I want to lift communities up,’ says Jamaican American Ivy League student

Ilija Wan-Simm has had his sights on Harvard Univer-sity since he was in middle school. The son of Jamaican roots was awarded the Paul C. Ransom prize while at Ransom Everglades Middle School in Florida, cementing his trajectory towards college; and it had to be Harvard.

Wan Simm Photograph submitted by Dawn A. Davis, a freelance writer for Caribbean TodayWan-Simm was wooed by prestigious institutions such as the Wharton School of Business at the Uni-versity of Pennsylvania, Princeton University and Stanford University. But today he is a sophomore at Harvard, majoring in applied mathematics, with a specialization in economics.

Wan-Simm is proud of his heritage and credits his Caribbean background for his motivation.

“I’m Chinese Jamaican and my Caribbean culture is something I hold dear in my heart,” he told Carib-bean Today.

“It has been ingrained in me from a very young age. Reggae music is always playing in my house. The house is constantly bustling with patois and bubbling with aromas of curry goat or oxtail

“I used to travel to Jamaica frequently in my youth, and I feel a connection to the Jamaican people unlike any other. I feel an overwhelming sense of pride to be Jamaican and I always want Jamaica to be a part of my success story.” BUSY Wan-Simm grew up in a single parent household. He calls his mother his greatest inspiration because she made it easy for him to excel. He was among the top of his school class gradu-ating from Ransom Institution. He also led an active extracurricular life, serving as president of the speech and debate team, president of Mu Alpha Theta, pres-ident of the Health Information Project and co-founder of the Miami Venturing Entrepreneurs Club. He also was an actor/director for the school's drama department, an admissions ambassador, member of the National Honor Society and a member of the Cum Laude Society.

At Harvard, Wan-Simm is busy in and out of the classroom as well. “I’m the type of person who thrives when their day is jam-packed with things to do,” he explained. “That is when my efficiency is the highest and I’m the most productive.

“I would go hour by hour and block out exactly what I was doing each day of the week. Sometimes I’d stick to it exactly and feel extra proud, but most times I was not perfect. But by planning out my day in detail, I would set myself up for success.”

CARIBBEAN At Harvard, Wan-Simm is involved in investment research for the Harvard Financial Analysts Club, the career director for the Applied Math Society, a mod-el/dancer for the Eleganza Show, part of the media team for the Institute of Politics JFK Jr. Forum, part of the Crimson Key Society and a member of the Carib-bean Club.

“The Caribbean Club is one of the most amazing communities at Harvard,” said Wan-Simm. “Activities include mixers with Caribbean food, Big/Little Sibling matchups and even an annual celebration of Carib-bean culture called the Jubilee. “This year at the Jubilee, the club presented the ‘Caribbean Entertainer of the Year Award’ to the per-former Spice. The club also creates online spaces to discuss the Black Lives Matter movement.”

The global coronavirus pandemic has changed how people interact, including the way classes are delivered. Wan-Simm is concerned. “It has become a lot harder to feel the sense of community, but we manage to make it work,” he said. “Some of the events that have taken place over the virtual platform for my activities have been speak-er-based and more informative than participant-oriented.

“I’m looking forward to when things get back to being in-person because college is all about being with friends, connecting with professors and doing meaningful work with organizations.”

Creating and teaching purposeful skills is Wan-Simm’s goal when he leaves Harvard, including fi-nancial literacy to disadvantaged communities. He believes that will create more equity and is essential for survival in a capitalist economy like the United States. So Wan-Simm wants to establish his own pri-vate investment firm which will become known for its philanthropy.

"One that has the social capital to establish a meaningful and widespread program to educate low-er and middle income families on how to properly save and invest their money,” he explained.

“I want to lift communities up. My one goal in life is to bring light in the world.”