2018-07-04 / Features


Josselyn Navas

Josselyn Navas is an extraordinary student who just graduated from Townsend Harris High School as a winner of the prestigious 2018 Milken scholarship. She is one of only six students in the city to receive the 2018 Milken Scholars Program award. She is also the recipient of the QuestBridge National College Match Scholarship and the University of Chicago’s Odyssey Scholarship. She is a National Hispanic Scholar, belongs to the National Honor Society, and earned a Summa Cum Laude Award and a perfect score on the National Latin Exam. Josselyn has captained Townsend Harris’ varsity volleyball team for two years, and was first chair alto clarinet in the school concert band. (See the full story in the June 6 issue of the Gazette at www.QGazette.com).

Born in a small town in Ecuador called El Empalme, most of Josselyn’s childhood was spent in a bigger coastal city, Manta, where her parents had established a home before her dad left for California. She lived in Manta for six years with her mom while her dad tried to economically support them from Los Angeles. Josselyn began to understand the burdens of financial difficulty early on, as her mom had to double up one of their rooms as a grocery store to supplement their household income. They would wake up religiously to the rooster crowing next-door and go down to the clustered town square market to bargain for daily food supplies. She saw the challenges both her parents faced to make ends meet, and still, she was given the opportunity to attend one of the few private schools in her area. On the trek to school every morning, her mom not only reminded her that education was the most formidable weapon she had, but made sure she made those words her very own. Josselyn says that to this day, her faithful search for educational success is a tribute to the expectations that her mom taught her to defy.

(L. to r.): Dr. Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards; Milken Scholar Josselyn Navas; and Andrew Michael, associate director of the Milken Scholars. Both photos were taken at the New York Milken Scholars Recognition Dinner in early June. (L. to r.): Dr. Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards; Milken Scholar Josselyn Navas; and Andrew Michael, associate director of the Milken Scholars. Both photos were taken at the New York Milken Scholars Recognition Dinner in early June. Josselyn’s dad’s petition to bring the family to the US was approved when Navas was six years old; rather than moving to LA, they decided to make a fresh start in New York. She had been on her way to the third grade in Ecuador, but was put in kindergarten when she arrived. Naturally, the language barrier was a daunting challenge every day. Josselyn was so fearful she did not dare ask to use the restroom, for example. It took three years for her to familiarize herself with English, but once she did, it became an indispensable tool, she says. She graduated from PS 13 with the highest honors and delivered her first valedictorian speech there. It was also her first moment of deep reflection and pride. In that moment she grasped how much she had personally overcome. She was no longer the little girl who was too scared to ask to use the bathroom. She had found her voice and was confident that it was going to stay with her.

QG: To what do you attribute your excellent scholarly abilities and achievements?

JN: My parents are the driving force behind all my personal and scholastic achievements. I am very lucky to say that they’ve given me the freedom to fabricate my own dreams and the support needed to realize them. From very early on, they gave me an empty slate to begin writing my future. Entering a new country without the language and without friends was not an easy task, but I understand now that it was a blessing. It came with sacrifices, but it allowed me to start finding my own potential without restraints. I continue feeling this sense of gratitude because I know that I have a unique opportunity to keep on fabricating dreams bigger than myself, and most importantly, continue working freely until I see them unfold.

QG: We think all the parents (and teachers) want to know: with all your responsibilities, what motivates you to work so hard for school?

JN: I like to think I’m a nonconformist. I wouldn’t be able to pursue my academic interests without the constant reminder from my parents and community I need to beat the odds. Coming from a low-income, first-generation background, most of my endeavors are within unexplored territory, so pursuing them takes double the work. At times it feels like a catch-up game, but I’ve learned to use this to push me to work both faster and more diligently. I’ve learned to take the initiative, look for scholarship opportunities, seek out mentorship, and maximize the support and resources around me. I do this not only for myself, but for the people who have served as pillars for me. I want them to know that if I can beat the odds, defeat the stereotypes, and unmask the unknown, they can too. My successes are the successes of the community around me. Pushing them to “trespass” parameters, come out of the shadows, and to not conform along with me is what motivates me to work hard in school.

QG: What would be your dream career?

JN: Ultimately, my dream career would be one in which my voice makes a difference. I plan on pursuing a position in the federal government as an economics and policy analyst to bring to light the experiences of low-income, immigrant communities and highlight the lack of social mobility. I want to delve into labor economics and understand the patterns of wage and household income to explain why these communities are trapped. Above all, I want to be able to provide the resources and share both political and financial literacy so individuals with similar backgrounds to mine can start prompting social change. It’s an effort that takes the support of many, and I hope to be able to represent this effort at the federal level.

QG: We learned that you were first chair alto clarinet in the school concert band, among many other achievements, academic and extracurricular. Who is your favorite saxophone player? Any other music you really love?

JN: My favorite saxophonist is Joshua Redman. He’s a fascinating guy with a pure passion for jazz. His compositions are varied and fun, and pieces like “Hide and Seek” are a personal favorite. Apart from jazz, I also enjoy urban Latin music and more traditional Latin music like salsa. Gilberto Santa Rosa is my all-time favorite salsa artist.

QG: What are some things you love about— and to do in—Queens?

JN: I love the rhythm of Queens. I think that music is one of the most welcoming aspects of culture. I am very lucky to be able to walk down the streets of Jackson Heights and experience Colombian vallenato and then go down on Northern Boulevard for K-pop (Korean popular music). This is exactly why walking itself is one of my favorite things to do in Queens. Living in such an ethnically diverse area demands that you take the time to understand the world around you, and I like to take long walks, sometimes with no specific destination, to immerse myself in as much rhythm, flavors, and colors as I can.

This column was originated in July, 2013 by Nicollette Barsamian.

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