Jay Hopkins '14: Embracing Differences Leads to Many Open Doors

This article originally appeared in The Beacon Fall 2017 issue.

Although Arabic, Hindi, and Mandarin are considered to be exceptionally difficult for native English speakers to master, Jay Hopkins ‘14 easily crosses language barriers thanks to his fluency in these languages as well as in Spanish. He attributes his facility with languages to both his dyslexia and to The Windward School, observing that “because I was dyslexic in English, I never succeeded very well in that language. But ever since Windward, I’ve had an ear for languages.” Jay’s international exposure began soon after he was born in Ahmedabad, India. Four months later, his parents brought him back to the United States, where he eventually enrolled in the fourth grade at Windward. Windward helped Jay identify and hone his many strengths, which include a great curiosity in the world and in people. The confidence and affirmation he received from his academic experience at Windward put him on a path to a life filled with scientific exploration, multicultural experiences, and global travel.

Innate Curiosity

Jay was always a gregarious and inquisitive student. Yet of his memories of the schools he attended prior to Windward, he has several predominant ones. These exclusionary experiences included being required to do things that other students were not, such as typing instead of handwriting his written work, and having to sit for successive diagnostic tests that demanded much of his time and frequently took him out of the classroom. However, Jay’s personality did not let it keep him down. Reflecting on a more positive memory, Jay actively participated in the school community through student council and other activities. “I was probably compensating for my academic challenges by being so active in the extracurricular activities,” he recalls. “Those formative experiences allowed me to develop a strong sense of agency.” His curiosity in others combined with his outgoing personality allowed him to make connections with peers and teachers that supported him throughout his academic journey. However, this inchoate fearlessness was harnessed and refined upon his arrival at Windward.

The Impact of Books and a Love for Science

Supported by Windward’s academic program, Jay was able to ground himself more fully in his scholastic experiences, and soon discovered that he consistently excelled at science and geography. Jay’s nascent self-advocacy skills and personal understanding of his strengths and their implications were nurtured through Windward teachers like Ruthanne Mahoney and Valerie Greto who “got him through the fifth and sixth grades and were always available to help me.” Jay attributes his love of science to his Windward science teachers, specifically Karen Ralph, who encouraged Jay’s early explorations in the field. The intellectual successes he enjoyed in these areas remained with him through high school at the Forman School, a boarding school in Litchfield, Connecticut, and continued into college where his concentrations are in public health and international relations. Jay also formed a tertiary interest thanks to a love of reading developed during his time at The Windward School. In the more esoteric field of philosophy, a field that demands both extensive reading and logical analysis, Jay credits Windward for teaching him the skills to be able to successfully pursue this field. “I read for pleasure now, and when I do need to read for school, I use the annotating and fact-finding skills that I learned at Windward. I also credit my love for reading to opening my eyes and broadening my world. Because of the skills I learned, I became interested in the books A Thousand Suns and The Kite Runner.  They really pushed me to learn Arabic.”

Additional skills he learned at Windward included helping him to read proficiently and to quickly identify main ideas and supporting details. These skills were particularly useful in his bioethics class, a prerequisite for his degree plan, at American University. In this class, Jay explored the ethical dilemma surrounding non-voluntary euthanasia, particularly in instances when the patient is in a long-term coma. Jay’s well-analyzed and articulated response, along with his participation in the class, led the professor of the course to invite him to return as a teaching assistant. Being a teaching assistant with office hours and student mentoring helped Jay sympathize with his professors when students were late or not reaching their potential. It especially allowed him to appreciate the importance of self-advocacy and communication with his own teachers, a skill Jay says he learned early as a student at Windward.

These academic and self-advocacy skills also allowed him to easily transition to the Forman School, where in his senior year, he was made head prefect before graduating and beginning his college career at the American University. Jay notes that he chose American University for its academic culture that he felt would continue to support his learning needs and nurture his strengths, much like Windward did when Jay entered as a fourth grader. He is also joined by old friends from Windward, with at least three other former Windward students attending American University with him.

Succeeding Beyond Windward

Developing learning strategies and self-advocacy skills are among the most crucial skills Jay felt that Windward taught him. “I can sympathize why students might not want to come forward, but I’ve learned that is the wrong thing to do. When a student feels intimidated by the professor, all those

advocacy skills can be harder to access. But it’s especially important for students with dyslexia,” Jay says, emphasizing that while schools and people have developed a more nuanced understanding of dyslexia, it is still important to explain the needs of a dyslexic student. He also feels that finding sympathetic and supportive teachers is essential. “The main reason I decided upon American University is because the learning center is amazing. I love American University, and my professors, especially my mentor who is my writing teacher from freshman year,” Jay explains, illustrating the importance of establishing relationships early on with professors and utilizing the resources that schools offer. Jay only encountered one class where the professor and a peer had a pejorative attitude towards dyslexia, and he handled it with a confidence borne from years as a Windward student, knowing he was much more than one person’s misperception. “I handled it by becoming the project leader and leading our group to an “A” in the course,” he points out.

A Promising Future Grounded in Global Improvement

Now, poised to graduate from American University as a public health major with a double minor in philosophy and international relations, Jay transcends borders as an intern at the Middle East Investment Initiative, a D.C.-based non-government organization operating in Palestine, Jordan, and Tunisia. Jay’s position as an intern at the NGO lets him tap into his analytical side as well as utilize his engaging social skills. His current role as the public relations officer for the nonprofit is an absorbing and fascinating job. Additionally, while handling the media arm of the NGO, Jay is involved in projects such as financing solar panels and water drip systems for local farmers who need backing on their microloans or need additional financing. Working with multiple partners from various cultural and economic backgrounds lets Jay utilize the many diverse talents he nurtured at Windward. Most recently, thanks to the internship, he had the opportunity to travel to Israel and Palestine over the summer, where he was able to see first-hand the importance of communication and advocacy. “It was eye-opening for me to learn how much the Israelis and the Palestinians just wanted to know more what each other were like. There’s a wall that divides them not just physically but in terms of getting to know each other.” Jay’s certainty that communication eases barriers and improves understanding was reinforced through his travels for work. The seed for his deep commitment to increasing the ability of people to be their own advocates and to have greater agency in their lives seems to have been planted and watered from his own successes at Windward. Jay’s curiosity about the world and scientific leanings will lead him eventually to graduate school where he can continue working to “increase quality of life and letting people build lives worth living.” For now, he is focusing on his studies at American University and devoting himself to his internship, following his own advice to “embrace the things that make you different, that make you stand out and that make you who you are.”