Couple look forward to graduating together at UWI this weekend
Shane Lawson missed the opportunity to graduate with his wife, Vergie Lee, in 2019 as he had a course left to complete, but on Saturday, the two will walk across the stage at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, to accept their awards.
He deems the achievement a special one as they have both earned a postgraduate diploma in education, which has afforded him the opportunity to realise a lifelong dream.
“When we started this programme, I said, ‘We’re going to finish together’,” he recounted.
Shane majored in mathematics, while his wife focused on social studies and geography, but his journey to this point was far from smooth.
“At the age of 12, I couldn’t read. A teacher of mine identified that shortcoming and helped me to become literate, so I’ve always wanted to pass that baton on,” he recalled of his early days at Petersville All-Age School in Westmoreland.
He did not receive an education beyond grade nine, and at 18 years old, he moved to Kingston in search of better opportunities.
Shane got a gig at the electoral office as a handyman, and though not the ideal job, he gained a mentor, Alexis Gayle, who purchased mathematics and English textbooks and offered him free lessons after work.
Those lessons prepared him to sit Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) subjects, and then he travelled abroad a couple of times on the farm work programme.
He returned to Jamaica in 2005, secured a job at The UWI, sat additional CSEC subjects and then completed a one-year course in marketing at the UWI Open Campus.
While a records officer at The UWI, Mona, he pursued an undergraduate degree in economics due to his new-found love for mathematics.
The couple, who are in their 40s, have been married for 19 years and the last 17 have seen them studying together in order to attain different levels of qualifications.
Vergie Lee had already completed an undergraduate degree in accounting and operations management as well as a master’s degree in library and information studies in 2019, but when her husband decided that he wanted to become an educator, she promised him her full support.
She told The Gleaner that she believed in her husband and knew that he had more to offer than what an office environment required.
“I told him that teaching or counselling should be his forte. In order to do that, he needed a postgraduate diploma in education, and the best way I could encourage him was to come along and do the programme,” she said as her face beamed with pride.
The couple explained that they often tuned in to online classes during their commute from Kingston to St Catherine in the evenings.
In terms of content, the classes were very heavy, but Vergie Lee had a fix.
Her whiteboard at home clearly outlined their assignments, study time, and family time.
“Family took priority, and then after that, we balanced work, church, and school,” she said, adding that they share an 18-year-old son, Deandre, who left Jamaica in the latter part of their programme to study abroad but has always checked in on them.
“My group mates really performed. We met on time and all of us did our part,” Shane said.
For his wife, group work was also smooth sailing, and the couple expressed gratitude to their close friends, Alexis and Christine Gayle, who supported them on their academic journey.
“The Lord is good. God took care of it,” Vergie Lee said when The Gleaner asked how their studies were financed.
“I feel relieved that we have completed the programme, but having done it together, we are grateful and we are happy. God be praised in all of this. Prayer is our bedrock, and without it, we could not have come this far,” the elated wife told The Gleaner.
Shane summed up the journey as challenging, noting that it was difficult to balance his job and school.
“That’s probably why I decided to stop at the postgraduate diploma level because if I had done another year, I would be awarded a master’s degree. However, I plan to continue studying. I see myself doing a PhD in education,” the husband said.
Shane has been a mathematics educator at Holy Trinity High School since September and described his classroom experience as rewarding so far, but explained that behavioural issues affect how much he is able to impart to students during the scheduled time and some students are not performing at their grade levels.
“I am where I want to be. I did my teaching practice there, and I was touched when I realised that some of the students could not read well, and that reminded me of my younger self,” the educator said.
“It was possible for him, so he knows that it’s possible for them,” Vergie Lee chimed in.