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Shondelle Paynter (1976-2022): An inspiration to generations of students

Shondelle Paynter (Photograph from social media)

A Bermudian beloved for changing the lives of students under her care was mourned this week as someone who “celebrated life and liked to create special moments for others”.

Shondelle Paynter was a dorm administrator at St Johnsbury Academy in Vermont, where she graduated in 1994 and remained ever since, putting in 28 years of service at the school.

A member of staff told her memorial service that social media overflowed with tributes to Ms Paynter’s gift for changing lives.

He added: “Post after post said things like ‘she believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself’.”

Many Bermudians have attended SJA, a day and boarding school in the northeast of the state, where Ms Paynter, known to all as Shondie, was head proctor at Sheepcote Dorm.

In a statement online, the academy said staff and students were heartbroken at the loss of a “beautiful, bright” member of their ranks.

“She made Sheepcote a home and a haven for multiple generations of SJA resident students and her love and compassion for her student family impacted many very deeply.”

Ms Paynter attended the Bermuda Institute before going to SJA, followed by nearby Lyndon State College, now part of Northern Vermont University.

Even while attending college, she remained a continual presence at the academy.

Former principal Tom Levitt recalled: “She was the first student I knew, maybe the first in school history, who never left the campus once she arrived.”

Kites decorated the podium at the service in tribute to Ms Paynter’s love of kite-flying.

Mr Levitt said: “That’s what Shondie did for young people – she expended her energy to launch them into life and took great joy in watching them dance and fly.”

Ms Paynter was a mentor as well as proctor, finding unique ways to enliven the school – from singing students’ names at wake-up to turning the exercise of dormitory cleaning into a scavenger hunt.

Sharon Howell, the principal, told the ceremony that Ms Paynter had left a legacy of kindness and care.

Ms Howell said the gathering celebrated an “extraordinary woman” who “gave as much of herself, her life and her love to us as she could”.

“Most of all, this woman made us laugh and laugh, and helped us remember the light places in our hearts.”

Ms Paynter founded a community spirit award at the school in memory of the late Bermudian student Nakia Butterfield. In 2011, she took part in diversity training through the World of Difference Programme.

She used the experience to form an Affinity Group for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Students.

Ms Paynter, who loved the cold and enjoyed snowmobiling, volunteered at the school’s cross country meets for more than 20 years.

James Ryan, the SJA director of residential life, said Ms Paynter had a unique ability to “look for the good in everybody” and continued to follow students’ accomplishments long after their graduation from the school.

He added: “Right now, we do not know what it’s like to live in a world without Shondie.

“But if we hold on to our memories and we carry out her legacy, we will never need to know – she will always be with us.”

• Shondelle Valena Paynter, a proctor at St Johnsbury Academy in Vermont, was born on June 30, 1976. She died on November 13, 2022, aged 46.

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Published November 23, 2022 at 7:58 am (Updated November 23, 2022 at 7:58 am)

Shondelle Paynter (1976-2022): An inspiration to generations of students

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