UNION, NJ — A Union High School senior has received the 2017 Union County School Board’s Unsung Hero Award.
Tahjee Jean was recognized by the school board for his work in the Peer Ambassadors Leadership Program and the Empowerment Mentoring Group at UHS. The award, given each year to a high school junior or senior who has overcome obstacles in order to succeed, was presented to Jean in a recent program at the Union County Vocational Technical High School in Scotch Plains.
Jean told the Union Leader in a recent phone interview that taking on a leadership role is something that comes from his upbringing.
“It’s something that comes naturally to me,” Jean said. “I come from a family where leadership is a must. You had to pitch in. It was instilled in me that you had to be a leader.”
According to Jean, who is the oldest of six children, he loves lending a helping hand whenever and wherever he can.
“Helping people — I love doing it,” Jean said. “It’s not because I have to do it, I just love doing it. I’m a person with open arms. You come to me, I’m going to help you as much as I can.”
Although Jean said his freshman year was a challenge in many respects, he made a decision to get himself on the path to success during his sophomore year. It was then, said Jean, that he decided to buckle down, study hard and get involved.
“I hit a brick wall,” Jean said. “But I buckled down and I did what I had to do. There was a lot on my plate at the time.”
Since then, Jean has acted as a mentor to many of his fellow students. He has led tours for incoming freshman, has mentored other UHS students and has assisted in a variety of ways, including speaking to groups of his peers about what it takes to succeed in school.
According to UHS school counselor, Michael Mayes, he first met Jean during his own internship in the district two years ago.
“Tahjee and I first met during my internship with the district two years ago,” Mayes told the Union Leader in an April 13 email. “Tahjee is a member of the Empowerment Mentoring Program. The purpose of the Empowerment Mentoring Program is to give young men, ages 14 to 18, a place to gather in a mentoring and supportive environment.”
According to Mayes, Jean — who is known as ‘TJ’ at UHS — made an immediate impression on him.
“He simply rolled up his sleeves and helped out whenever and wherever he was needed, which is a wonderful quality to see in a young man today,” Mayes said. “He would oftentimes assist me with preparing for our group meetings by passing out materials, assisting with sign in sheets and collecting surveys after our group sessions ended.”
As a member of the UHS Peer Ambassadors Leadership Program, Jean has served as a role model for all, Mayes added.
“Tahjee has been an exemplary role model of excellence in service,” Mayes said. “TJ has held the highest level in the program of ‘diplomat,’ which makes him responsible for leading the other ambassadors and overseeing the general function of any activity in which the program is engaged. As TJ graduates this year, there will not be another student that will match the level of excellence in service that he has exemplified.”
Mayes called Jean’s impact on the UHS community widespread.
“Tahjee is an agent of change within Union High School,” Mayes said. “TJ has mentored underclassmen whom, at times, may be anxious making the transition from middle school to high school. Union High School houses over 2,500 students. As such, TJ has proven to be a leader by providing support, feedback, direction and insight as to the many challenges that students face today.”
Some of these challenges, according to Mayes, include the ability to make sound decisions and to maintain their integrity in light of peer pressure.
“I get a feeling that TJ’s peers take away a sense of humility, unselfishness and kindheartedness,” he said. “TJ exemplifies a ‘can-do’ attitude that is simply contagious. In short, he refuses to let his own challenges hinder him from moving forward with the plans that he has set for his life. I think that underclassmen take away a sense that they too can overcome whatever challenges that they may face after coming into contact with TJ, which is refreshing.”
Jean, who will attend Rowan University in the fall, plans to major in computer science, and he would like to work as an agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And he said, no matter where life takes him, he will always want to help others in any way he can.
“I don’t always have the best situation at home, but I want to be a blessing to others,” Jean said. “Being a leader is something I want to do. It’s a passion.”