D.J. Jigre opens doors into his life, hardships



This is part two of a feature story on D.J. Jigre. Part I can be viewed here.

As D.J. Jigre, ASEWU president, walks into The Mason Jar on a cold, raining February afternoon, a couple of people instantly recognize him and say hello – literally 9 seconds after he enters. With an overabundant smile, he acknowledges them.

Smile and a handshake. The one-two punch of remembering a face that imprints your mind.

I’m sitting at a table facing the bistro entry. I notice Jigre is growing out a bit of a beard, dark stubble that starts right near his earlobes and progressively gets thicker and scruffier further down his jaw line. This is a first for him as ASEWU president.

He’s dressed warmly – he is wearing light blue jeans and a charcoal gray sweater – which evokes a calm vibe. I can see why students are so outspoken when they talk to him; he portrays a friendly sense of self that is very rare to come by nowadays in a world where everyone seems so into themselves and their social media, or relationships, or school or work, possibly even all four. He welcomes me with a stern handshake and a glowing smile.

The bistro in downtown Cheney is quite busy today, a Wednesday. Middle of the week blues, I call it. People are usually in and out, or they are relaxing at a table with a friend as their class day unwinds. D.J. and I plan to meet at 3:30 p.m. He arrives five minutes early and apologizes for being late. He was having car problems in Spokane, he tells me.

A super senior, he calls himself, Jigre is a former track and field athlete from Kent-Meridian High School in Kent, Washington. His ninth sibling, a little brother, was born recently. His name is Guled, and Jigre is planning on going home this upcoming weekend to see him.

For the first 14 or so minutes of the conversation, he talks about the PUB redesign before a question is even asked by me.

Understood. Yet, before I start the interview, I know that I don’t want to talk to Jigre about the PUB redesign, or ASEWU or student-government topics. I want to ask the ultimate question that I feel not too many students on campus know too much about: Who is D.J. Jigre?

Ruse: Going back a little bit, it’s obvious you have the PUB remodel on your mind, and that’s completely understandable. That’s the biggest thing, and I understand you’re completely pumped up about that. I kind of want to step back … to just your team, your ASEWU team, who you work with. Just walking in the door, you’ve already got a bunch of people that are like, “D.J.! D.J.!” Do you get that a lot?

Jigre: Sometimes. Sometimes. Actually, ever since I grew the beard, I don’t get that anymore.

Ruse: Really?

Jigre: I swear to God, I feel like people don’t even recognize me anymore, and I kinda… to an extent, I love it. It gives me that isolation. Sometimes, you just need to get away. Sometimes, you just need to get away. …

When you have – I think something that we did better at from the last year to this year is getting [Associated Students’] name out there. Everybody knows what student government is, everybody hopefully knows who represents them and out of that comes from “Hey, D.J., how you doing? Hey D.J., we have an issue here,” and I love that. I love the fact that students are recognizing me. I hope that that continues, that bridge between student government and the general student body.

Our team, this year, is phenomenal. It is just like last year. … When those individuals laid down the foundation, this year’s, we’re taking it to the next level. It may not seem like we’re … doing a lot, but there is a lot of work that has been done, both in terms of the library hours, as well as the PUB remodel and the re-imaging of the overall student government, which is still within the works. We’re always trying to reach out to the community, always trying to do something different. … I don’t want students to think that every time we come to a certain event, we’re just there to ask questions or to ask about something or to vote for something or do something.

Honestly, we just want to go out there and just listen and just participate. Not even to know that we are there, and we’ve been doing somewhat better at that this year, and letting students – they are just shocked when they don’t see us participating or just asking something, bringing something huge about ASEWU or student government. We’re more than just as, literally just as students, as fellow peers, asking them questions as far as “What can we do better,” and they are shocked because they are not use to that. I hope that that continues. …

I love my team. I do. I love them. I love them to death. They keep me afloat. I am not stressed out this year as I use to be. I feel like I’m there, but at the same time, I’m not everywhere, like I was last year.

We learn to delegate. Those who do that have everything so easy. I want to learn to delegate, tell teams that’s what they need to do, and honestly, everyone thinks ASEWU is just D.J. itself, but that’s not how I see it. I want to make sure everybody understands that ASEWU is all of student government, and all of the student body. That’s what it is. ASEWU stands for us. That’s one of the reason why I’ve moved back and my team has also encouraged me to do the same, to move back a little bit and look at it from a bigger perspective. I want people to see us as a team. When we do a certain event, we’re there as a team, not individuals doing other things. I hope that changes the perspective of what AS is because ASEWU is not just D.J. I’ve been getting that a lot.

