Jessica Echols graduated in May 2020 from Hazelwood West High School with a 3.76 GPA and a 26 ACT score. She is among the prominent students who recently received a Webster University Donald M. Suggs Scholarship for distinguished academic achievement.
“When I received the call that I got accepted I was overjoyed,” Echols said. “I remember talking to my mom before I got the call and just being very stressed about it," Echols said in a recent interview.
“Once I answered the phone I immediately started freaking out. I said, ‘Oh my gosh I need to call my mom and tell her the good news’.”
The scholarship was named in honor of Suggs, publisher and executive editor of the St. Louis American newspaper, to recognize high-achieving college freshmen from underrepresented minority communities interested in higher education.
In October, The St. Louis American Foundation hosted its two-night virtual Salute to Excellence in Education and Scholarship & Awards Gala granting $1.95 million in scholarship and education grants to remarkable students and educators.
Normally the ceremony is hosted in-person; the format was changed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
During the event, it was announced that the foundation’s partnership with Webster for the Donald M. Suggs Scholarship now offers 10 incoming students more than $1 million in full-ride funds annually.
Echols’ initial plan was to attend the University of Missouri-St. Louis, however, she changed her mind once her choir teacher and orchestra teacher recommended Webster’s music program.
“I went and checked it out and it was really amazing, so I was like ‘yup, that’s my school’,” Echols said.
Echols said her transition from high school to college is going well, She finds her classes to be challenging, but manageable, especially with her degree-related courses.
“My classes are going pretty well, Echols said. “Currently, the only non-related music course I have is psychology, it helps me with my reading and writing; it’s also helpful with me learning more about myself, breaking procrastination habits, and managing my time better,” she said.
“My degree-related courses are more challenging, but I see a lot of improvement with my violin lessons and my stage presence.”
Declaring instrumental performance as a desired major came naturally for Echols because she has been involved with music since she was 3 years old. She got into singing, dancing, and playing the violin in elementary and middle school, but her high school years solidified a stronger interest.
“Once I started high school I said, ‘this is what I want to do’ because it’s a release for me and it’s fun to play my instrument,” Echols said. “I experience a lot of emotions when I listen to music and when I play my violin, those feelings proved this is what I want to pursue.”
While in school, Echols hopes to become bilingual. Her interest lies in learning more Asian languages.
“Right now, I’m teaching myself to speak Korean, and next year I plan to minor in Chinese since I want to travel, “Echols said.
After graduation, she wants to join The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Other plans include traveling the world, performing, and playing her instruments.
“I still want to be that dancer I was when I was younger, and sing on stage,” Echols said. “I would love to travel, teach music, and just have fun. Music is just my main thing, it’s my entire dream.”