Rodeo Clown’s Online Master’s Degree Could Rope Him Back Into Teaching
By Cooper Nelson
GCU Today Magazine
JJ Harrison takes the role of class clown seriously.
The 37-year-old Grand Canyon University alumnus maintained his prankster reputation from school and turned it into a lucrative career as a rodeo clown. But when rodeo life ends, he has a master’s degree to fall back on.
Harrison earned his master’s in teaching from GCU in 2002. But, similar to his personality, his path to a graduate degree was anything but normal. As part of GCU’s non-traditional online degree program, Harrison listened to lectures on VHS tapes and submitted his assignments to professors through snail mail.
After two years of classes, he earned his degree and went on to become one of the Northwest’s most recognizable rodeo barrelmen and entertainers. He knows the higher degree will help him after his rodeo career ends.
“You can’t run away from a bull at 65 years old or with a surgically repaired knee,” said Harrison, a native of Washington who lives in Walla Walla and performs in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
“My master’s degree is something I can fall back on when my days in the rodeo are over,” he said.
Harrison earned his undergraduate degree in teaching from Washington State University. After graduation, he sought a school to help advance his education and improve his career as a teacher.
“GCU offered the best program,” Harrison said. “Online was the best option because I couldn’t afford to stop working to get an education.”
Harrison began working around bull-riding and rodeo when he attended Washington State. After graduating he taught science and social studies for eight years at Garrison and Pioneer middle schools in Walla Walla. He stepped away from teaching in 2008 to join the rodeo circuit full time.
Since then, Harrison has performed at major rodeo events such as the Columbia River Circuit Finals and the National Finals Rodeo, which is considered an all-star event for rodeo. He emerged as a celebrity in the Northwest for routines such as dancing into the arena in an inflatable pink fat suit and dirt-skiing behind horses.
Through his rodeo success and fame, Harrison maintained his love of education. He keeps his teaching certificate updated and prides himself on a family-friendly act. For example, he chose a soft drink instead of a beer as his barrel sponsor.
Harrison met his wife, Melissa, when both worked at Garrison Middle School. Melissa works as the director of marketing at Walla Walla Community College, where JJ also works part time as a promoter.
He said that his wife and son Huck, 4, are his two biggest supporters. Melissa enjoys the rodeo life but understands the impact of JJ’s advanced degree and the importance it could have on their future.
“(Right now) he’s not using his master’s degree for his education career, but it has helped him to get to where he is today,” Melissa said.
“He’s doing a great job in the rodeo, though,” she said, adding that his performances “are something that can keep me laughing, and I’ve seen them 50 times.”
Contact Cooper Nelson at 639.7511 or [email protected].