Ruse: Do you think that goes back to what you were talking about, about visibility and just being known about, like who the people are that you’re working with, not the people who are standing behind you?

Jigre:. Exactly. Being a leader is not about always being in the front, it’s about moving back and I’ve done that better this year than I did last year, but last year was more like, get students to know who their representative is, or who their president is, which I felt like that was a need. That endurance now is … being knocked down, I’m looking at the bigger picture: What is ASEWU? What is student government? That is not just the president, it’s not the executive vice president, or the director of finance. That is about every individual that is elected so that way they can understand that it’s more than just one person doing the work. I feel that’s where I like to give credit where credit is due. Quarters to semesters, library hours, that was everybody, that was all of us, not just D.J.

I hope that everybody understands that yes, I might be the face of ASEWU, but I am not the powerhouse of ASEWU. I am more of the man that makes sure that I connect people to the right resources so that way they get their projects done in the right manner and that I be that face when I need to be that face. Other than that, I’m just a normal student just like everybody else.

Ruse: What about beyond just what you do with ASEWU? Besides just what you do on campus? Who’s D.J. off campus? What do you do in your free time? Do you have someone special in your life?.

Jigre: Actually, I do. I do have someone very special in my life. … I’ve actually never dated anybody at Eastern. Her name is Zaynab, or I call her “Z.” But I’ve never dated anybody here at Eastern due to the fact that as students, I wanted to keep myself from anything that could be gossip, anything that could be detrimental to my – I guess everything I’ve created for myself. I don’t want that reputation to be ruined.

I don’t know if it’s more of me thinking outside the box, but my parents always told me to be who you are, never let your community see your flaws, because if you see your flaws, that’s the things you will always focus on, not on the things you’re capable of. I’ve always seen that as making sure I show the world that this is who I am and in no way going to misrepresent that by going to parties or going to anything that might be crazy that can ultimately destroy that reputation. So D.J. off campus is more of a – I go home, I do my work, and of course I go to special occasions and socials when I need to. I’m also a part of the fraternity, Omega Delta Phi, so that keeps me, those individuals keep me on my toes, both on academics as well as social life.

It’s always, I think it’s beneficial to be in a college, to be surrounded around individuals that make you feel at home. As part of being apart of that fraternity, I can be myself. I don’t have to be D.J., ASEWU president. It doesn’t matter if I go to a social or anything, but people always see me as that. Individuals see me as just a normal member, that’s one of the reasons why I probably like it. I am just myself. I am not ASEWU D.J., D.J. this, D.J. that, it’s kinda, not gonna lie, once that publicity is out, I guess as an organization, it’s hard to get away from it. It’s hard. I’m glad I’m not the person that would lose it, use it – to an extent – for my ego. I wouldn’t do that. But it’s hard not to your ego get in the way sometimes.

People see it and when they do, it’s only those individuals that can tell you, “Hey take a step back. Breathe a little bit.” I think my executive team has done that greatly, and has told me. … That’s what I love about individuals, about peers. You’ll do it wrong if no one tells you what you are doing right and doing wrong. Sometimes, you forget yourself. And when you do forget yourself, all you’re thinking about is what you got to get done. When someone tells you to step back, you see a bigger picture. My team does that definitely for me, as well as my fraternity brothers and my friends.

Jigre pauses for a second.

“I am boring.”

Ruse: You’re boring?

I ask him to clarify because I am completely dumbfounded at this statement. How can a rambunctious, lively individual as ASEWU president Jigre, who everyone knows and wants to talk to or hang out with, claim to be boring? I couldn’t wrap my mind around that sort of idea.

Jigre: I’m not going to lie. I love excitement, I love hanging out, but if I get the chance, if I had a day off, I wouldn’t mind staying in bed, watching a movie, probably reading a book. That’s more of me. And I would love to live. … It’s a pretty day. If it was nature, anything – hiking – that’s more of my style, anything that has to do with finding the inner you and listening to your voice.

