Influencers

Born Premature But Full of Hope

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Jessica Gillen almost didn’t get the opportunity to live.

Born two months premature, she had to have an emergency operation to save her young life. After the successful surgery, her parents gave her the middle name “Hope” to celebrate their miracle baby.

Though she was too young to remember the operation, the traumatic experience has shaped her approach to life. Jessica says that she approaches each day with “fierce passion” and is determined to tackle all of her goals.

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Jessica says she takes nothing for granted and has always been inspired by this quote:

“Someone once told me not to bite off more than I could chew. I told them I’d rather choke on greatness than nibble on mediocrity.”

Read our interview with this University of Central Florida student and learn why she is all about “throwing kindness around like confetti.”

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What’s unique about your story?

I always look on the bright side of any situation in life.

Not only do I strive to be a positive and happy person, I try my best to spread my own sunshine onto everyone I meet. I think it’s important to make everyone feel special and respected because that is how I like to be treated. I like to throw kindness around like confetti.

What’s something that not many people know about you that has defined who you are today?

Something a lot of people don’t know about me is that I was born 2 months premature and had to have an emergency operation to fix a blockage in my intestine.

My middle name is Hope, partly because I was a miracle baby. I think the fact that I was a fighter the moment I was born has shaped my life and work ethic in a really profound way.

I take nothing for granted and I put every ounce of effort into every task I’m given. I tackle my goals with fierce passion, and I don’t stop until I’m happy with the outcome I’ve achieved for myself.

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You get to invite 5 influential people to a dinner party (currently living). Who are they and why?

  1. Lauren Conrad. She is the queen of her own little empire and is one of my inspirations. She exudes elegance effortlessly.
  2. Jimmy Fallon. Jimmy is hilarious and would add a lot of humor to the dinner party with his jokes and antics.
  3. Dwyane Wade. Dwyane is my favorite basketball player of all time. He is also a very savvy business man, philanthropist and style icon.
  4. Malala Yousafzai. Malala is known for her human rights activism and her intelligence and maturity. I think she would be a great conversation starter.
  5. Stephen Hawking. Stephen Hawking is one of the most intelligent people in the world. His body of work is astounding and I’m very interested in his views on the future of the human race. I would love to pick his brain about a variety of topics at a dinner party.

Define how you live in 5 words.

Fearless, Optimistic, Genuine, Grateful, Passionate

What will make college worth it for you?

Seeing my parent’s proud faces as I walk across the stage at graduation will make college beyond worth it for me.

Standing out has never been easier. We got your back.

Antonio Neves is the author of '50 Things Every College Student Should Know.' He is a graduate of Western Michigan University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.