‘Just keep focused and know what your goals are’

It’s most likely an understatement to describe Kimari Barrett’s efforts as inspiring and motivating.

Both she and her husband Davin are pursuing degrees at the International College – actually, Kimari recently completed her final exams in business administration and awaits graduation. Davin is working on dual degrees in business and finance. They are the parents of three sons, ages five, six and nine-and-a-half months, and they both hold full-time jobs.

So far, their circumstances sound similar to those of so many other evening-time students at the International College of the Cayman Islands.

However, their story has an unexpected challenge – one which, fortunately, they have surmounted after some very difficult times.

Three years ago – in fact, it was on Kimari’s birthday on 23 September – she was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma during her second year in college.

“My doctor encouraged me to take a break from school, but I decided to push on through,” said Kimari, who underwent chemotherapy for six months while still attending classes and working full-time at CIMA, where she is a Human Resources assistant. (“They were very supportive the whole time,” she noted of CIMA.)

“At first,” Kimari said, “I was depressed, of course. I was a young girl, we had just gotten married a year before…but I chose to go to school. It was an avenue to not focus on my illness. It was my drive to learn more and to learn more about a healthy lifestyle.”

Meanwhile, Davin started his studies in January 2010 and worked two jobs to help meet their medical bills.

They have both been dedicated students, parents and employees.

“I plunged myself into my accounting work – it made me a better student,” said Kimari, “and I’m very particular about my GPA.” Indeed, she will graduate with honours.

It also gave her the opportunity to help others who found themselves in a similar situation, she said.

Another positive note: Their third son was born in December 2010, and instead of taking time off, Kimari went right back to school in January. She had also attended during her entire pregnancy. So now add a newborn into the mix, and the challenges become even greater.

“It’s a struggle, but you just have to keep focused and know what your goals are,” said Davin, who acknowledges that neither he nor Kimari gets much sleep. “Some evenings I’d hold the baby so she could do her homework, and then she’d hold the baby so I could do mine.”

Both parents say they want to set a good example for their children, and they encourage other older students to pursue a degree, even if means attending classes three or four nights a week until 10pm and not seeing your family for many hours out of the day.

Despite her medical issues and long hours, “The whole experience has made me into a stronger person,” says Kimari.

Now that Kimari is well, there is one less challenge but still a very full schedule. Davin leaves the house at 8am to drive to his job in the East End, rushes back at 5.30pm to their home near the college, and starts class at 5.45pm typically Monday through Thursday.

He relishes the challenge it seems. He always makes the dean’s list and he completed his associate’s degree within a year. Now he is pursuing his interest in investment.

“The advice I’d give to any person in a similar situation is not to quit school for whatever reason. If you feel it’s too much, cut back to two courses instead of taking three or four, then pick back up.

“Goals are what really keep you in school and keep you motivated.”