Top Honors for Class of 2020

"A source of pride to us all."

The top honors for John Jay High School’s Class of 2020 have been awarded to Valedictorian Jessica Leff and Salutatorian Sydney Aronson; students who embody the phrase “the joy of learning.”

While the awards reflect solely academic excellence, the scholars have also been involved in performance arts—Jess, as an actor and director, Sydney as a dancer and a teacher—as well as in athletics and mentoring younger students.

“John Jay High School’s valedictorian and salutatorian, Jessica Leff and Sydney Aronson, have acquired knowledge, skills, attributes, and have given back to the school and community in ways that no exam can measure,” said Dr. Steven Siciliano, principal of John Jay High School. “We are grateful for their contributions to John Jay and are equally excited to see what they accomplish next. They are a source of pride to us all.”

Introducing Jessica Leff, Valedictorian

Meet Sydney Aronson, Salutatorian

Jess "truly enjoys the journey"

Depending on how you know Jessica Leff, you might describe her as a passionate actor and director—she’s participated in 30+ shows with Random Farms Kids Theater, a poised first basewoman, the forward on the women’s basketball team with the great voice—she sang the National Anthem before most home games, or the steady presence that got you through junior year Anatomy and Physiology.

That’s the class that helped solidify Jess’s interest in a career in medicine—the path she will be pursuing at Harvard University in the fall.

“The greatest aspect of Anatomy and Physiology was not only its content, but the fact that Ms. Weldon never ‘taught to the test,’” said Jess. “Instead, her enthusiasm for the material promoted an open learning environment. The course was molded around the class: our interests, our strengths. I can confidently say that the class made me more interested in pursuing medicine.”

“I may not teach to the test but, more importantly, Jess doesn't ‘learn’ to the test,” said Caroline Weldon, a science teacher at John Jay High School. “She truly enjoys the journey. Her ability to work with so many different students inspires those around her to try harder, reach further. I am so honored to have been a small part of her journey!”

The same year, Jess’s junior year, she had emergency surgery to remove a tumor in her brain. Thankfully, her recovery—which included singing the National Anthem via FaceTime from her hospital room to John Jay’s gymnasium—was quick. “Eventually, I hope to transform from a tumor patient to a doctor chasing a cure,” said Jessica.

Jessica, a resident of Goldens Bridge, is president of the National Honor Society, treasurer of the Student Council, a parliamentarian with Campus Congress, and a Peer Group Leader. She is a National Merit Scholarship Finalist and recipient of the Weinstein’s Science Award, the Excellence in Spanish award, the State Education Department’s 2020 Scholarship for Academic Excellence Award, and the Martin Todd Memorial Scholarship given by the John Jay Boosters.

Sydney is "ready to hit the ground running"

 Sydney Aronson, the salutatorian, also had an ah-ha moment in her junior year. In her case, in AP Physics. “It was really challenging!” said Sydney. “AP Physics made me see how much I love using all of my skills and knowledge to find a solution to a given problem.”

Jim Panzer, her physics teacher that year, describes Sydney as a student who was always ready to hit the ground running. “Even when the concepts were complex, she stayed positive,” said Panzer. “Sydney is such a friendly person; her presence made the class so much fun to teach. I really enjoyed introducing physics to her and her classmates enjoyed having such a calming voice from one of their peers in what could be a difficult class.”

Sydney continued in John Jay’s physics track in her senior year, a rewarding experience that points her towards pursuing biomedical engineering at Brown University this fall.

Throughout her high school career, Sydney balanced her full academic schedule with mentoring a student through Reach Out John Jay, and leadership roles in dance.

The South Salem resident is a recipient of the State Education Department’s 2020 Scholarship for Academic Excellence and has been the captain of the high school’s Dance Team for the last three years. Sydney also runs the charity performance troupe for Pulse Performing Arts Studio in Bedford Hills where she teaches ballet and gymnastics. And somehow, she found time to watch all 16 seasons of “Grey’s Anatomy” … three times!