Emotions, people, I don’t know, I love talking to people, but sometimes you just need your alone time. That alone time is listening to music, reading a book, watching a movie, staying home, especially Saturdays and Sundays, those are like my days. Saturdays, I don’t do nothing. I sleep and stay in bed, watch a movie. Sunday, is like, get back into the routine, do homework, get ready for Monday. That’s it. That’s what I do. D.J. is boring. I’m not going to lie to you. D.J. is really boring. In my own words.

Ruse: You talk about reputation. When you say reputation, does that correlate more with an image you have for yourself or does that correlate more with an image that people put on you?

Jigre: A little bit of both. My self-fulfilling prophecy is I want my own people to see me to be someone that is always energetic, ready to go, motivated, and just ready to handle any sorts of business. On top of that, people always see, always have expectations, and I hate not meeting an expectation.

I guess it goes into my bloodline with my Dad and instilling it into my family. He always told me we had a certain standard for … each other. For me, as soon as they saw that I was doing good in high school, getting involved in sports, that expectation got bigger and bigger, and as expectations got bigger and bigger, I started to slowly climb those stairs and figure out, where do I align myself? Sometimes, my reputation for me is more of keeping my eye out. I don’t like lying to people, keeping everything honest. I would never lie to anybody. I hate liars, I truly do.

Honesty, integrity and honor, and also leadership. I want to be able to show those qualities so that way they emulate not only in myself, but also in others. One thing I love about talking to others is that when they doubt themselves, when someone doesn’t have confidence. I’ve never had confidence until …. Actually, I never had confidence until 10th grade of high school. One individual in particular from high school, my teacher, was like, told me I couldn’t amount to anything. I couldn’t do anything and that some things are impossible for certain individuals.

Ruse: This was a teacher?

Jigre: This was a teacher who told me. Using his words and challenging it, I like to take everything in life as a challenge. If you tell me not to do something, as long as it’s not breaking the laws or rules or regulations, I will challenge it so that way I can do, I can prove it to you that’s it is possible. If somebody tells me that something is impossible, I would like to challenge them to think that impossible is actually two words: I’m possible. That’s exactly what it is. If you look at impossible as two words – I’m possible – and if you look at it from that perspective, I think our viewpoints and the way that we think is going to ultimately change and it’s going to be that switch. It just turns on. It makes you say, “Hey it is possible, I can do it,” and everything is possible as long as you have the work ethic, as long as you are willing to put in the hard work and just go above and beyond, to be the best that you can possibly be. That’s the way you think. I can guarantee … anything can happen.

I tell this to a lot of people because I don’t know why we always doubt ourselves. We are human beings. We are by far the most sophisticated powerful individuals that God has ever bestowed on His land. But yet we doubt our capabilities and we let social media, society decide and dictate what we can and cannot do.

I want students to think for themselves. I want students to put their opinions to the plate and challenge the norm. Once we’ve challenged it, that’s when we can truly see who we are as individuals. Challenge yourself and be alone. Be alone because once you’re alone, you won’t have anybody distracting you, you won’t have society distracting you and you will find out who you truly are. That’s one thing I love about my alone time is because I like to reflect. Reflection is something we do not do a lot nowadays. Once we have that reflection you get to understand who you are, and therefore once you understand who you are, you start to see your reputation. And when you see your reputation, society sees that and they have higher expectations of you and sooner or later, you’re at this peak where you feel like you can do anything. You feel like anything is possible. That’s exactly how it should be.

Ruse: I want to know what you feel is one of your ultimate weaknesses and one of your ultimate strengths?

Jigre: My ultimate weaknesses and ultimate strengths, well now you’re putting me to the test. Aw, man.
My ultimate strength is honesty and I would have to say compassion and communication because if I don’t have those two things, I wouldn’t have that interpersonal quality that attracts people to me. I don’t know what it is, I’m honestly trying to figure out what makes people come to me or gravitate towards me. I don’t know what is it, but I want to find that out so that way I can harness it and spread it in a way that says anything can happen.

Ruse: Do you ask students?

Jigre: I do, but its more like they tell me it’s my personality but I don’t know what it is about my personality. I don’t know what it is about who I am as a person that makes them gravitate towards me. I guess I … I don’t know. I don’t know what it is. I want to find that out, figure it out because once I do, I want to use that as a strength so that way I can hopefully one day maybe use that to change the world, because that’s my goal.

