Thirty-one year old Crystal Camejo became her family’s first college graduate last Saturday.
The student, born in Gonzales, East Port-Of-Spain, graduated top of her class at Munroe College, New York with a 4.0 grade point average and a BSc in Criminal Justice. Though her dreams of educational success have come to fruition, Camejo told Newsday earlier today that it wasn’t always easy for her.
A former student of Belmont Junior Secondary School and Excelsior Private Secondary School, Camejo said she was born into a system that is “designed” for children to fail. She said, “I was born and raised in Gonzales, but I spent a lot of time in Harpe Place, because that’s where a lot of my friends were. People would say that nothing good would come from ‘behind the bridge’ and that we would not live to see 25 years, and I’m 31. I always knew I was destined for something better.”
Camejo believes that a lot of young people have been “disenfranchised” and lack self-motivation. “There were times I had to walk over the dead bodies of my friends in the street on my way to school. That was enough motivation for me,” she said.
She explained that her exposure to Munroe College began when the college had a seminar at the Hyatt Regency, Trinidad in 2015. Camejo applied and was accepted by the college, while having no money. She said it wasn’t until she ventured into the political arena, that she was inspired to throw a boat ride to raise funds for her schooling. She said, “Anna Maria Mora, Prakash Ramadhar, Dr Bhoe Tewarie and Nicole Dyer-Griffith; they all supported me and bought tickets. I raised $300,000 [TT] from that boat ride and I paid for my first year [of college]. Then I got a scholarship.”
Camejo said at times she felt like giving up while in college. She said, “Sometimes I would say ‘I don’t need to go to class today’ but then the voices of my nieces and nephews would ring out louder than the alarm clock and I knew I had to get up and get things done.” She added that she desired to be a “positive influence” and to look good in the eyes of her nieces and nephews.”
Asked whether the government is doing enough to inspire or motivate the nation’s youth, Camejo said the country’s leaders need to have “the passion for the vision” and focus on “legacy building” as opposed to currency building. “Leaders are seen in high places. They need to let people know that there were failures before they got into office. In areas, like the one I come from, we only see leaders around election time,” she said.
Nicole Dyer-Griffith, one of the contenders for the upcoming leadership election for the Congress of the People, said she is “very proud” of Camejo. She said, “You know sometimes you get a bit downtrodden but news like this makes the journey worthwhile. This news makes me very happy.” She added that Crystal is a testament to her belief that you don’t have to be a product of your circumstances. “We are all born with inherent talent. I tell the young people that I work with all the time, that you should never be afraid to be great. Use what God gave you because that’s why He gave it to you,” Dyer-Griffith said.
Camejo, who is cousin to criminologist Renee Cummings, said her grounded faith in God and support from Church friends was the only support she had. She also said, “When you come from the bottom, there’s no way to go but up, at least for me. Once you have the will, motivation and drive, you can achieve your dreams. I call it the B factor; belief in yourself.” She added that she does not want to be one of those TT citizens who go to the U.S. and never return. “I need to come back and give back. I can’t go away and leave the country in shambles,” she said.
In her words of advice to TT youth, Camejo said, “Your aspiration has expiration. Just get up and get things done. We need to break this culture of excuses. Too many young people are committing ‘dream-icide’ which is the wilful killing of your dreams.” She added that she does not simply want to be a woman of success, but a “woman of significance.”