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Top student Nasir ready for India adventure

Raring to go: Nasir Simmons at JFK airport on his way to the Mahindra United World College in India (Photograph supplied)

After growing up on Bermuda’s 21 square miles, Nasir Simmons was ready to try a new environment — and he’s certainly found a way of doing that.

Nasir, 16, has embarked on a two-year International Baccalaureate diploma at the Mahindra United World College in Maharashtra, India, with a full scholarship awarded by the college’s national committee in Bermuda.

It means that as well as a leading education, Nasir gets the chance to travel and study alongside peers from all corners of the globe.

“It’s an awesome facility that will not only give me a good education but expose me to a wide variety of people from around the world,” Nasir told The Royal Gazette.

“I’m truly glad that this was where I ended up. I was a little nervous but I was ready to get out of Bermuda, have new experiences and new challenges.

“I have always been close to my mum and dad and so it is an adjustment but I will see them and my brother at Christmas.”

Nasir, the son of Progressive Labour Party MP Jamahl and radio host Sherri J, and a former St George’s Preparatory and Somersfield Academy student, received the only scholarship awarded by the Bermuda committee this year. There were between 15 and 20 applicants.

“I wanted to go overseas for high school and was looking at different programmes and institutions that were a good fit,” he said.

“A few people I knew were applying so I thought I’d give it a shot. The application process was very tough as while there were several slots in several schools available, there was only one scholarship. I am really grateful to have been chosen as there were a lot of talented Bermudians vying for this opportunity.

“I think that my mix of good grades, athletic participation and all the activities I was involved in made me a pretty competitive candidate but, as to why I was chosen, you’d have to ask the UWC selection committee!”

On its website, UWC describes itself as “the only global educational movement that brings together students from all over the world — selected on personal merit, irrespective of race, religion, politics and the ability to pay — with the explicit aim of fostering peace and international understanding”. It has 14 colleges around the world, each with a diverse mix of international students.

Zayna Foggo, secretary of the Bermuda national committee, won a scholarship to the same college in 2001 and is now an actuary at Equator Re.

She told this newspaper: “It completely changed my outlook on life. I don’t think I would be the same person if not for United World College.

“It really does change your life. I didn’t grow up starving but I did come up in a single-parent home. I realised ‘really, you are OK’.”

Students who apply for a UWC scholarship have to write two essays: one on a global issue they feel they could help tackle and another on why they are deserving of the award.

She said Nasir impressed the selection committee with his awareness of what is happening around him “locally and overseas”.

“He’s very in tune,” she said. “His awareness was very refreshing. We find a lot of kids are not into what’s going on in the world. He’s a very confident young man and we really loved his personality.

“He wasn’t afraid to just be himself. He has his own sense of style. He said he’s a poet and he gave us some spoken word. We felt like he would really be a great ambassador for Bermuda and would represent well.”

Ms Foggo’s advice to Nasir before he left for school was to “enjoy it, seize the moment and don’t get caught up in coming back to Bermuda every time you have a break”.

She said: “Try your hardest to travel as much as you can. Use this opportunity to help catapult you to your next level.”

As for Nasir’s long-term ambitions, anybody who knows his family connections — his grandfather Lionel was also a PLP MP — should not be surprised.

“I’d like to study medicine and eventually go into politics like my dad and grandfather,” he said.