Against All Odds

Against all odds
Published: Monday | August 13, 2012

Janet Silvera • Senior Gleaner Writer

Wearing shoes was once a luxury for Dr Julaine Rigg, a scholar and assistant professor at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland.

In a candid interview with Flair, the 36-year-old Hanover native spoke of growing up in extreme poverty. For her, not owning a pair of shoes was one of the harshest aspects of her humble beginning. The blistering hot asphalt wouldn’t allow her and her family to forget that fact. Well, not until she reached the third grade at Gurney’s Mount All-Age. In fact, the asphalt was selective about the days it would be kind to her tiny feet.

“I can still remember the elation I felt when my stepmom took a pair of shoes to my school when I was in grade three. I can still remember how I rushed from the class to a nearby tank, washed my feet and put on my new shoes,” she recalled.

As if things weren’t hard enough, Rigg said she was forced to walk “a good two miles daily to get lunch and back, as that time I only got lunch money on rare occasions.”

Lunch consisted of bread and sugar and water. Sometimes there would be none. “It was not until I moved to Montego Bay in grade four that things got a bit better,” she said.

Rigg shares a few things with Olympian Merlene Ottey. They both attended the same all-age school and had the same drive to succeed. The major difference – one was much poorer than the other.

“Having known the life of poverty pretty early, I knew I had to make a difference in how my later years would progress. I told myself that there must be better somewhere and my ultimate goal was to see the big bright light at the end of the tunnel.”

Her journey of excellence began after she passed the common entrance examination to Montego Bay High School. “From then it was no turning back,” she noted.

After graduation, Rigg went on to the Montego Bay Community College with the intention of someday becoming a medical doctor. However, fate would not have it. Her mother’s job was made redundant, and so was the dream.

Today, although not a medical doctor, the FullBright Scholar is a doctor of philosophy, and one of few individuals holding a doctoral degree of philosophy in the Hospitality and Tourism industry in Jamaica.

Rigg’s first job was as an airport hostess, a job she held for 13 years. “It was then that I realised that I truly had a calling for the tourism field. I enrolled in the joint Bachelor of Science Degree in hospitality and tourism management programme offered by the University of Technology/University of the West Indies in 1999.” Rigg graduated with First Class Honours. The pursuit of success did not stop there and she applied for the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in hospitality and tourism. “The journey to Barbados was not futile as I received the CTO scholarship which enabled me to pursue my master’s at UWI.” Again she excelled and graduated with distinction and was awarded the University of the West Indies (UWI) Director’s Award for highest distinction in a master’s programme.

Rigg wanted more. “During the gap between my master’s and bachelor’s degrees, I seized the opportunity and did a diploma in Human Resource Management at the University College of the Caribbean where I also received the award for most outstanding HR student.” But she had to walk away from the industry she loved for a while. “I realised that there was no growth for me even after completing numerous qualifications and applying for several vacancies. I knew I had to step out and be challenged, so at that point I decided to leave the JTB and I resigned.”


Being the spontaneous individual she is, she decided to join the Jamaica Defence Force while pursing her master’s at UWI. “I was a private in the third Battalion Jamaica Regiment National Reserve (3JR) until late 2010 due to school commitment overseas. Being a member of the military taught me the value of time, humility, integrity and perseverance which has aided me tremendously throughout my studies.

While concentrating on her academics, her love for sports was not diminished. “I was actively involved in sports at all levels of my education and have won a generous number of sporting awards, especially in the area of athletics. I was sportswoman of the year numerous times at Montego Bay Community College, Montego Bay High School and UWI. I still have a keen interest in sports and still find time to play basketball or netball and volleyball.”

Fulbright scholar

Born in Thompson Hill, the first child for both parents, Rigg, who currently resides in the Second City, was relentless in her pursuit to reach the top despite all the odds. “I applied for the Fulbright Scholarship to study a PhD in hospitality and tourism in the United States. Since then I realised that I wanted to become a professor. The journey took me to the prestigious Purdue University in Indiana.”

Rigg graduated in May of this year and during her studies was inducted into the Golden Key International Society for placing in the top 15 per cent at Purdue University. During that time, she also received the Rosfeld Scholarship, Purdue Foundation Scholarship and the David Robert Lewis Scholarship. She was also the vice-president of the Purdue University Graduate Student Association.

How did she achieve so much? “Simply being competitive and believing in myself. I even compete with myself at times. I tell you, I finished my PhD with two B pluses, and I still can’t get over it even today, maybe in the next 10 years,” she noted with a wide grin. “I strive for excellence at all times. If I can’t do my best at a task I prefer not to undertake it. I have a drive to succeed second to none. I also have a 14-year-old daughter who is my motivation. I want her to be free of the shortcomings that I endured getting to where I am because it was never easy. I ensure that I am in a position to help myself and help others in my family. I tell people, not because you grew up poor or endured a certain lifestyle it has to be permanent. As the saying goes ‘when life throws you lemons make lemonade’.”