My ultimate weakness, I guess would have to be my stubborness.

Ruse: Stubbornness?

Jigre: My stubbornness, because if someone tells me I can’t do something, I will literally – I am very stubborn. I can be stubborn to the point of, yes I can do it, just watch me.

Ruse: You count that as a weakness? I don’t count that as a weakness.

Jigre: I do. I don’t know, I think sometimes it can destroy me because being stubborn is a double-edged sword. It can have that go-attitude and then at the same time, you have to learn when to give up. It’s always a point in our lifetime to stop what you’re doing, and move forward so that way we can re-evaluate ourselves. My stubbornness, makes me just keep going and going and going until I hit that breaking point. That’s why I consider that as a weakness because it’s a double-edged sword. There’s a beneficial aspect to it, but at the same time, it can hold you back from growing and becoming a better person.

Ruse: Have you ever found yourself in an instance like that? Where you thought, “Do I pursue it, what do I do?”

Jigre: Definitely. And I would have to say that in terms of library hours. -laughs-. I was so stubborn to the point where – they told me that it couldn’t happen this year. I was like “That’s fine, I’ll wait, I’m coming back next year anyway, so I’m going to bother you about this.” -laughs-

Me, myself, Rex Fuller, Suzanne Milton, literally we clashed a little bit. It hit that point where we fought. When we negotiated it, I wanted to push to get Friday and Saturday … to change those hours. Then again, that is when I realized that stubbornness was my weakness. We got the hours, do I really want to push harder and lose it? And I just decided, “Ya know what? Let it be for now,” because I think we – I got what I wanted, the hours were changed. … I don’t know why, but when I have something on my mind, I want to make sure that I do it. That was the promise I made to the students, I want to make sure I fix the hours. Now that we have them, I can’t believe it’s actually happening. I think that’s something that I’m really happy about. Very happy about. And I can rightfully say I can graduate on time now. -laughs-

Ruse: That’s always a good thing.

Jigre: Yep. I said “Until it’s done, I’m not leaving anywhere.” -laughs-

Ruse: I want to know one thing that not too many students know about you. Something that not too many people would know about you in regards to anything, any part of your life that you’re willing to share.

Jigre: I’m shy. I’m very shy.

Ruse: What do you mean by that?

Jigre: People don’t see that, but every time someone tells me to do something, I’m always nervous and you will know when [I’m] blustering to the point where I stutter, that’s when I’m nervous. Every day that I get up, on a certain stage, or talk to certain individuals, people think that I’m good at it, but in reality it takes me – I will stay up all night if I have to until I got it down, until I work my nerves out. I’m really shy, I really suppress it and am good at suppressing things.

Ruse: Speaking of that, how did you prepare for the big speech you did at graduation last year? That was your first one as ASEWU president, wasn’t it?

Jigre: It was.

Ruse: What did you do for that? How did you feel?

Jigre: I didn’t sleep for a whole month. -laughs-

Every time I think about it, that was by far the biggest venue I’ve ever spoken in my life. All I could think about is – I was actually suppose to graduate that year, so I wanted to make sure, I wanted to give a speech that says, “Although I’m not graduating with you at this moment, I want to let you know that this is my class, my graduating class,” and therefore I want to give a speech that says, not the ordinary typical speech where you give … “Now what’s next?.” I wanted to be real.

As soon as we hit life, it is going to be harder and difficult. It’s going to be so hard to the point where we lose ourselves. The question is, how far will we go to go beyond that? I think once I figured out what I wanted to say, it became a goal, and once I have a goal, I won’t stop until I seize it.

I just kept on practicing and my friends helped me out greatly on that, honestly. Critique my speeches and everything and I would go over it, this repetition, practice, practice, practice. In front of a mirror. Every time I would do it in front of a mirror, it comes out perfect. When I come out to the real stage, I feel like, “Hubba hubba what? Am I ready for this?”

You asked me already, “What is D.J.?” Honestly, I’ve been thinking about that. It’s been in my head.

Ruse: These are like, vital years. College years are the years that you kind of evolve into someone and go out into the real world. Are you wanting to pursue your graduate degree? Are you going to go do that?

