Aleena Brown from a single-parent household in Bog Walk, St. Catherine, has attained a massive scholarship to study at one of the most prestigious tertiary institutions in the United States – Princeton University.
The Ivy League institution, in its letter of acceptance, told the young scholar: “Your accomplishments inside and outside the classroom stood out in a highly competitive pool.”
It is awarding Aleena 96 percent (US$75,790) of the total cost of attendance.
“I was very shocked at first, but I am also very happy to know the [financial] burden is off my mother. I am very proud that I was able to accomplish that,” Aleena told The Beacon.
She initially will pursue Biological Sciences at Princeton, and eventually further her studies to become a pathologist – someone who studies the causes and effects of diseases.
Aleena’s journey to Princeton does not come as a shocker, considering her stellar academic performances over the years.
The 19-year-old graduated from Bethel Basic School and Ewarton Primary as valedictorian.
At Campion College, where she topped many of her classes, she was a prefect and was involved in various other extra-curricular activities.
Aleena earned 18 subjects (10 CSEC and eight CAPE) from the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC). She got the highest grade possible (Grade One) in 16 of those subjects.
Aleena also accomplished a major feat in 2019 when she, through a full scholarship, attended the Biological and Biomedical Science session at Yale University in the United States.
At that time, Yale, in naming Aleena among its Global Scholars for the session, noted that the Jamaican was selected from among thousands of applicants from more than 120 countries. “To say you were an exceptional applicant would be an understatement,” the university further told Aleena in a letter.
Aleena attributed her success mainly to hard work and her penchant for research.
“One of my most distinctive traits has always been my curiosity,” she said.
“I was the child who always had questions, always needed to know how things work, and always tried to solve mysteries… I have known I wanted to be a scientist for as long as I can remember – and I am not one to give up when I set my mind to something, so I put in the work.”
In addition to academics, Aleena is passionate about the performing arts as well as her community – Bog Walk.
In a letter introducing herself to Princeton University, she highlighted her community.
She wrote: “My counsellor has tried to get me to use ‘I’ instead of ‘we’ when speaking about myself. It is a constant challenge because I identify with my community. It has shaped my character.
“When my brother needed a heart transplant, the community heard our cry for help and pooled to cover the surgery and travel fees. When I had to reset my deformed legs as an infant, the community was once again my family’s backbone and saviour.
“When my mother was homeless with 3 kids, Food For The Poor helped us build a small wooden home beside the railroad [in Bog Walk] until she got back on her feet. The roof shook every time a train passed. When it rained, we’d put pots to collect water where it leaked – and, to this day, we collect food stamps. But we are grateful for the small blessings.
“Even though I was raised in a struggle, my mom’s strength and support as a single mother allowed me to gain perspective beyond my circumstances. I have never felt limited in what I dream to achieve…” Aleena further wrote.
She intends to give back to her community in the future – upholding a family tradition established mainly by her maternal grandmother – Lurline Davis, a philanthropist at heart.
Aleena, in fact, is already giving back.
She is founder of the Labour For Learning Book Drive, through which she collected and distributed textbooks to needy students. “Through this venture, I hope to bridge the gap between social classes, and help to provide equal educational opportunities for the less fortunate,” she reasoned.
She, along with her mother, also started the Act of Compassion Day Class amid the coronavirus pandemic. Elaborating on that project, Aleena said: “Many students in the community had yet to start online school and were falling behind in class, so my mother and I decided to open our home to the community as a learning centre… I hope to continue this mission of empowering children wherever my journey takes me…”
Aleena’s mother, Collette Davis, told The Beacon that she is proud of her daughter, adding that she has no regret ending court battles for child support.
She expressed gratitude to Aleena’s step-father who lives abroad, and to the community of Bog Walk that she said supported her during her financial struggle.
The mother is also hopeful that Aleena’s achievement will be an inspiration especially to mothers who take pride in raising their children regardless of their struggle.
“I would encourage single mothers to trust God and pray, and encourage your children. Sit and talk to them and let them see the struggle, and give them good encouragement that they can come out on top like Aleena,” the mother further said.
By Horace Mills, Journalist
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