Lasania Rodney faced harsh criticism and ridicule in her rural community of Lluidas Vale in St Catherine because she, by age 28, got pregnant three times.
But she mustered the courage to enroll at Moneague College and graduate last month with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration, specializing in Finance and Management.
She has dedicated the degree to her late foster mother, Nathlee Jones, whom she said offered her the “universe of opportunities” to make something good of herself.
Rodney was at a tender age when she first met Jones, then a teacher and Justice of the Peace.
She was left in Jones’ care by her biological mother, who stated that she was heading to Kingston to work.
The struggling mother did not return over a protracted period of time, and so Jones took custody of Rodney.
A stickler for good education, Jones sent Rodney to Juan de-Bolas Primary School, Charlemont High, and also lower sixth form at Enid Bennett High School.
She was overjoyed in 2010 when Rodney graduated Charlemont High with six CSEC subjects from the Caribbean Examination Council – including the highest grade possible in English A. Rodney subsequently attained two more subjects – Principles of Accounts and Mathematics.
She first got pregnant in 2014 at age 20 while Jones was making preparation to send her to university.
Jones was outraged. The pregnancy sent tongues wagging throughout Lluidas Vale district.
“That was a big disappointment right there; everybody was saying how worthless I was,” Rodney recalled, adding that she resorted to staying out of the public’s eyes.
Jones gave the young mother a second chance and had her enrolled at Moneague College in Linstead to pursue an associate degree.
“I started college and she (Jones) was super proud knowing I had the baby and I was also having a fresh start,” Rodney told The Beacon.
She completed the associate degree in Business Studies and got a job as a cashier at Courts in Linstead.
Her plan was to work and return to Moneague College to pursue higher studies – a bachelor’s degree. However, that plan was put on pause in 2018 when Rodney again got pregnant.
Jones was again devastated.
“I was again under fire from everybody and from every angle,” Rodney recalled.
She left her foster mother’s home to live elsewhere in Lluidas Vale in a premises rented by her children’s highly supportive father, Jason Peter, a young police officer. However, Rodney remained close to Jones and visited her frequently.
She eventually revived her dream of pursuing the bachelor’s degree at Moneague College. She started in September 2019.
Jones was happy again.
In the fourth and final year of college, Rodney got pregnant with her third child.
Jones was disappointed, but she found comfort in the fact that Rodney was on the verge of completing her degree programme.
“She (Jones) supported me right through [the pregnancy and the degree programme],” Rodney said.
She was also Rodney’s tower of strength during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic when Moneague College closed its doors and switched to online learning. Rodney stayed at Jones’ home to access the internet.
“I remember giving birth [to the third child in hospital] on a Tuesday morning and by the Tuesday evening I logged in and was in online class. I didn’t miss anything,” Rodney said.
When she informed Jones that she had completed the degree programme, Jones was ecstatic.
However, Jones died of COVID-19 before Rodney’s graduation date.
“We watched my valedictory service together,” Rodney told The Beacon. “Looking back, I feel proud because she (Jones) knew that I had completed my studies successfully – and that was what she wanted from me. All she wanted was for me to finish [the bachelor’s degree] and get a good job… To see that happen, she gave me the universe of chances. She also was very forgiving, and she forgave me many times!”
Rodney is also grateful to close friends and to foster relatives such as Elsa Jones and Wayne Jones.
She now encourages girls to delay pregnancy until they complete school and are in a meaningful job, noting that they may not be as fortunate as she was to have found a few strong supporters.
She also implored teen mothers to never use pregnancy as an excuse to not better themselves.
“The village lawyers will come at you, but you just have to shut them out. Don’t let having children stop you from achieving your goals,” added Rodney, now participating in a supervisory management course and planning to pursue a master’s degree.
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