The Magens Bay Authority board on Friday stood wholeheartedly behind a young woman who has overcome heartbreak and adversity to continue her studies at the University of the Virgin Islands, with the dream of one day becoming a doctor.
The board voted unanimously to reinstate the scholarship of Calida Ambrose, who is entering her senior year at UVI after the death of her father in 2020 left her bereft and unable to focus on her studies.
The authority established the Edmund L. Penn Scholarship in 2014, named after a veteran of the board of directors who served for 52 years, 23 of which he spent as chairman.
Ambrose is the second student to receive the scholarship, which covers the cost of tuition, books and fees for four years. However, as she explained to the board at their meeting Friday, her studies were derailed after her second year when her father died just as the COVID-19 pandemic was taking hold and classes went virtual in the spring of 2020, leaving her feeling isolated and alone.
UVI’s Vice President of Institutional Advancement Mitchell Neaves spoke in support of Ambrose.
“She did a wonderful job her first academic year. At the beginning of her second year she had a death in the family, the passing of her father, and subsequent to that she disenrolled from the university and took some time off from UVI. She came back the subsequent year and did everything possible to get her GPA, get her classes, get her life in order, and is doing a wonderful job right now,” he said.
“We come before you seeking the opportunity for her to regain the scholarship this academic year, 2024, as she has met the qualifications,” he said.
Speaking to the board, Ambrose said her focus is on finishing her Bachelor of Science in biology, after which she plans to pursue a medical degree.
“The past year has been really challenging. In the spring of 2022 I finally came back to UVI after a year of academic withdrawal because of the passing of my father and the fallout from that,” said Ambrose. “It was really, really, really difficult. But I worked really, really hard with my counsellor to make up time, to fix my GPA, and to get my life back in order.”
Her efforts have included retaking classes that she failed, as well as a host of summer classes to boost her grade point average, which currently is 3.3, she said.
“When I dropped out of UVI, I was grieving and I wasn’t really thinking properly, and it was made worse because of the pandemic, because classes were virtual. So, I ended up failing my classes because I just got depressed, and I didn’t go to class, and I didn’t tell anyone I was struggling, so of course I failed,” said Ambrose.
“But I don’t consider it an actual failure because I didn’t try, I was just in a rough spot. But enough about that, because I think what I did to come back from that was really impressive,” she said.
“Over the past year I’ve just been working on bringing back my GPA by taking a lot of classes and just doing my best to pass all my classes and just get acclimated back to being the good student that I know I am. That I always will be,” said Ambrose.
She said the scholarship will allow her to save money towards her graduate degree and medical school. “We all know that’s not cheap, so I am just hoping to save as much money as I can by not having to worry about paying for my last year at UVI,” she said.
“I promise that if I do get this scholarship, I promise to do my best to excel academically. I always do anyways, but I promise I won’t waste you guys’ time and efforts. I know it seems kind of weird, my situation and everything, like, who does that?” she said. “I promise I will be a better student and show you why I received this scholarship in the first place.”
The presentation left board members and audience members alike fighting back tears, with Board Chair Barbara Petersen asking Ambrose about her last comment.
“Ms. Ambrose, when you said, ‘who does that,’ do you mean the fact that you dropped out of school?” Petersen asked.
“Um, yeah. To me it was kind of embarrassing. I didn’t mean to say that,” said Ambrose.
“It’s OK. Honesty and integrity. You are just sharing what is there for you. I can say ‘who does that’ is someone who just lost their parent and is going through a difficult time. You don’t have to apologize for that, OK?” said Petersen.
“I think it takes a lot for someone to be able deal with what you went through and come before the board and request what you are asking for,” said board member Jason Charles. “I wish you the best of luck in your studies. You have my support.”
Board member Dayle Barry, who was clearly overcome by Ambrose’s presentation, took a moment. “I’m just trying to compose myself,” he said. “As someone who recently went through a pretty difficult situation myself, I certainly understand what Ms. Ambrose went through. Her comeback has certainly been much faster and better than mine. She certainly has my support.”
“Thank you,” Ambrose said.
“I too will definitely support you receiving the scholarship as well,” said Petersen.
At the end of the meeting, Barry introduced a motion to reinstate Ambrose’s scholarship, which was seconded by member Avery Lewis and passed unanimously.
Members Katina Coulianos, Cecile de Jongh and Robert Moron all had excused absences.