A Role Model for Others

Name: Lillian Hsu

Location: Ithaca, New York

Relationship to Jessica: Acquaintance/classmate

I knew of Jessica since middle school, but didn’t really meet Jessica until my freshman year of high school.

Jessica in high school

© jessicafashano.com

It’s been nearly 10 years since I last saw Jessica, and while I don’t know if Jessica remembered me, I definitely remember her. Though I never really saw her outside of school or school-related activities, and, regrettably, never got the chance to really get to know her, Jessica was a role model for me. As an impressionable freshman at WPHS, I knew from the moment I met her that she was the type of person I wanted to emulate. She had it all: intelligence, athleticism, beauty (both inner and physical), humility, grace, and above all, a warm and generous heart. Most of my interactions with her were through extracurricular activities, and her leadership style was admirable. She was self-motivated and dedicated, and her enthusiasm for whichever club activity or cause, particularly those that helped the less fortunate, she was promoting was contagious. Jessica, though you probably never knew it, I looked up to you back then, and continue to look up to you now. Thank you for being a great role model to me and all the other people you’ve unknowingly inspired. Your legacy will live on through the memories and hearts of everyone who ever had the good fortune of sharing even just a few minutes of your life.

A Smile for Everyone

Name: Kara Amendola

Location: East Hanover, New Jersey

Relationship to Jessica: Former Classmate

I met Jessica in middle school.

Jessica on the first day of school

© jessicafashano.com

I didn’t know Jessica well like many of the people posting on this site; didn’t know where she went to college, what philanthropic organizations she supported, or what her cat’s name was (did she even have a cat)? In fact, I only found out about Jessica’s passing this spring during dinner with an old school friend. Upon hearing the news, my fork stopped half-way to my mouth (which had formed an absurd “O” shape that might’ve been comical under any other circumstance), and all I could think of to say in response was, “…what?” Her death was on my mind for the rest of the evening.

I asked myself later why I’d been so shocked. After all, we were only passing acquaintances in middle school and half of high school, well over a decade ago. People die all time, usually never penetrating our hardened shells. But sometimes you meet the rare person that you just know is “one of the good ones,” and without knowing her well or being her friend, I just knew at an early age that Jessica was “one of the good ones.”

Let’s pause for a moment and recall that Jessica and I were first introduced in middle school, a time when the teen social hierarchy was really starting to emerge and our schoolmates were beginning to act as if it mattered. The athletes, the honor roll kids, the art/drama nerds, the band/choir geeks, the grungy hemp hippies… Everyone was trying to find their niche, differentiate themselves (yet still fit in), and figure out how they were going to survive the next seven years. And of course they were treating their peers accordingly.

Jessica wasn’t like that. My few memories of Jessica involved her having a smile for everyone, no matter what social circle you were contained in. And she didn’t quite fit into one place like so many of our classmates; she moved in and out of circles at will with a laugh that reverberated down the hallways, and she often displayed a sense of warmth and heart that many of our peers had discarded at the doors as the ultimate in “uncool.”

The simple truth is that people like Jessica have a way of leaving an imprint on social passersby, and whether it’s 10, 20, or 50 years later, you unexpectedly find that you still remember that laugh, that smile; and you wish you’d known them just a little bit better, had taken time to dig just a little bit deeper. Jessica, I’m sorry for the pain that you suffered and am happy to think you finally found your bit of peace in this crazy world. Long live your memory and your legacy.

Yellow Leather Limousine

Name: Billy Williams

Location: Richmond, Virginia

Relationship to Jessica: Close friend

I met Jessica in one of the many, many classes we took together during middle school. I’ll go with 6th grade math.

Jessica & Billy with their flour babies in high school

© jessicafashano.com

Jessica & Billy at Senior Prom

© jessicafashano.com

It took me quite a few years to realize that friendship isn’t easy. It requires an investment of time, energy, and heart that many struggle with – especially as physical distance grows and time passes. But with Jess and me it was always so easy.

My fondest memories with Jessica are from senior year at Whippany Park. Suddenly, the reality of college hit our friends. Everything we grew accustomed to was ending: Friendly’s trips, Livingston Mall/Applebee’s dinners, trips to the Parsippany movie theater. Sports, clubs, classes, pool parties. It was scary. So we made the most of our time together. And those last few months were some of the best of my life.

For whatever reason (bribes, rides to school) Jessica “said yes!” to going to senior prom with me. We both poured a lot of time into planning it, trying to make ours the best of all time. The location, the food, the music, the class gift. One of the few things Jess left in my hands was transportation – and wow, did she ever regret it!

We thought it would be cool to get a limo from NYC. They’d know exactly where to take us after prom! We reserved some cool wheels for the big event. Of course, we came home and showed the girls pictures of a cheesy Vegas-style yellow leather limo. They were mortified – especially Jess. Joke was on them!

The day finally arrived. We finished up pictures and waited for our limo. And waited…and waited…and waited. We were sweating. No one was happy. The driver was stuck in traffic (you HAD to go to NYC for this)?? We missed the cocktail hour. Finally it pulled up. Jess – excited to leave – opened the door. And it was the yellow leather limo. She cried. I was batting a thousand.

After these initial bumps, it turned out to be an amazing night. Jess was an effervescent, beautiful date. I was very lucky to have shared that memory with her. We had a blast.

Jess has played many roles in my life – high school prom date, college counselor, career counselor, math tutor, reality-checker. But above all, she was and will continue to be my inspiration.

We were truly blessed with a strong, caring group of friends in high school. As I went through college, it was evident that high school friendships – for the most part – fade away. But not ours; we wouldn’t let it. And Jess was an integral part of our group. There is no us without Jess. And we are fortunate enough to have each other for love and support during the good times…and, during the not so good.

Here’s to the times we shared, to the memories we made, and to an incredible woman that made those memories even better. Complete with cheesy “memory song” (which actually was released at the same time as our high school graduation) and scanned disposable camera pictures. Both of which would have Jessica bursting out in laughter.

Hopefully, somewhere up there, you can still hear Div whisper over a seventh grade three-way phone call “Billy loves Jessica…”