First female student at all-boys QRC tells story in new book
April 13, 2017
Hazel-Ann McLean’s first day at Queen’s Royal College (QRC) in Trinidad was unlike any other school day.
Never before was a female student enrolled in the twin-island republic second oldest secondary school until she made history in 1986.
Founded in 1859 as Queen’s Collegiate School, the name was changed to QRC in 1870.
After successfully completing the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) exams at St. Francois Girls College, McLean applied to do the General Certificate of Education (GCE) examination advanced-level subjects at the same school and was accepted.
The only problem was that she was the only student pursuing physics studies and the school administration was hesitant in allocating the one teacher who taught the subject to her. After one week, they pulled the plug on the experiment and McLean was forced to find another school.
When QRC -- the alma mater of T & T’s first Prime Minister Dr. Eric Williams, activist & historian C.L.R James and noted economist Lloyd Best who are all deceased along with Nobel Prize winner V.S Naipaul and former West Indies wicketkeeper and Cambridge blue Deryck Murray -- emerged as the only alternative, she was relieved and excited.
“I knew there would be some challenges, but my thing going in was, ‘Well, I guess the boys will have to get used to me’,” said McLean who resides in Pittsburgh with her two children.
That was easier said than done as she soon found out.
“The boys tried hard to intimidate me and ruffle my feathers,” McLean pointed out. “They did their best to make me feel uncomfortable. Because this was an all-boys school, there weren’t any washroom facilities for girls. So I had to walk about 400 metres one way across a field to get to another building where I could use a toilet. 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. Because I didn’t talk a lot about my rough experience in the first few months, my parents assumed I had fitted in and was doing well, but they were wrong.”
Despite the trials and tribulations that tested her patience, quitting was never an option for McLean.
“I went to QRC for one thing and that was to get my passes in maths, chemistry and physics,” she said. “It never crossed my mind that I would have to cut short what I went there to do.”
In the trailblazer’s second year, Charlene Rampersad – who lives in Mississauga – enrolled at QRC and they have remained close friends.
McLean’s three-year QRC experience and the lessons she learnt are recounted in a new self-published book, ‘A Sparkle of Royal Blue: Memoirs of the First Female Student of QRC’.
Winston Douglas, the principal at the time, had insisted that she relate the experience.
“In my second year, I started making notes and I left it there,” said McLean. “A few years ago when my daughter turned 14, we were having a discussion about her future and she told me she wanted to go to college but was unsure if she could do it. I assured her she could and anything she wanted. I also reminded her that I was the only girl in an all-boys school, but she said she didn't know what that meant.
“It was at that moment that it occurred to me that I didn’t go into details with her or anybody else for that matter about my experience at QRC. Throughout my life, people asked me why I went there, what it was like and what I learnt. I figured now was the time to write the story.”
After high school, McLean spent a year at the University of the West Indies St. Augustine campus before coming to Toronto to pursue business studies at Ryerson University.
“I was enrolled in the UWI computer science program, but I wanted to do business also and they didn't offer that combination at the time,” she said. “I chose Ryerson over the University of Toronto because they had the combination I was looking for and the small class sizes were appealing.”
McLean said the four years she spent at the downtown university was very fulfilling.
“The professors were always accessible and open to questions and interactions,” the Ryerson computer information systems management graduate said. “That along with the fact that I have many relatives in the Greater Toronto Area made my time in the city more satisfying. Toronto just felt like another home to me.”
The Trinidad & Tobago government provided McLean with a scholarship for the last two years at Ryerson. That meant she had to return home where she met her husband of 13 years, Fatima College graduate Andrew Petersen who obtained his PhD in biophysics from the University of Pittsburgh.
The couple is divorced.
McLean, who also has an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University, is a senior project manager with a national diversified health care partner.
She’s doing book launches in New York and T & T at the end of the month and May 27 respectively.