October 13, 2019

Romy Dolgin: The accidental star

AGE: 18
HIGH SCHOOL: deToledo High School
GOING TO: Harvard University

“I’m the epitome of an undecided, undeclared, incoming freshman,” Romy Dolgin, 18, said without sounding the least bit self-conscious.

It’s not the kind of statement you’d expect from a young woman on her way to Harvard. But the way Dolgin tells it, most of her achievements have transpired with a degree of serendipity.

“It’s not like something I had in my head since I was little,” she said of applying to Harvard. “But then I visited, and my mom and I looked at each other, like, ‘I can’t believe we’re even looking at this place!’ I had a giddy feeling the whole time. I didn’t want to invest my hopes in something that seemed impossible, but it was simply my favorite.”

The way she says simply — with a touch of drama, as if she were acting in an Oscar Wilde play — gives away her theatrical background. For the past 10 years, Dolgin has spent two hours a week participating in workshops at the Agoura Children’s Theatre. “It was less about becoming an actress, more about breaking out of my shell because I was a very, very shy kid,” she said.

Not anymore.

Thanks to her theater training, she became a competent enough public speaker to win a seat as vice president of the student council at deToledo High School — four times. She also developed enough confidence to go to Israel on an exchange program, which she described as “the hardest and also the best thing I’ve ever done.”

“It was very much about independence,” Dolgin said. “You had to figure out the bus schedule.”

Anyone who thinks that’s uncomplicated hasn’t been on a Tel Aviv bus. In fact, Dolgin limned a compelling story about it for her college essay. “It was about getting lost on the bus, alone at night, and how public transportation turns out to be a trying test of, ‘Can you get where you need to go on your own?’ ”

It certainly helped her Hebrew.

Not being hyper-directed has led her to some surprising and promising places. One day during her junior year, a friend mentioned a gathering for a sexual violence awareness program at the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles. “I thought, OK, I’m not really doing anything, so I went, in just a checking-things-out kind of way,” she said. 

Dolgin soon became lead peer educator for a program called “The Talk Project,” a student-led sexual violence education and prevention program conducted at schools.

I had never really noticed sexual violence was an issue in my life,” Dolgin said. “But the more people started talking about it, the more I was like, oh, yeah, I do see that: I notice my girlfriends holding keys in their hands as they walk to their car at night because they’re innately afraid.”

The more she learned, the more she taught. And the more she taught, the more peers started sharing their stories with her.

“You come to see it’s so prominent,” she said. “Close, close friends of mine have come forward as survivors of sexual assault.”

Dolgin said her drive to help others comes from — where else? — Judaism. “I love being Jewish,” she exclaimed. “I’ve been told that I need to take it down a notch. I make too many Torah jokes that other people don’t necessarily find as funny as I do.”

After 13 years in Jewish schools, Dolgin has achieved excellent grades, top test scores, become a National Merit Scholar and a Diller Teen Award nominee (the Helen Diller Family Foundation features a leadership development program for Jewish teens). A lover of English and mathematics, she said she wants to pioneer a field in which “left brain and right brain meet” so she can indulge her analytical side and creative side simultaneously.