsApp. Virtual school only lasted for two weeks, that was a mess. It did not prepare me,” she said.
Despite that, she said she honestly feels she can learn remotely, as she is self-motivated and just needs a cup of coffee to get her going.
Her family also got her more reliable Wi-Fi, so she doesn’t have connectivity issues. She also got an adjustable laptop stand that she can take with her wherever she goes, and doesn’t have to be stationary to work on.
Pickering, who took Advanced Placement (AP) courses at SAC, scored a three on both her math and English exams.
As for her Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE) exams, she said she won’t be sitting them anymore as the exams will clash with her university classes.
“I am not sitting the BGCSE examinations, and it’s not that I don’t want to, I’m just not available. They are going to clash with my college schedule, so I don’t think I will be sitting those exams.”
Pickering had signed up to write the language, literature, mathematics, Spanish, religion, commerce, economics and accounting and bookkeeping BGCSEs. She said she sat the first paper of the language, a Spanish listening exam and mathematics paper one, before the exams were suspended on July 13 due to the increasing COVID-19 confirmed cases after Bahamian borders reopened on July 1.
When Bahamian borders reopened, The Bahamas’ confirmed COVID-19 cases stood at 104. A little over two months later, the number of confirmed cases has skyrocketed to 2,506 as of Saturday, September 5, with 1,590 confirmed cases on New Providence; 584 on Grand Bahama; double-digit figures on Abaco with 85, Bimini with 54, the Berry Islands with 15, Exuma with 23 and Inagua with 13.
Cat Island and Eleuthera had recorded eight each; Acklins, seven; Andros, three; Crooked Island, two; Long Island, eight; Mayaguana, two; and 104 locations were pending.
The Bahamas had 56 deaths; seven non-COVID-related deaths; 15 deaths under investigation; 964 recovered cases; 1,464 active cases; 83 hospitalized cases; and 12,640 tests completed.
Pickering’s advice to her peers who unfortunately won’t be going to college, in person or virtually at this time, is to not get comfortable and lazy.
“This is really the time to push yourself more and don’t be complacent. There are courses online they can take that are free even if they’re not in university, to be in a learning mindset in these months.”
And for high school students who are going into the new academic year virtually, she reminded them to be consistent.
She said she, too, fell victim to inconsistency at one point, when she dropped the ball academically in eighth grade, but turned things around in ninth grade and never looked back.
The graduate encourages incoming 12th graders to make the most of their final year.
“The end of my 12th grade year was ruined. But 12th grade is the year to make memories – and I have a lot of memories despite how it ended. Enjoy it!”
Besides excelling academically, while at SAC, Pickering was a member of the school’s CFAL Junior Investment program team, vice president of the UNESCO Club, vice president of finance for her JA program, a member of the SAC student council, and she helped with afternoon tutoring programs for seventh grade students.
Junior Achievement Bahamas has a partnership with Morgan State University in which the university grants five full scholarships to JA students that have at least a 3.50 GPA, scored at least 1,250 on their Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and at least a B grade in math and English BGCSEs. In the COVID-19 era, the university’s quota of international scholarships was reduced to five – two of the Martin D. Jenkins Scholarships were awarded to Bahamian students – Pickering and Kingsway Academy graduate Taylor Ellis.