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My Friend Jessie.

Posted on by Michelle

In college, we learn some of the most valuable life lessons. Most of these lessons are learned outside the classroom walls. As a wide-eyed first year student, I was eager to find my way in an enormously large Rutgers University – a place where I was known not by my name, but rather my nine-digit number social security number. With 40,000 students, I found it difficult to feel like anything but that nine-digit number.

All the more, it would seem like a miracle that day when out of nowhere, a beautiful angel named Jessica Roberts literally took my hand and said, ‘So, ‘Cits’…(I’ve heard many a nickname but never this one), “Tell me, who are you? What are you all about? What are you looking to do in this world?” By reaching out to ask me these questions, Jessica led me on a journey to help me find the answers.

Jessica (a junior) instantly mesmerized me with her incredibly calm and confident demeanor. Seeing the light in her eyes helped me feel hopeful that things would get better and there was no need to feel so anxious about this new environment. Jessie’s interest in connecting with me allowed me to feel less alone simply by helping me realize I was part of something bigger – a community. More importantly, Jessie taught me that it wasn’t enough to just ‘be’ a part of a community, it was important to be an active member of my community.

It was Jessie’s encouragement that led me to serve in student government, where I met a sisterhood of incredibly empowering and inspiring young women leaders who helped me find my voice so I could stand for what I believed in. I even had the incredible honor to deliver a commencement speech at my graduation. Who knew?? Definitely not me.

Jessie was valedictorian of her class, smart, beautiful, hilarious and friendly. She was someone who seemed to have it all. She even managed to inspire an international network of students to become activists by creating a college course that easily became one of my favorite, most memorable classes I had the privilege of taking.

A few months after graduating from college, as I became a first-year student of the ‘real world’, I received a devastating phone call that Jessie had taken her own life. My heart broke open to a reality I did not know. My brain couldn’t compute how someone who shined so much light into the world could possibly be struggling so deeply in darkness on the inside and…that I had no idea.

It would seem that I had one more lesson to learn from Jessie and perhaps it was the most important one of all; to never assume what someone’s reality is beyond their bright smile. I learned the lesson of making sure to reach out to loved ones just as Jessie did. I learned that it’s especially important to reach out to the ones who shine the brightest light, for they are often the ones who need it most.

What good is a lesson if you don’t put it into action? In honor of Jessie’s life work of reaching out to everyone she met and bringing light and leadership to this world – we are establishing an annual scholarship to be awarded to a Douglass College (of Rutgers University) student and Institute for Women in Leadership scholar who’s work captures the spirit, energy, and inspiration of our dear sister and friend, Jessica Roberts.

We are welcoming donations at this time to help support Jessie’s incredible legacy by helping nurture our future female leaders realize that they are not alone on their journey towards a path of leadership and that they are part of a larger community that is here to help them shine their light.


The Jessica L. Roberts Leadership Prize


Jessie's words

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