AFTER years of staying on the straight and narrow, applying unwavering dedication and immense discipline, 17-year-old Christian Harper is just two months away from realising his greatest dream.
Even after securing a 75 per cent scholarship at St Francis College in New York in biology with a focus on pre-med studies there is still one last thing standing in his way and that is funding.
Harper’s mother Diana Harper is seeking the help of the nation to give her son the final positive push to help show other young people that hard work truly pays off. They have to raise about US$7,000 for the rest of his tuition for the year and about US$25,000 for living expenses. The original cost of the programme without living expenses is US$22,500. The college has no dorms so he would have to rent an apartment near the school in Brooklyn Heights, New York.
Christian, a student of St Mary’s College, Port of Spain, has done his part by securing seven distinctions at last year’s CSEC examinations, including math, add maths, chemistry, biology and physics. He is currently a first-year CAPE student but the staff at St Francis is so eager to have him join the student population that they offered him the scholarship to begin his studies this August.
After converting his passes to the American standard of education it was determined that he has maintained a 4.0 average, the highest a student can achieve. He was very thankful to the United States Embassy for hosting the college fair that would eventually lead to this opportunity.
After meeting with one of the recruiters from St Francis, Christian knew that this was the right school for him.
“St Francis College was one of the tables recruiting students and we talked to the head recruiting guy and we really just meshed well and he said to get in contact with him. He guided me through the application process and it took no more than two weeks.”
When he got the good news he was excited even though he is a little apprehensive now because funding the opportunity is a daunting task. He added that he immediately thought about his family and all the people who helped him reached to this big moment like his two role models Ian Riley and Ricky Garcia. These two family friends were fundamental in encouraging him to pursue his goals.
He grew up on Picton Road, Laventille, but never let the stigma attached to the area keep him back from constantly setting targets and achieving them.
“Growing up in Laventille I was fortunate enough to have a very strict mother. It wasn’t much outside play and liming on the block, no time for just idle hands. So I was always in a club or an activity,” he said.
His mother being an educator made sure that his school experience was a well-rounded one and from an early age Christian started playing football before moving on to swimming and even finding time to join Port of Spain’s Rotary Club. He somehow also finds time to be an altar server and is an active Sea Scout. In fact,
he is the assistant troop leader of the First Trinidad Sea Scouts at St Mary’s College.
“What kept me on my path was mainly focus. There were always distractions but I knew I had to prioritise. There were stigmas about my area, some of them were true some of them weren’t but I knew I did not want to become another negative statistic. I always put my studies first.”
He has always strived for excellence and another example of this was demonstrated last year through the Rotary Club when he won a scholarship to represent this country at an event known as the World Affairs Seminar at Carol University in Wisconsin.
His love of science runs in the family and is shared with his twin sisters, Cherrisse and Chenniece. Cherrisse graduated from the University of the West Indies with a double major in chemistry and management while Chenniece is currently pursuing her degree in engineering. Their achievements provided him inspiration even though he knew he would not follow the exact path.
He chose medicine because he admires doctors and believes that through this profession he can do a great amount of good work for people in need.
“I always looked up to doctors and I like the fact that doctor’s main job is to provide comfort and I really prioritise that.”
As a single mother it was not easy getting her son to this point. Diana believes not enough attention is given to the challenges that boys face growing up in today’s society.
“As a parent I redoubled my efforts in ensuring that I give my child the best chance possible and as a parent from Laventille you multiply that a 100 times.”
She said the stigma attached to Laventille is not an easy one to fight and that she believes the area is not what people think it is. She added that the area became a lot quieter over the last five years.
“I was always very aware of the challenges on the outside because I grew up in Laventille and I was very determined in my mind that he would not become a negative statistic. He was always very occupied. I ensured that there was structure, that there was routine and I knew where he was almost all the time.”
She said being a schoolteacher helped her to maintain a similar schedule with Christian which helped her to be involved with most aspects of his life. She said even when he attended Rosary Boys RC she made sure to stay vigilant of his progress.
“He didn’t get away with much, being a teacher’s child and I must admit I had to be mother and father sometimes so I was a strict parent. I did not accept and still don’t accept mediocrity from my children,” she said.
She admitted, however, that Christian was always a calm and focused person and so it was a little easier to keep him on track. What she concentrated on was keeping him busy so that he would not fall prey to any temptations around him.
A lot has been done to tame crime in the area, she added, and over the last five years the change has been remarkable. She does remember some challenging times, however.
“You had situations where you hearing the gunfire at night and other things. This is just a reality we had to live with but it was just a few miscreants who created a very disturbing situation for an otherwise very productive, focused group of persons going about their business trying to live and take care of their families.”
Her son is just one of the many trying to show that the people of Laventille are pushing back against the stigma attached to their area, she said.
“We are here, we are stepping up and we are doing positive things. We are saying that old Laventille and that perception is no more. They are pushing back. They are saying here we are doctors, lawyers and engineers. We have a lot of young people who are very ambitious and very focused.”
Now that Christian has reached this point Diana is filled with pride but also extremely anxious about if she could help him to realise his dream. Some of her anxiety also stems from the fact that her son is only 17-years-old and will be living on his own.
They both believe that this opportunity would not have been possible without a strong spiritual grounding and are advising other youth who would like to achieve their dreams to never give up and always have faith.
If you are interested in helping Christian achieve his goal, donations can be made through his First Citizens Bank (FCB) Account, Christian Julien Harper at account number #1902019 or through the contact numbers 687-1093 and 686-5914.