Academic & activist: Stuyvesant grad tapped as 2018 Milken Scholar

Yale-bound Stuyvesant grad Joyce Wu has been chosen as a 2018 Milken Scholar.
Milken Family Foundation

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA

A Stuyvesant High School student has been tapped for a prestigious scholarship program where students are given $10,000 and a lifetime of mentoring and resources. Joyce Wu, the recent Stuy grad headed to Yale University this fall, said she was surprised to be chosen as one of the 2018 Milken Scholars.

“I was not expecting it at all,” Wu said. “The interview was pretty intense. It was definitely the hardest interview I had ever had.”

The scholarship program, founded by Lori and Michael Milken nearly three decades ago, provides a monetary scholarship and a lifetime of resources and mentorship for students selected from Los Angeles County, New York City and Washington D.C. Six students were honored as scholars from New York City this year, including Wu, Caoimhe Boyle, Roy Kim, Karen Li, Josselyn Navas, and Angelo Osofsky.

Wu hails from Sunset Park, Brooklyn, where she grew up with her parents and two siblings. Her parents immigrated from China in the late 1990s, her father working in a restaurant and her mother in a factory. Growing up in a low-income household with parents who didn’t speak English, Wu developed empathy for the less-fortunate, and as the first in her family to be able go to college she is acutely aware of her own privilege, which inspired her to be an activist — raising awareness of critical issues and helping others be more empathetic.

During her sophomore year of high school, Wu was neck-deep in academics and extra-curriculars, but she was also outraged about Guantanamo Bay, the infamous U.S. military prison where terrorism suspects are held without constitutional protections. She and a dozen other students once marched into Stuy High wearing orange prison jumpsuits in a protest to raise awareness about the human rights violations as a part of the high school’s Amnesty International club.

At Stuyvesant, where students are so immersed in academics, some people stay in a bubble, Wu said.

“Yes, academics are a priority, but sometimes I feel like Stuyvesant students don’t tend to look beyond that and care about different social issues going on in the world or even in their own community,” she said.

But Wu believes that if you have privilege, you should take a stand.

“I should be aware of those privileges and use them to help other people,” Wu said.

Wu has protested El Salvador’s abortion laws and organized a demonstration at Grand Central Station against President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall.

But the budding activist is also an artist and a computer scientist, and an interdisciplinary program at Yale University combining visual arts and computers will help her pursue just that. Her interests are rooted in virtual reality and augmented reality, which are often used for entertainment, but Wu wants to use those technologies to make a social impact.

“I’m very, very interested in how virtual reality can get people to empathize with other people,” she said. “In society, the biggest thing that allows people to connect with other people is empathy — just understanding what other people are going through.”

In addition to her high-school activism, Wu was an Advanced Placement Scholar, a member of two honor societies, and the captain of Stuyvesant’s cross-country and track team. She was also the executive director of Stuyvesant’s biannual hackathon called StuyHacks, which introduces students to computer science. She’s explored her artistic passions at summer classes at Cooper Union and was a communications intern at the YMCA’s Teen Career Connection Program, where she designed newsletters and the program’s website.

This summer, she’ll work as an intern for a month a Morgan Stanley before she jets off to Yale for a, orientation camping trip with other incoming freshman.

“I’m ready for the independence, and to do big things, meet new people, and have fun for the next four years,” Wu said.

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