By Lincoln DePradine
Under colonial rule, the European government administrators established all-male secondary schools across the Caribbean. One such school was Queen’s Royal College (QRC) in Trinidad, whose graduates have included former Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister, Dr Eric Williams; renowned historian and author C.L.R. James; Nobel Laureate, author V.S. Naipaul; economist Lloyd Best; and former West Indies wicketkeeper, Deryck Murray.
QRC, founded in 1859, admitted its first female student, Hazel-Ann McLean, in 1986. And, for a few years, Queen’s Royal was a co-ed institution. However, it has reverted to an all-boys’ school.
McLean, who studied business at Ryerson University in Toronto before moving to the United States, has documented her experience of being a girl in the prestigious all-boys’ QRC. She’s published a 75-page book titled, “A Sparkle of Royal Blue: Memoirs of the First Female Student of QRC, Trinidad &Tobago’’. It was launched last Saturday, July 8, at A Different Booklist in Toronto.
She autographed copies of the book and fielded several questions from audience members including Toronto District School Board senior advisor, Trinidad-born Lloyd McKell, who himself is a former QRC student.
McLean’s longtime friend Charlene Rampersad-Guevara, who lives in Ontario, also attended the book launch. She followed McLean into QRC, becoming the second girl at the school.
When she started Form 6 studies at QRC – a school with more than 600 boys – McLean was only 16. “They thought I wouldn’t last two weeks,’’ said McLean, who designed her uniform that was sewn by her mother.
“I really was not thinking this is a boys’ school, this is going to be challenging,’’ she said. “I did think that for a brief moment that I did not know how these boys would have accepted me being the only girl in the school; but I said, you know what, I don’t care.’’
Initially, no thought ever was given to attending QRC, McLean revealed. There was a proposal for her to leave St Francois Girls’ College, where she was a student, to visit QRC for part-time “A Level’’ physics classes.
However, the idea of shuttling between schools was a logistic nightmare. McLean’s mother, Cynthia, would have none of it, questioning why her daughter couldn’t enroll fulltime at Queen’s Royal.
At QRC, McLean registered to study not only physics, but also mathematics, chemistry and general paper.
“I felt it was a story that belongs to QRC; this is something the school needs to know, ” said McLean
“I have had a lot of interest in the book. I have had a lot of good, positive sales and many questions like I had from the audience today,’’ she added.
Little or no accommodation was made by QRC for its first female student. McLean recalled her adventures wanting to use the school’s bathroom and the ordeal of trying to get to the facility.
“There weren’t any washroom facilities for girls,’’ she said, adding that up to this day, she’s “good at controlling’’ her bladder.
“I had to walk about 400 meters one way across a field to get to another building where I could use a toilet,’’ said McLean. “That walk was longer when the field was filled with boys and all eyes would be on me, because they knew where I was heading. Eventually, I would walk over when I knew they were in class.’’
McLean described her book as a compilation of two years of what she remembered, felt and learned as a student of QRC, where she had to “stand up and stand out’’.