Dobbs Ferry Senior Jelani Williams Excels from Track and Field to Stage Acting

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by Abby Luby – 

The 40-foot triple jump is like a “walk in the park” to Jelani Williams. The Dobbs Ferry High School senior seems to effortlessly barrel down the track, hop, bound, and catapult into a sand pit. Williams, who has excelled at the triple jump throughout high school, recently competed in the New York State Track and Field Championships for indoor track and field where he won the boys triple jump, came in second for the boys 55 hurdles, and third in the boy’s long jump. Williams said when he first joined the track and field team as a freshman at Dobbs Ferry High School that he wasn’t sure about perfecting the triple jumps. “Over time I improved more and more. I set goals for myself and I ended up really liking it.”

Setting goals and achieving his personal best is what Williams has always aimed for in high school. Last year, as an 11th grader, he was enrolled in the International Baccalaureate Program (IB), a very rigorous, two‐year, pre‐university course of study. Upon completing the program, students take special examinations based on IB courses. “Although the IB program was at times overwhelming and stressful, it helped me with time management and not to procrastinate or wait for the last minute to do things,” Williams said. Managing his time was crucial not only because he was super active on the track and field team but also because he has performed in all of Dobbs Ferry High School’s musical productions for the past four years. This year, he played in and sang the part of one of the Wickersham brothers in the high school’s production of Seussical the Musical.  “I liked singing in Seussical and really enjoyed being part of the cast. I bonded with them and made new friends.” Seussical was one of 55 high school musical productions nominated this year by Metro Awards for the year’s best ensemble production.

That Williams has a good singing voice didn’t go unnoticed by Dobbs Ferry High School Principal, Dr. John Falino, who asked Williams when he was a junior to read the morning announcements over the school intercom. “In many ways Jelani has served as the voice of our high school, and each day he displays a strong personal character and good citizenship,” said Falino. Williams said he found the morning greeting fun. “I like to chat and thought I’d give it a try. It was like creating my own little brand for myself.” Williams’ English and IB Film teacher, Andrew Fischbeck, also appreciated Williams’ ability to connect with fellow students. “Jelani is always quick with a pleasant word or positive contribution. Even when tasks are hard, he had a knack for keeping the group spirits up,” Fischbeck said.

Williams will be a first-generation college student in his family when he attends Cornell University next year. “My mom’s very excited and very happy,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of support in applying to college and really didn’t expect to be accepted at Cornell.” Williams is considering majoring in chemistry, a subject he is good at, according to Kelly Ravo, his science teacher. “Jelani is intelligent, hardworking, respectful and is always willing to lend a hand to students who were struggling or didn’t quite ‘get it’ the way Jelani did. He’s kind… everything you’d want in a student,” Ravo said.

With an eye on being a pre-medical student, Williams said he is keeping his options open. “I’d like to major in something that is science or medical-related.”

One of the most key things Williams has learned in high school is the importance of bonding with people. “It seems to happen naturally for me. I’ve learned it’s best to be open and talk to everyone. All my high school activities gave me the chance to talk to different people and get different perspectives,” he said.

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