In advance of our interview, I sent freshman actuarial science major Keanu Daley an email describing myself so he could identify me at The Loft. I included that I would be wearing a parka.
It didn’t occur to me that the freshly turned 20-year-old from Kingston, Jamaica, had never experienced a Minnesota winter. So, when he told me he had to look up the definition for “parka” on Google, I thought, “Of course you did! Silly me.” But he’s here for four years (on a full scholarship), so this likely is the just the beginning of his mastery of the local lexicon and the expansion of his winter wardrobe. This unfailingly positive, inquisitive and philosophical young man’s company is a great gift to Minnesota.
How did you wind up at St. Thomas?
I’d been researching from grade nine about actuarial science schools. I was only interested in the schools that had top-notch programs, and St. Thomas is considered a Center of [Actuarial] Excellence. I applied to every CAE in America and St. Thomas offered me a full ride. So, I am here making the best of this opportunity I have been given.
I couldn’t help but notice that you took a year or so off after high school. Did you intentionally take a gap year?
I did, actually! I took a year off because my first year going for college I didn’t get into the colleges I wanted and my financial situation wasn’t so great. One of the schools said I was highly qualified but there were just more qualified persons, so I took that and said to myself, “Listen, I’m going to take that information and take a year off and get more qualified.” I got a job, volunteered, and I did acting. So the year for me was building my profile for college and in doing that, hope to land a scholarship. And that’s what happened. I am here!
I definitely want to talk more about your acting, but first tell me about your year of “getting more qualified.”
The year off was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. I had time to sit back and not focus on school school school. I believe I became more mature after the year. I went out and got my first job [working as a key population worker for Children First in Kingston], met new people and just grew spiritually, mentally and physically in some sense. The gap year was well needed. I would recommend it to anyone. I’m much more energized to do my major.
I read online a Jamaican article about all the acting you’ve done.
I’ve been acting since I was 5, maybe younger. I started acting in church, but I didn’t take acting seriously until around age 11. I performed in school plays and also outside of school with a performing arts group called Tableaux. I’ve been an extra in a couple of Jamaican TV series, but most of my experience is on stage. For the past three years I’ve been with a different group called Tribe Sankofa. The last production I did with them was called “Black Bodies.” Part of it was a tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement in America.
So, how does a person who’s been such a wholehearted performer his entire life decide to major in actuarial science? That’s quite a shift!
I love math and calculating things! Acting is my passion but I like learning from experience in theater arts, so I didn’t want to get a formal degree. Actuarial science is interdisciplinary. I like that. But in the end it’s all about what’s happening in the world now, and the basic thing is calculating risk. There’s risk and uncertainty in everything, and I think when we can calculate anything, it gives people some reassurance.
Tell me about your first week here.
I got lost! My mom, who’d been helping me move in, was leaving and I didn’t tell her I was going to surprise her at the bus station. I had my plan but apparently the school’s bus wasn’t running that day so I had to look up a route on Google that had me taking the blue train here, the green line there, then I had to look for a bus. I managed to find my way but it took me a long time. I’ve been lost a few times, but I really enjoy being lost because if you’re not lost sometimes, you don’t know where you are going, you know?
You arrived here in the midst of a tumultuous presidential election season! Tell me about your first impressions of this country.
It’s funny because in Jamaica I feel like it is America II in a sense. A lot of what happens in America is filtered into Jamaica, so I was always abreast of what was happening, but being here physically is a different thing. Like, back home I understood Black Lives Matter and the police brutality that was going on and it was hurting me, but when you are in the midst of it … I didn’t truly understand it until I was a part of the people here. I find it much worse living here in some ways. I miss Jamaica in that sense. I feel often the things that are problems in America are not problems in Jamaica. Some would say Jamaica is a Third World country, but I would say that we are on a level where skin color doesn’t define a lot of the things like it does here. When it does, it is not the thing that is paramount to our decisions in Jamaica. Even there, we see black and white and many races, but a person’s skin color doesn’t get thrown in their face. Here, it seems like it defines who you are and what you are seen as. In Jamaica, it is not like that. That was a culture shock for me.
What do you miss about home?
I don’t know where to start. I’m missing some curry goat and white rice. And rice, peas and chicken. We have that every Sunday at home. Our national dish is ackee and saltfish. Ackee is a fruit that I’m not a fan of that we cook with salt fish. I really miss my grandma’s cooking, like her cornmeal porridge on Saturdays. She makes great saltfish and bananas and dumplings too.
I miss my family, too, but I speak to them regularly. I lived with my grandparents in Jamaica, with my mom, and I loved having them around. But I’m really open to what’s happening here, you know? I like the culture shock and learning new stuff and meeting new people and just growing in this globalized world!
What do you respect most about your mother?
She perseveres. That’s where I get that quality. My mom migrated to America about six years ago. I can’t imagine how it must have hurt her to leave her only child behind. But she wanted a better life for me and for us, so she had to go beyond her emotions even if it hurt her because of what it could mean for us.
Will you return to Jamaica after you graduate?
The economy is not great in Jamaica, so I won’t go back right way. In the strictest sense, though, I want to go back to Jamaica at some point, but I want to make my wealth first where the opportunities are because a lot of times it’s the affluent persons who have the most influence in Jamaica. I want to make a positive change when I go back and actually be able to do something. Also, my dream has always been to travel, so I probably won’t stay in America. Maybe I’ll live in Europe and start my career there!