‘Start unknown, finish unforgettable’
Former St Andrew High deputy head girl heads to Barry University as Stamps Scholar
Nineteen-year-old Ackeliah Hemmings is one of more than 270 exceptional students selected for the 18th class of the Stamps Scholars Program to study at one of the 36 partner colleges and universities in the United States and the United Kingdom.
When the new academic year begins in September, the Jamaican will be a freshman at Barry University in South Florida, where she will pursue the four-year Bachelor of Arts (BA) in International Relations and Affairs programme.
Hemmings revealed that, as her mother Natalie Thompson’s only daughter, Thompson was naturally protective and extremely hesitant when Hemmings revealed her desire to study abroad.
“I guess you can say I was a bit defiant, ... but I still decided to apply to Barry [University],” Hemmings said in a Gleaner interview, adding that the high tuition cost was the next hurdle to overcome.
“One day, I got an email saying that, based on my initial application, I am eligible to apply for the Stamps Scholars Program ... [and] I jumped at it. The application was literally due in four days and I finished it in the same night. I was dedicated to putting out some effort to see where it would lead me, because, what could I lose?” she explained, noting that she applied without her mother’s knowledge.
The scholarship programme was established in 2006 by Roe Stamps and his late wife, Penny, and currently has more than 3,160 international members. Scholars are chosen for their academic excellence, leadership experience, dedication to service, and exceptional character.
The scholarships for the incoming cohort of students are estimated to be worth up to US$47.5 million for the duration of the students’ four years of undergraduate studies, and include enrichment funds that scholars can use for academic and professional development, such as study abroad, internships, and independent research.
Hemmings, who is from Edgewater in Portmore, St Catherine, told The Gleaner that, because of her Christian faith, she believes in the miraculous things that happen once God is at the centre of one’s life.
She relies greatly on the scripture, 1 John 5:14, which reads: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”
A recent graduate of the St Andrew High School for Girls, she explained that the “particular verse brought me through my entire high-school life, especially in sixth form with [having] leadership positions, applying to schools, and stuff like that”.
While at St Andrew High, Hemmings served as deputy head girl for upper school for the 2022-2023 academic year. She had also been elected as form captain consecutively between grades eight and 11. She also served as the vice-president of the Kingston chapter of Angels of Love Jamaica, a national charity focused on the care and cure of paediatric cancer and critically ill children.
Hemmings said that she was overcome with anxiety during this time of her life, worried about what would be the next journey she was meant to undertake in order to achieve her goals.
But she remained motivated to honour her mother. She admitted that Thompson serves as her inspiration, particularly because she did not get the opportunity to attend university and was denied the chance to walk the stage at her high-school graduation ceremony because of heavy rainfall.
“She has made a great [number] of sacrifices to put me in a position today where I’d like to believe that I’ve turned out very well ... . My only aim is to make sure that she sees where her sacrifices would’ve helped me to amount to the person I am and will continue to become,” she said.
As she looks ahead, she is excited at the opportunities she will have to further develop and spend time with people from various backgrounds and cultures.
She also intends to step outside of her usual comfort zone and be more sociable.
Hemmings explained that she initially wanted to study law, following in the footsteps of her brother, Akheme Harris. However, Hemmings later changed her mind because of her intrepid personality, and particularly after reflecting on the fact that there did not need to be two lawyers in the family.
“I’m very interested in anything that has to do with global change ... and, therefore, I thought international relations would be a great fit,” she said, adding that she has always had an interest in diplomacy.
She has, however, not ruled out the possibility of one day becoming a lawyer – perhaps studying international law.
“Start unknown, finish unforgettable” is a quote that Hemmings uses to help guide her.
“So, no matter where you are right now, or if you’re in a situation where you think you’re not able to get to a certain point, you have to remind yourself that anything is possible when God is in the centre,” she advised youngsters.
Although Hemmings could not promise that it would be an easy road to success, she said that, once motivated and determined to succeed, “chances are you’re already halfway there.”
After winning first place in the Burger King Awesome Creative Expression essay competition in 2019, and navigating the difficulties and uncertainties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Hemmings felt inspired to write and self-publish her book, Sparks: Mentally Maturing.
The activity journal, she said, was intended to offer advice to teenage girls who faced similar challenges during the period as she did.
“My main aim throughout the entire journey of creating this book was simply to encourage them to remain hopeful,” she told The Gleaner, noting that the process took approximately eight months.
Those interested in purchasing a copy of Hemmings’ book can contact her via Instagram @ackeliah_arianna or through a WhatsApp message at (876) 301-8836.