Haitian Native Perseveres through Tragedy


During the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti in January, Prince George’s Community College (PGCC) student Jemima Pierre-Jacques was powerless to help any family or friends affected by the disaster in her homeland. The death of her father and over eight other family members shook her too her core, but she never stopped.

A highly religious and extremely motivated young woman, Pierre-Jacques stayed focused on the task in front of her.

“For the honors program, you have to be full-time and maintain a 3.5 GPA at all times,” said Pierre-Jacques. “I understood that my father had died, but I had to keep on going. I couldn’t just give up everything that I’d done the past three years.”

What Pierre-Jacques has done has been nothing short of remarkable. She’s maintained a 3.7 GPA as a nursing major while mentoring and tutoring French-speaking students. She’s also a member of Phi Theta Kappa and the public speaking club. This July, less than two months after she receives her associate’s degree in nursing from PGCC, she’ll begin her studies in the nursing program at Howard University on a full scholarship.

Despite the blessings, Pierre-Jacques is still plagued by the curse of tragedy that has marred her life. She hadn’t seen her family in a while, since she didn’t have the means to travel home often. But, as a graduation present to herself, she had told her father she’d return when she matriculated.

But the school building fell down on her father and the second-grade students he was teaching and Pierre-Jacques was stuck in Maryland, worrying about her loved ones, her future and staying motivated.

Again, she was blessed with an excellent support system at PGCC. From emotional counseling to extra help in the classroom, the school community, she says, had her back throughout the entire ordeal and that is how she continued to be as successful in the classroom as she’d been before the tragedy.

“[PGCC] provided psychological assistance to me,” she said. “My fellow students in the honors academy all were there for me as well. I even had tutoring when I had problems with chemistry.”

One of the most important people in that support system is Melinda J. Frederick, coordinator of PGCC’s honors program. Frederick has written several letters of recommendation on Pierre-Jacques’ behalf, not only because of Pierre-Jacques’ achievements in the classroom, but also because of the compassion she’s displayed outside of the classroom.

“She’s a very kind and very compassionate person,” Frederick said. “She has a remarkable story and I feel very privileged to have worked with her, known her and been able to support her at a time when she really needed someone to lean on.”

That compassion was on display when Pierre-Jacques, a native of a country in desperate need of rebuilding, helped to rehabilitate a home in Upper Marlboro. The program called Christmas in April is similar to Habitat in Humanity in that it rebuilds homes for women and children in need.

“I thought it was so poetic because all of her family in Haiti are living in similarly dire conditions and yet, here she was extending herself and reaching out,” Frederick said.

Pierre-Jacques life has been thrown for a loop this past semester, but she’s looking forward to a new chapter and challenge at Howard, a place where she thinks she’ll fit in quite fine.

“Anywhere that there’s learning I’ll like because that’s the best part of life for me,” she said. “I’m very excited to begin at Howard.”

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