In a testimony to the impact of the Ozanam Scholar program, Jeremy Ashton switched career goals from the arts to using the arts for social justice.
“Jeremy is a St. John’s original, combining relentless ambition to do good in the world with intense curiosity and intelligence,” said Mentz. “He follows the University’s service mission to its utmost while achieving academic excellence.”Ashton has applied his love of the arts to other service opportunities. Also through Ozanam, Ashton volunteered as an English workshop facilitator for 12-15 women learning conversational English using poetry, film, and prose at the Casa Internazionale delle Donne in Rome, Italy during the spring 2014 semester. In that same semester, he served as an English tutor for 14-20 intellectually disabled adult students at the Agorà Centre per soggetti con fragilità sociale in Rome. During his freshman year, Ashton worked with the Homes for the Homeless afterschool program as a literacy coach and phonemic awareness instructor, tutoring a group of 15-20 homeless first grade students living at the Queens Saratoga Family Inn.While developing Divergent, Ashton became aware of systemic problems leading to social injustices and became interested in working to alleviate them as a public interest lawyer. He gained experience with lobbying and legal non-profit work during the summer before his junior year, when he worked with two organizations – RESULTS and OXFAM America – on grassroots advocacy and leadership. As a poverty fellow with RESULTS, he lobbied on Capitol Hill to end poverty, and received media advocacy training with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and RESULTS Educational Fund. As a CHANGE leader with OXFAM America, he underwent intensive leadership training to become an OXFAM advocate in both college and community settings, and published an article on OXFAM America’s website about the experience.Though public advocacy work is a considerable shift from Ashton’s original ambition to act, he has found connections among his passions and goals. “I’ve come to understand that lobbying and legal non-profit work has many elements of performance to it,” he said. “Sometimes you don’t realize that an experience is helping you move forward until a year later when you’re able to put it in a different context.”
Ashton is well on his way toward his new career goal of public interest law. During the summer of 2016, he participated in the competitive Ronald H. Brown Law School Prep Program, which identifies leaders in racial, economic, and social justice and offers them early exposure to the study and practice of law.
He credits the combined degree program, which has allowed him to take graduate English courses as an undergraduate student, with helping him develop the leadership and critical thinking skills he’ll need in law and advocacy. Said Ashton: “The combined degree program helped me develop analytical skills and learn to build a project from beginning to end. Taking [Associate Professor Elda Tsou, Ph.D.’s] graduate theory course as an undergraduate student was challenging and taught me both how to look at an idea through many different lenses and, most importantly, how to ‘fail’ when learning difficult concepts. I realized that it’s not about being the smartest person in the room but about learning from your peers and collaborating effectively.”
A love for writing and the arts has always been at the forefront of Ashton’s SJU career, and he has shared his passion for performance, literature, and poetry with others, publishing work in Wild Spice Magazine. “Poetry has been an important tool for me to be creative and figure out who I want to be as a person. That’s what literary studies can do for people,” said Ashton.
This perspective – that the arts are a powerful tool for helping others – has characterized Ashton’s career at SJU so far, and will no doubt guide him toward service and success in the future.
Source: St. John’s University web site