NY-based Guyanese woman completes high school; graduates as valedictorian
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Olisa Mercurius during her valedictorian speech
Olisa Mercurius during her valedictorian speech

DESPITE facing many challenges after leaving the country of her birth to live in the United States, Olisa Mercurius managed to excel academically and recently graduated as the valedictorian of her high school.

Mercurius, a former resident of Non Pariel, East Coast Demerara, migrated to New York in 2019. Upon her arrival, the now 20-year-old woman, was enrolled at a transitional high school – the Aspiration Diploma Plus High School – where she entered the ninth grade.

The young woman said this was a surprise to her, noting that she had many setbacks and challenges during her pursuit of a high school diploma.

Mercurius had migrated to the US during the early days of the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“It came as a surprise because I had a lot of downfalls when it came to taking my education in the pandemic. But then again, I sacrificed and pushed myself into still going to school,” she told the Guyana Chronicle.

In addition to that, she was unable to enroll in a school when she first migrated as it took her some time to adjust to dramatic change in climate.

Unlike the breezy coastland of Guyana, the US experiences four seasons throughout the year, namely, spring, summer, fall, and winter.

Mercurius arrived just at the beginning of winter, the coldest season of the year in that country.

“I moved around the wintertime …the place was very cold. I had to be indoors most of the time because I didn’t adapt to the environment quite yet. So, I had to get settled first and then being taught different stuff. I blended in eventually,” she said during the interview with this publication.

A proud Olisa displays her high school diploma

After a few weeks of becoming familiar with her new home and surroundings, she enrolled in school. However, the doors of schools across the US were forced shut due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

“I didn’t expect it [COVID-19] would become such a big deal …I heard of it but there wasn’t much cases, but then, by early 2020, in February, I was in school and when I got home, I received an email saying that they are shutting down all schools; they were shutting down everything because there was an outbreak of COVID,” she recalled.

Mercurius had to return to school during the pandemic to sit examinations. This was of course another challenge she faced.

Additionally, while in lockdown, the young woman said that she had lost her focus on her academics and had become distracted by what was happening around thew world.

“I was seeing my grades drop. I was in the 80s and 90s and I was dropping to the 70s but I still passed and I decided to try to figure out [how] I could get back to my 80s and 90s while working at home and it wasn’t easy,” she said.

However, with a determined spirit and support from her friends and family, Mercurius got her grades where they needed to be.

She has already enrolled at a tertiary institution, the Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York, where she is pursuing a degree in psychology.

The young woman also disclosed plans to further her education and read for her master’s degree in the US.

In leaving a few words of advice for students in Guyana and other parts of the world, Mercurius said being disciplined and remaining focus is the key to achieving one’s academic goals.

“I would say to be focused and not get distracted too easily, because once you get distracted easily you start to fall back,” she emphasised.

After completing her studies, the young woman intends to return to Guyana.

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