A combination of focus, family and discipline was the driving force behind Matthew Weatherhead’s determination to secure a Barbados Scholarship in this year’s Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Exam (CAPE).
He attained Grade 1 in Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Caribbean Studies, and the former head boy of Harrison College is now settling in at the Ivy League institution, Princeton University, where he will pursue undergraduate studies in psychology, after excelling in CAPE.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY before departing for the US this week, he admitted that even though he has always been a focused student, the journey was not easy.
“At the beginning of sixth form, I had heard that CAPE was going to be very hard and everybody that told me that, it was completely true, it is. It is very difficult. But I knew because it was difficult, I just had to buckle down and put my best foot forward, and because of that I was able to accomplish the goal of getting the Barbados Scholarship,” he said.
“I was very, very happy and excited and most of all I was relieved because I thought that one of my exams did not go as well as I wanted it to. So, it was a huge relief to hear that I achieved my goal,” he added.
Matthew has set his sights on a career in medicine, specialising in mental health. “I’ve always had an interest in mental health; in fact I had dealt with anxiety when I was in fourth and fifth forms so what I wanted to do was to give back to a field that helped me.
“I [did] some awareness programmes in Key Club. I did a project called Head On which dealt with mental health awareness. I really do think that there’s a stigma attached to mental health in the Caribbean and I wanted to at least try to change that stigma starting with the younger generation… And my next step is going to the field of psychiatry where I can actually help treat those people that have mental illnesses.”
Having experienced mental illness as a child, he wants to help other youth cope as well. “I want to specialise and do child and adolescent psychiatry because I was a child when I dealt with mental health issues. I think that if we can solve mental health issues at the youth level, we can avoid a lot of problems when people get older,” he told Barbados TODAY.
He also credits his parents for their support. “My parents have always had faith in me and faith that I could do well. So, luckily they didn’t put pressure on me and just told me to do my best. If I needed any help, they would find a way to support me. I’m very grateful for their help because instead of pressuring me, they knew exactly how to motivate me to do my best,” he said. “I’m just trying to get ready mentally and socially for the culture shock that I’m sure to get. And I’m just preparing myself to do my best,” he said.
Just as he did during high school and sixth form, it will not be all work and no play for Matthew at Princeton because “it would be weird for me not to be busy”. A love of sports, music and other activities has helped him achieve his academic goals.
He inherited his love of the flute and clarinet from Dad, veteran musician David Weatherhead; he has also served as the Principal Clarinettist at the Barbados National Youth Symphony Orchestra.
Last year, he attained the rank of Cadet Senior Under Officer in the Barbados Cadet Corps. Earlier this year, he was reappointed to the National Committee for Monitoring the Rights of the Child and was also appointed Camp leader at Camp Inspire. Last year, he was appointed assistant director of the Harrison College School Choir.
“I think it’s very important for our youth to be focused not only on academics because when you go into the wider world of work, it’s not only academic and paper stuff that you’ll have to do.
“I think having extracurricular [activities] really helps to boost your interpersonal skills, and communication skills, time management skills. There are so many skills you can learn from doing an extracurricular and balancing an extracurricular along with academics that I think will serve me and anybody that does that very well when we get older and go into the workforce.”
He also had some advice for other young people: “I would just say to stay focused because there are a lot of distractions, especially in this social media age that we are in right now. And to study what you’re passionate about because that will allow you to be more focused. It will keep you away from distractions because you actually like what you’re learning.
“And I would say to find a goal for yourself. So if your goal is to achieve a Barbados scholarship, write down that goal and paste it on your wall. And every time you look at that, you’ll find some internal motivation to study and to do your best.”
His mum Lori has travelled to the US to help him settle in during the first few weeks, and Matthew said he remains grateful for his parents’ continued support.
“I know I’m going to be very homesick. I know I’m going to miss my family, especially having a family that’s so involved in my life. But I’m hoping that the guidance that they have set for me within the last 18 years won’t leave me when I leave this country. So I hope that I will stay on the right path and, of course, I will keep in contact with them,” he said. (MCW)