Weekend Wisdom

Jachele Vélez ’07

18
“Be your own advocate.”
“One of the greatest lessons I learned during my four years at Kent Place was how not to assume I was unqualified. To paraphrase a classmate, it’s where I learned the difference between difficult and impossible: Just because work was hard, it didn’t mean I was incapable of understanding it or excelling at it. I’m grateful for the environment at KPS, where faculty never allowed me to be one dimensional and — quite the opposite — let me know when they thought I was capable of more. For example, I remember Ms. Degenaars, our biology teacher, telling me in the hallway junior year that I should’ve been in her AP Biology class. She called me out for taking an easy road instead of trying something that seemed scary or difficult. That was one of the experiences that helped me see when I was being unnecessarily self-limiting instead of self-encouraging.
 
“As an attorney, it’s my job to advocate on behalf of others, whether it be to file asylum claims for pro bono clients who don’t speak the local language or to help large corporations explain to the government why a merger should go through. But first I had to learn to advocate for myself. I try to approach certain situations with a “Why not me?” frame of mind, which has enabled me to get out of my own way and secure opportunities, such as being a White House Counsel Intern in law school, working with the former Attorney General on public-policy matters (although my area of law was antitrust), and my current federal clerkship.
 
“Being your own advocate also means saying no and knowing when to self-prioritize. There were times when a great project arose and I had to have an honest conversation with myself about whether it aligned with any of my goals or if I was comfortable taking on something else.
 
“Today I try to assume I’m competent, even if it means learning difficult lessons on the fly. And I’m grateful for the gentle nudge I received at KPS, one I now give myself when opportunities come my way.”

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Kent Place School is an all-girls K through 12 independent college preparatory day school with a coeducational Preschool, located in Summit, NJ.