May 29, 2005 Onika Michelle Thomas is a 2005 graduate of Lincoln College in Pennsylvania, that institute of higher learning is very proud of this student. Onika was accepted at Lincoln as a presidential scholar with tuition, room and board covered by the university.
While there, Onika racked up an impressive list of academic achievement including the Humanities Honors (2004-2005), U.S. Academic Achievement Academy National Collegiate Award (2003), National Dean's List (2002-2004) National Collegiate Minority Leadership award (2003), Lincoln University President's Award (2002-2004), Lincoln University Academic Dean's List Award (2002-2004), Lincoln University Academic Excellence Award Department of Philosophy & Religion (2003-2005) and Congressional Black Caucus Scholarship Recipient (2001). She graduated with a 4.092 out of a possible 4.3 grade point average and was awarded a bachelor's of science degree in philosophy.
This exemplary student was given the building blocks of education in several St. Croix's schools. She began her learning at the St. Dunstan's and then attended the Christian Academy, Freewill Baptist, Ricardo Richards, John H. Woodson and St. Croix Central High.
She completed her course requirements at Central in three years. Her transcripts from CHS show final grades any parent and teacher would be proud of: fourteen 100s, four 99s, three 98s and one 97. She was an early admissions college student, captain of the school dance team, member of the school choir and 1996 territorial spelling bee champ.
Then, with high school graduation just day's away school administrators informed Onika that she would not be able to graduate that year. Somewhere between ninth and 11th grade course requirements for graduation changed from 21 to 24 credits. That remark set off a series of events that would affect the young scholar's life.
Onika said based on her grades she would have been valedictorian of the class of 2001. "I was the true valedictorian, I had the highest grade point average," Onika said. "My grades said it."
Onika said the student handbook and her counselors agreed that 21 credits was enough to graduate, but the Board of Education established different standards because some students' reading proficiency was not up to college standards.
However, Onika said Liston Davis, who was education commissioner at the time, did not support the BOE decision saying there were no money, no resources and no teachers to uphold the ruling and as a result, did not filter the information down to the principals. Additionally, St. Croix's other high school – the Educational Complex – required only 22 credits to graduate.
Onika said her parents spoke to Kent Moorehead, CHS principal, and insisted that she graduate. She said, although Moorehead agreed to let her walk with the class, he later reneged. "If I graduated with the class it would have created a shift in the valedictorian and salutatorian," Onika said. "The day before graduation I got a letter saying I could not graduate and five days later I got another letter that I could come and get my diploma." To make matters worse, according to Onika, when she went to get her diploma it didnt look official. She said her name looked like it was written in with a magic marker. "It didn't look official," she said.
Through it all, one thing bothered Onika the most. She believed that the adults who were charged with looking after her educational welfare instead looked the other way. "The adults just sat by and didn't say anything."
Onika had already been accepted to seven colleges. When she arrived at Lincoln, all she had as proof of graduation was a letter from the commissioner of education. "It was the best proof I had," Onika said. She applied herself to her college studies with the same vigor and concentration she did with all her previous academic pursuits.
She considered a music major, but then decided against it. "It didn't seem to be my best option," she said. Then she attended a seminar on philosophy and decided to make that her major. "I didnt realize how hard it was," Onika said. "In the end, I persevered."
Onika feels that she has experienced a lot of life in her 21 years. She has achieved major accomplishments and has make decisions to continue to do her best despite adversity. Onika says these life lessons have made a stronger person, with wisdom and determination beyond her years.
"I may write my memoirs one day, to pass on wisdom," Onika says. Looking back on her life, Onika offers this gem of wisdom "When a major crisis happens you have to throw it to the side and focus on what you need to do. To start something and not do well, that was unacceptable to me."
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