PATERSON, NJ - LaJayzia "Jay" Wright is a motivated, high- achieving Princeton-bound scholar from Paterson's First Ward who loves the color hardworking-blue, the color of a "jean jacket,” she says. To her, the color means "being willing to work for what you want."
Jay has absolutely worked for what she wanted. Starting at an early age, she read the newspaper to her younger cousin long before she “should have been able to read,” the first of many leadership roles for her over the years. Jay describes herself as, “driven, determined, passionate, and curious."
She started her journey in Paterson where she attended the Gifted and Talented School housed at PS# 28. With the help of the NJ SEEDS program which aims to change the lives of students from low-income families by transforming their educational opportunities, Jay attended The Hotchkiss School in Connecticut, where she served as head of the Black and Hispanic Student Association; head of the Cafe (an affinity group for young women of color), and Captain of the Volleyball, Softball and Track and Field teams. In addition, she served as a Two-Year Proctor and Human Development Teaching Assistant.
“I needed to lean into the fact that people are different from me and acknowledge my own biases, open up, and become friends with people from other countries,” Jay said, speaking about the initial culture shock during her transition from inner-city public school to residential school on a sprawling green campus.
Her hard work keeps paying off. In the fall, Princeton University has the honor of having the hardworking young woman as part of their Fall 2020 Freshman class where she’ll be studying psychology. Jay chose Princeton over eleven acceptances including: John Hopkins, Villanova, Notre Dame, Emery, Amhurst, Davidson, Leigh, Rutgers and Kean Universities, as well as Williams College.
"I have always had a desire to talk to people, learn others’ experiences and figure out what was going on in their minds to make them do this or that thing. I was a curious child and I still am just as, if not more so, curious as I was then,” she said of her choice in study areas. “I like knowing the why’s and the how’s of things and I think psychology helps me better understand myself, people, their decisions and how to make things around me better by being a better person."
Princeton University also offers her the opportunity to be closer to her hometown, Paterson, than she had been during her high school years. “Princeton throws opportunities at you, wide opportunities. People at Princeton were already reaching out to me and it was clear that I was wanted there,” Jay said about her final choices, adding that she is especially excited about the opportunity to study abroad.
When asked about her plans after college, Jay said that she plans to work in development psychology because she wants to “help younger people understand and embrace their own power.”
“I would also like to become involved in some type of community outreach in some way in order to continue helping places and people to thrive in the best way they can.”
Describing his daughter as a person from humble beginnings, Jay’s father, Jamall Wright, said that she has his full support in any choice she makes. “I support her,” he said unequivocally. “That’s what I do.”
Jay’s First Ward upbringing is especially meaningful, Jamall believes, because it’s seen as a place where people are not expected to go as far as she has gone.
"The sky's the limit for her. There's nothing that she can't do,” the proud dad said.
Q&A with Jay:
TLQ: What advice would you give to students heading into high schools?
Jay: To students heading into high school, I want to tell them not to be afraid of the unknown and uncertainty. You’re young, give yourself the chance to make mistakes, learn from them, go on adventures, explore who you are, find yourself and find yourself again. You don’t have to know everything right now and you won’t know everything... no one does. So embrace being wrong, embrace mistakes and embrace exploration. Give yourself the space to figure out who you are and what you want to do by going on adventures and not doing the perfect things — that’s where your best memories come from and that’s how you find out who you are.
TLQ: What advice would you give to the future you? What do you want the future you to remember?
Jay: To future me, I would say keep your head up. Though that is a simply phrase, I would mean everything that comes with it. You’ll face challenges, you’ll doubt yourself, you’ll change your mind and you’ll apologize and that is okay. You won’t be perfect all the time but I want you to try to keep your head up and remember your worth. Perfection or the lack thereof does not determine your success so whatever you do and wherever you go, remember who you are and
how hard you worked to get there. Keep your head held high and don’t let anyone tip that crown, because you worked hard and earned your place.
TLQ: What legacy have you left behind at The Hotchkiss** School?
Jay: My legacy is one of embracing identity, sharing and appreciating stories. Throughout my leadership in different identity groups and areas of personal development, I have strived to make sure that any and every person feels that their story matters. I think all too often people believe that what they have to say does not matter or won’t change anything, but I believe quite the opposite and I made sure to express my belief whether that be helping someone embrace and celebrate their own identity or encouraging someone to speak their truth and allow others to as well. After all, a puzzle doesn’t work if all the pieces aren’t there.
The thing that Jay wants people starting their journey to know is this: “One thing you don’t have to be an award winner, an outspoken leader or at the front of the room to be successful and make change. If you have a desire for change and a passion for whatever your pursuit is, go after it and do not stop until you get to where you want to be. And then go some more. I think there is an unfortunate expectation for success to be the most money or the highest on the chain, but I want to make sure that any young person knows that whatever they accomplish and do, no matter how small or big, matters. Realize the value that you bring into every room you step into.”
Jay is spending the summer at home in Paterson, NJ where it all started.
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