Jigre: I’m going to take a year off. The reason why is I’m burned out. I don’t think my brain can handle another two years of stressful reading and writing and all that. I want to take a year off, travel, get married, hopefully. Before I travel, I want to get married, and then travel the world with my wife. That’s the ultimate dream.

I’m not gonna lie, these past five years have been the greatest memories of my life. There was times that I thought about quitting college. Three times, to be exact.

I asked him if he wanted to talk about them. He openly, without hesitation, said yes.

Jigre: The first time, was my freshman year back in – I come from a family that is, I’m the first, ever, to go to college, the first ever to even pursue it, and I’m the first to ever to actually graduate. … I took that step knowing that, I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew that it was going to be tough. I took the opportunity to go to college, so that way I can hopefully – my mind was to change the lifestyle of my family, to emulate to my little siblings that anything is possible. I think that started in high school when my teacher told me I couldn’t do anything. I wanted to do the next step, so that was it.

Paying for college was the hardest. One of the first reasons was financial hardship. I didn’t know how to pay for it and literally I hate asking money from anyone – my parents, I hate asking my sister for money I just hate asking money in general. I would like to think that I’m an independent person, I like to do it my way, and that’s where my stubbornness also comes in.

And then after that, the second time was when my family was going some tough struggles at the house, and I just literally thought about just dropping and coming home, working, working for a 9-to-5 job so that way I can support them.

The third time was – my siblings, my older brother and my younger brother and my youngest sister overall, they were not listening. I’m like the enforcer of the house, when I was at the house, when I was living with my mom and dad, I was the enforcer. If they did something wrong, my mom and dad would always say, “Hey deal with it, D.J., go ahead and deal with it” and I would be that person, that medium.

Now that I left and I was living in college, they started really acting up. I was barely home. They felt like their older brother was gone out of their picture and was telling them how to live their lives, and do great things.

So they got into habits that just like any teenager would get into, starting to party, starting to drink, starting to smoke, and then that’s when things really just fell apart. My mom was stressed out, my dad had business and was traveling, it was really hard.

And here I am – actually that was my first elections I was in, I almost dropped the elections too. But Frank [Navarro] kept me going. That was last year. I talked to my mom, I said “I can come home at any moment in time.” My mom just encouraged me to stay. … I just kept on focusing on the vision.

She said, “As of now, if you leave, you know, you’ll do exactly what your siblings did: graduating high school, working 9-to-5 job, and ultimately you will not change the family perspective and that’s what you want to do. But if you want to look at this from the long run, if you graduate from college, then you have the opportunities to do great things, not just in terms of the family but for yourself and your future.” That was like, the best advice I’ve received from my mom, besides the fact that she raised me in a good way.

That really put [it] into perspective for me because then I was like, “Okay she is right I just need to push forward. If I have to be there, to go home every weekend, then I need to be.” So every time I worked or made payments or anything that my mom needed, I would take care of her, herself and the kids, and I’d be home every weekend to do the best that I can so I can show them I’m not isolating myself away from them.

But overall, college has had it’s ups and downs. I can truly say that Eastern has changed me, to be a better human being, to be a better sibling, to be a better son, to be a better overall citizen. … Overall, things got better. As things were getting better, so was my involvement at Eastern involving clubs and organizations, finding and creating a brand new organization, and overall just got myself into the whole atmosphere of Eastern. …

I don’t think I could see myself going to WSU, UW or any of those other universities because the challenges that we go through every day is reasons why we’re asking ourselves that important question, which is why I wake up every single day: Why do you wake up to do what you do, even if it’s hard, even if it’s agonizing? You still go through it and that reason is being able to define who you are as a person, defining your future and ultimately changing your lifestyles for the better, for yourself and for family.

Eastern gives that opportunity for all of us. Even if some of us are not first-generation students, we are there because someone couldn’t make it to college. You’re there because when I do walk out on that stage, it’s not D.J. getting the diploma; it’s my mom, it is my dad, every sibling in my family that has never had the opportunity. I’m getting it with my whole family behind me. That is getting my diploma, and that is the stage for myself as well as my family to do the next great thing.

I don’t know where I’m going to go from here on out, all I know is that life cannot get any worse because college has already taught me that life can get worse, but at the same time it can get amazing, it can get better, just gotta keep looking forward to it.

I’m a completely different person than I was five years ago. It’s amazing how that transition happened. A small thing in your life can change it either in a positive way or a negative way.