September 22, 2019

World traveler, community journalist: Tamar Willis

Shalhevet High School

Going to: Hevruta Partnership in Global Jewish Learning; Princeton University

Calling Tamar Willis a global citizen doesn’t go far enough, even though she’s spent time in Africa and Israel. This Shalhevet High School senior spent the past four years fearlessly delving into the unfamiliar — and she’s about to do it again.

Before heading to Princeton University, she will take a gap year in Jerusalem for the Hevruta Partnership in Global Jewish Learning and Leadership, a collaboration between the Shalom Hartman Institute and Hebrew College of Boston, to “get away from that stressful learning environment.” 

[See the other outstanding graduates here]

This is not to say that she didn’t succeed at school; far from it, as her resume indicates. She’s served as editor-in-chief of The Boiling Point, Shalhevet’s newspaper; founding president of the school’s chapter of Girls Learn International (GLI), an organization dedicated to raising awareness about women’s access to education; and has been part of the volleyball and debate teams.

Her love of journalism and Judaism spurred her to take on an investigative story about Jewish life at the University of California campuses, which won two national awards, including a Simon J. Rockower Award for Excellence in Jewish Journalism given by the American Jewish Press Association. Despite the recognition, Willis is not sure whether she will follow the path of journalism, but plans to “explore different subject areas and go from there.” 

Discovering new issues has been a defining element of her high school experience. By starting a chapter of GLI, she was in charge of holding meetings and raising money for the cause. 

Joelle Keene, journalism teacher at Shalhevet, wrote in an email to the Journal that Willis is “a searching, thoughtful, fearless and endlessly ambitious student whose dreams of a better world are beginning to coalesce around global connectedness and journalism.

“A top student who aces the toughest classes without breaking a sweat, she’s also a born leader whose classmates prize her friendship and seek her leadership and advice — if you want something to succeed, get Tamar involved. But something more searching seems to animate her — a kind of intellectual and personal wanderlust.”

This wanderlust has taken her around the world to Ghana and Israel, where she spent a semester abroad and will soon return. For three weeks during the summer of 2012, Willis traveled to Ghana for a program that helped build a cafeteria for children of a small village. This trip provided her with a different perspective about Westernized cultures, she said. 

As she prepares for another adventure abroad, Willis said she is looking forward to living “away from home and [to] experience things I haven’t experienced before.” It’s all part of her personal motto, “Fake it till you make it,” which has gotten her through all sorts of activities. 

“It’s something that I think everyone should take to heart. To me, that means I should take risks and do things out of my comfort zone while convincing myself that I’m actually OK with doing it. I’ve ‘faked it till I made it’ on several [of these] occasions. When I started each of those endeavors, I didn’t know what I was doing because I had no previous experience,” Willis said. “But I told myself to embrace the unknown and be comfortable with it — and in no time, I felt like a pro.”