Senior Spotlight: Valedictorian Jasmine Awad ’19 Dreams of Changing Youth Incarceration Policies

Senior Spotlight: Valedictorian Jasmine Awad ’19 Dreams of Changing Youth Incarceration Policies

Senior Spotlight: Valedictorian Jasmine Awad ’19 Dreams of Changing Youth Incarceration Policies

Our 2019 Commencement Ceremony is right around the corner. To mark the occasion, and celebrate the incredible achievements of our seniors, we spoke with several students that will be graduating on May 29. Our hope is that their stories inspire the entire John Jay community—alumni, faculty, staff, current and prospective students—to strive for excellence. Our next Senior Spotlight is Jasmine Awad ’19, the Student Council President with a major in Criminal Justice and a minor in Human Services, who has risen to the top of her class to become the 2019 Valedictorian.   

Can you tell us what your year has been like as Student Council President?
It’s been amazing. This experience has taught me a lot about working with people who have different leadership styles and recognizing that although you are President, you need to rely on others to get the work done. I have completed or started projects that I have dreamed about since the end of my freshman year. For example, I always wanted feminine hygiene products available in bathrooms, so we installed baskets in all the women’s bathrooms and are in the process of installing them in the remaining restrooms. And, I’ve heard our students talk about not having enough technology space, so we are creating two new computer spaces at the College. It’s really exciting to have the experience to say that at one point in my career, I was able to listen to what people wanted, speak with them and stakeholders, and actually get those things changed. I’ve really enjoyed my experience, and while I wish I could stay here longer, I am very confident in the people who will be my successors.

“This experience has taught me a lot about working with people who have different leadership styles and recognizing that although you are President, you need to rely on others to get the work done.”—Jasmine Awad

What has been the most memorable moment as Student Council President?
When I was opening the AOC [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] event, after I introduced myself, everyone cheered so loud. And it was something that I didn’t expect at all. When I walked onto that stage, I figured everyone would hope that I left quickly so they could finally see AOC. And while I’m sure they were excited, they made me feel welcomed even though it was me that was supposed to be welcoming them. I had some of my colleagues come up to me afterwards and say, “Did you hear them cheer and clap for you? It’s like they know what you’ve done for them this year and the type of leader you are.” And that made my heart super full. A lot of times in this position you don’t get recognition, and while that’s not the reason why I became President, it makes me happy knowing that students know that I’m here for them, listening to them, and advocating for them. That was a beautiful moment for me.

You are the 2019 Valedictorian. What did it feel like when you found out?
When I found out, I was speechless. I honestly thought they were lying and I was in such disbelief. At the end of the first semester of my freshman year, I had gotten all As. For me, College was a brand-new slate. Even though I did well in high school, I didn’t push myself to reach my fullest potential. After my first semester here, and with how well I did, I told myself that I could be valedictorian. It sounded too premature, but I knew I started off right and I could continue down this path. I did have people along the way who didn’t believe in me, but I continued to push forward. I have been waiting for this valedictorian announcement for months, because I knew that this could be a possibility for me. It’s been very exciting to be told that I was going to be the valedictorian and to see how proud my mom is of me. She bought a shirt that says “Mom of Class of 2019 Valedictorian” and she’s talking about graduation all the time. My mom has made so many sacrifices to get me here, so to be able to see that it was worth it, and that I’m the valedictorian, has meant a lot.

“After my first semester here, and with how well I did, I told myself that I could be valedictorian.”—Jasmine Awad

What was the key to your academic success?
Honestly, one of the keys to my success was being inspired by other people. I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in leadership on campus, which has helped me meet a very wide range of people. Seeing how much people would fight for their dreams and goals, and seeing them go to really great colleges after graduation, showed me that this could easily be me. Something that I would recommend to future and current students is to start off your freshman year very strong, because it’s very difficult to build yourself up if you don’t start off right. A lot of people don’t believe that their freshman year is important, but I think it’s the key to the success of the rest of your career.

You mentioned your mom. Can you give us a little background about what your life was like growing up?
My mom is Egyptian. She immigrated from Egypt right before she had me in her early 20s. She really is an amazing mother and has always been incredibly selfless. I visit her job sometimes, and I can’t stop in the hallway without people telling me how much they love my mom. She was a strict mother and has instilled in me to be very respectful. When I was younger I didn’t really understand why she was strict with me. There were times that I would get upset about having a curfew and not being allowed to hang out with my friends. As I started getting older, I became more thankful for the way she raised me because she instilled discipline and care. She also really wanted me to be independent and not have to rely on someone else. I owe a lot of my success to my mother. She’s a paraprofessional for young kids in elementary school, typically second graders with autism or other disabilities. It’s interesting because my mom, my older sister Jessica—a John Jay alumna from the Class of 2017—and I, are all interested in helping youth.

If everything goes according to plan, what will you be doing after graduation?
I really want to get a master’s degree in social work and public policy because I am incredibly passionate about helping youth who are either at-risk, currently or formerly incarcerated. I’ve dived into several internships and classes that have introduced me to the problems of mass incarceration and specifically the problems that youth face when they are incarcerated at young ages and not given the chance for rehabilitation. When you find out the reasons for why they are in prison, it’s incredibly disheartening. Whether it’s advocating for youth by meeting with them directly or working to create policy change, I would like to help them.

This summer I will be working at an organization called Include Youth, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. They’re allowing me to go into a juvenile detention center and speak with youth, and I think this experience might steer me more towards finding the exact pathway I want to be in and show me other ways that I can help youth. After that, I’m planning to apply to graduate school. My top choice right now is the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn). I really love the programs that they have and that they have a concentration in juvenile justice. Earlier in my academic career, I was determined to go to an Ivy League, but I realized that this is not important to me. Even though UPenn is an Ivy League—I didn't know it until I did more research—it’s not this title that attracted me to the school, it’s their curriculum and the dedication that they have for their students to learn and make a change in the world. And, this is something I want other students to realize. The name of where you go for college isn’t important. It’s what you do that matters. We go to a CUNY school and my time here has changed my entire life. I wouldn’t have wanted to go to any other school because the people at John Jay care so much and that has been really important to me.

“I wouldn't have wanted to go to any other school because the people at John Jay care so much and that has been really important to me.”—Jasmine Awad

What advice would you give your successor as Student Council President?
To my successor, I will tell her that there are going to be some challenges. It’s not going to be easy, but remember that you are not alone. Don’t ever feel like you are alone in this because there are so many people that have your back and that will support you. Something else that I think she should know is to reach for her dreams and to not let anyone stop her. There were times when I doubted what I was doing, or thought that whatever I would request would be too much for administration to do, but when I asked, I realized that it’s not as hard as I made it out to seem.

Finish this sentence for me: Without John Jay…
Without John Jay, I wouldn’t have been the person that I am today.

Listen to the full interview with Jasmine Awad.