CHANTAL ONONAIWU failed the first time but on her second try, the part-time lecturer in criminal law at the Norman Manley Law School, Mona, and assistant Crown Counsel in the Attorney-General's chambers, walked away with the 2003 Jamaican Rhodes Scholarship.
The tall, soft-spoken 23-year-old graduate of both the Norman Manley Law School and the University of Cambridge, topped 30 original applicants and nine other short-listed hopefuls for the prestigious scholarship. December 12 is her birthday.
Miss Ononaiwu who was short-listed in 2000 has a LL.M.degree. In September 2001 she won more than 10 prizes at the Norman Manley Law School's awards ceremony.
In addition, she stole the spotlight when she was awarded a Musgrave Youth Award for her work in law in 2001. In 1996 while she was at the Immaculate Conception High School in Kingston, she received three distinctions and two credits in the GCE 'A' Level examinations, two years after receiving nine distinctions in the CXC examinations.
For her, yesterday's Rhodes Scholarship was a quiet victory, which she said left her surprised and humbled. She planned to celebrate with her family and friends. She will be reading for a Doctor of Philosophy degree in law majoring in international trade from a development perspective.
"It's a bit surreal. I'm also feeling quite humble at this point. Today was a very challenging experience but similar to my first experience. It was really rewarding because we are meeting so many other young people, each of them distinguished in their own right," she told The Gleaner after a gruelling seven-hour interview session with other candidates and a short presentation ceremony at Kings House, Kingston.
Two candidates, Conniel Arnold, 20, and Darryl Stewart, one of two male applicants, were selected to go to Barbados to compete for two Caribbean Commonwealth Rhodes Scholarships. They will leave on Sunday.
Ms. Arnold is a final year Government major at Cornell University, USA. She is doing an honours thesis looking at drug mules and mandatory sentencing. She hopes to do International Law and work eventually with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as an Ambassador or as an adviser on Caribbean relations looking at issues such as the Caribbean Court of Justice and Caribbean Single Market and Economy.
"I recognise that law is alive and I wanted to be able to use law to help development in Jamaica. I like formulating arguments (and) I like the discourse. I recognise that we are living in a world that is close knit and that is why international relations is so relevant today," she said, smiling.
The remaining seven candidates tried to put aside their disappointment and several were determined to try again next year or find other avenues of funding. Among them was Angella Rainford, who was also trying for the second time to get the Rhodes scholarship to fund a plan to study Economic Development at Oxford University in England.
"I still intend to go to Oxford. Finding funding will be interesting but that is where I feel I should be to accomplish what I would like to do. I believe that if you want to do something, regardless of what is thrown at you, you will still do it," the Harvard University graduate said.
For his part, Governor-General Sir Howard Cooke, offered words of encouragement to those who lost out.
"There are instances when for the first time people did not succeed and then later came to the fore so I say to those who have not been awarded today, remember that you are young," he said, adding that the country will benefit from their expertise in the future.
"We know that we are in excellent form because as these young persons develop, we'll have a solid foundation when we leave to build our growth and competence in the world," he added.
Among the previous Rhodes Scholarship awardees are former Jamaican premier Norman Manley, Professor Rex Nettleford, Professor Mervyn Morris, Hector Wynter, Professor Trevor Munroe, QC Dennis Morrison, Dr. David Panton, Ambassador Dudley Thompson and Professor Stephen Vasciannie.
The Rhodes scholarship will be 100 years old next year and celebrations will be marked by a Rhodes scholar reunions to be held in Cape Town, South Africa between January 28 and February 2, 2003 and another in London between July 2 and 5, 2003.