Music, which Jess Abowitz calls the backbeat of her life, has always been a big part of the recent graduate's day. At GSB, she was a member of four choirs, a flutist and vocalist with the jazz band, and a performer in the annual Joe Show. She was also a staple member of the GSB Players, taking on significant roles in four plays and three musicals during her time in the Upper School. She even wrote her college essay on the influence of music in her life, and at Commencement, Jess garnered the Lisa Schmidt Music Award, along with co-recipient Lynnsey Kwaak.
With her enviable talent, Jess could easily have looked to college as the next step in an eventual career in the performing arts. When she begins Wellesley College this fall, however, her focus will be on political science and sociology. "Music is a first love, and it will always stay with me: theater will too," she says. "Gill really helped me find my voice on the stage, literally and figuratively. And after seven years at GSB, I feel secure in my own voice, and I want to spend the next part of my career helping other people find theirs, advocating for the things I believe in." Although too soon to know how Jess's career will unfold after college, she says that law school and a career in public office could well be on the horizon.
Her work advocating for others also took root while she was at Gill St. Bernard's. As a freshman, Jess was in the HERO, which became Gill for Diversity in her sophomore year. "In my sophomore year, we had our first forum. It was led by seniors, and it was just a small group of kids meeting in the reference room," she says. In the student forums, it became evident that Jess had a talent for facilitating dialogue. As a sophomore, she was chosen to attend a Lead for Diversity summer residential program, where she shared ideas for making campus communities, and conversations, more inclusive. When she returned to GSB for her junior year, Jess had a leadership role in Gill for Diversity and would frequently lead the student forums. "What we wanted to promote was not any particular agenda but a respectful atmosphere in which everyone felt valued. You hear everybody's ideas, and you don't necessarily agree. But at the end of the day, you feel that you connected with another person and perhaps learned something."
With so many worried about the polarizing effects of social media and the constant stream of information, Jess's perspective is both refreshing and inspiring. "Our social and political climate has become toxic," she says. "There is always something telling you 'this is what's going on; this is how you should feel; and these are the people who completely disagree with you." Jess steps back to ask: "If we are always seeking out like-minded individuals and not even bothering to listen to someone who may disagree with us—but instead unleashing a Twitter storm—how can anything ever get done?" It's not healthy, and it's not conversation."
In the GSB Mock Trial Club, Jess had the chance to hone her skills with other forms of communication. "I really enjoyed crafting an argument and thinking on my feet, figuring out which details would help me portray a person as innocent or guilty," she offers. Jess won best witness at this year's mock trial competition.
Talking with Jess, her enthusiasm for communication in all of its forms is evident, and somewhat contagious. She loves writing and served as editor in chief of the school's literary magazine. In addition to taking AP literature and language, she also took the less familiar AP Language & Rhetoric, in which the class analyzed famous speeches from throughout history and looked at what made them effective. Jess earned a perfect score delivering a speech as Caesar's ghost on the Todd Quad.
Not wanting to limit herself to English, Jess was also an accomplished Latin student, taking AP in her senior year and preparing the opening remarks for the World Language Honor Society induction ceremony. "I love language," she says. "It can inspire, persuade, bridge gaps, and help bring about positive change."
Inspire, persuade, bridge gaps, and help bring about positive change… It seems more than likely that Jess will do each of those things in the years ahead.
Prior to graduating, Jess received a choir leadership award and was recognized by the College Board as an AP Scholar with Distinction. At Commencement, she received the Elizabeth Gill Girl award—the highest honor that may be attained by a young woman at the school—in recognition of her character. She was also among the newly-inducted members of the GSB chapter of the cum laude society and a graduating member of the school's honor board.