Yasmin Gordon, now 49 years old, took seven years to complete her Bachelor’s degree in Primary Education.
She got pregnant when she was 15, dropped out of school, slipped deeper into poverty, and ended up with five children – and zero subject – by the time she reached 30 years old.
“I did a lot of crying,” Gordon said. “But I later brushed myself off and told myself that nothing or no one can stop me from fulfilling my dream.”
Gordon fulfilled her childhood dream of becoming a qualified teacher when, on October 28, she graduated among a batch of much younger students at the Catholic College of Mandeville, in Manchester.
“I was looking forward to this moment ever since I dropped out of high school,” she told The Beacon. “It is a wonderful feeling; I can’t express how elated I am to have completed the degree I started seven years ago.”
A degree in Primary Education, Gordon noted, usually takes four years to complete. She cited financial challenges and part-time college enrollment as reasons for the delay in completing hers.
But those reasons belie the drama faced and the battles waged by a woman who – based on her story below – personifies determination perfectly.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Gordon, rolling back the years, explained that she is originally from Trelawny parish, where she grew up with her great-grandmother Estella Buckner.
She attended Clark’s Town Primary School, then Duncans All Age where she passed the now abolished Grade Nine Achievement Test. Gordon started to attend William Knibb High School, but dropped out a few months later when she became pregnant at age 15.
At age 19, she had her second child.
Gordon, who said she was despised by a number of relatives, relocated from Trelawny to Clarendon hoping to bounce back. Pregnancy followed her.
She had her third child less than two years after she set foot into Clarendon.
Shortly before she reached age 30, she got pregnant for a fourth time and for a fourth man – Allem Whittle, who is still her spouse. That fourth pregnancy produced a pair of twin girls – Tashauna and Sashauna Whittle.
Gordon amassed five CXC subjects incrementally while she raised her children and worked low-paying jobs in restaurant and bars.
She eventually found employment as an assistant teacher at the basic school her twin daughters attended in the Denbigh area of Clarendon.
The basic school principal at the time, Audrey Thompson, encouraged Gordon to pursue studies in early childhood education.
Gordon took the advice and enrolled at the HEART Institute where she acquired an early childhood education certificate.
“When the principal retired, she left me in charge of the basic school although I was not a trained teacher, but I had my Level One and Two certificate in early childhood education,” Gordon said.
She told The Beacon that she remained acting principal until the education ministry took over the basic school, which later became part of Pleasant Valley Primary and Infant School.
Gordon’s role was reduced to a caregiver – making her essentially a mother-figure for students during school hours. “I love children,” Gordon declared, noting that she still occupies the caregiver post.
The need for higher education beckoned. Gordon wanted to attend the Catholic College of Mandeville, but she faced a major matriculation hurdle. She did not have Mathematics.
Acting on the advice of a friend – Andrae Parchment, Gordon made an appeal to the college, which accepted her on condition that she would not be allowed to graduate until she was successful in CXC Maths.
Gordon, who later failed CXC Math repeatedly, said she passed it this year with a Grade One – the best grade possible.
She, this year, also secured a loan to complete her studies in order to be awarded the Bachelor’s degree in Primary Education.
“I went to college for about 7 years [in pursuit of that degree],” Gordon noted. “I got frustrated sometimes and told myself I couldn’t make it; I even stopped attending college for a year and three months because of financial difficulties.”
Gordon continued: “People always say one one cocoa full basket; it is true in my case. I did one course when I could; I did two courses when I could. Sometimes my friends said they wouldn’t leave their home to travel for one subject, but I said ‘this is what I can do and I am going to do it’.”
Gordon, now a qualified teacher, intends to apply for a job that fits her qualification.
She wants her accomplishment to be an inspiration especially to girls – including her twin daughters who will turn 20 on Sunday, November 11.
“Don’t go out of your way to get pregnant, but, if you get pregnant, it is not the end of the world,” Gordon advised. “You can take yourself up, brush yourself off, cry as much as you want, but tell yourself you are not giving up.”
By Horace Mills, Journalist