Jewish Journal


June 5, 2013

Transforming herself


Academy of Music at Hamilton High School
Going to: Barnard College

Academy of Music at Hamilton High School
Going to: Barnard College

When Joelle Milman was a high school sophomore, she met award-winning photographer Art Streiber, who has contributed to Vanity Fair among other high-profile publications.

It didn’t happen as you might expect. It was her work on display during an art show at the Annenberg Space for Photography, and he was the one who approached her — to offer a compliment on one of her photos.

“That was, like, the best moment ever,” said the 18-year-old recent graduate of the Academy of Music at Hamilton High School, where she majored in drama.

Committed to the arts, Milman has had several “best moments” during her four years in the magnet program. 

There was the time she was picked for a role in NASA’s “Space School Musical,” an educational “hip-hopera” series of videos about the planets, moon, asteroids and more, as a freshman. Or you could point to the school’s annual AIDS awareness play, which she wrote and produced this year. 

“I think that drama, when done right — which I think Hamilton is pretty good at — is something really transformative,” Milman said. “You can take someone and really make them feel something that that they never thought they would feel. As people in the world, we should try to make everyone see things different than they would usually feel.”

There have been some challenging moments along the way. After middle school, the Modern Orthodox teen left Shalhevet School because she knew she needed to break out of her comfort zone. She had been at a Jewish day school since kindergarten and entered into the new, unfamiliar world of a magnet music academy at a public high school. 

[Next Grad: Ruth Maouda]

“Me leaving Shalhevet just felt like the hugest thing in the entire world,” she said. “I didn’t think anyone could go through anything that different in terms of [a change from one school to the next].”

To her pleasant surprise, she made friends quickly. She credits the school — specifically, the mix of cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds within the student body — as contributing to her personal growth.

Milman excelled academically and plans to attend Barnard College in New York, where she is considering studying English and environmental policy. But she also found time to give back to her school and local communities, planning school fundraising events and mentoring struggling students while working with Jewish organizations. She volunteered at Friendship Circle Los Angeles working with children with special needs, assembled groceries for the poor with Tomchei Shabbos and manned a photo booth at a party for Chai Lifeline, which serves kids who have deadly illnesses. 

Her time at Hamilton has influenced how she views her religion, too, she said. 

“I think everyone should make a concentrated effort to be a diverse and well-rounded person, and I think that’s how I want my Modern Orthodoxy to be,” she said. “I think that’s really important.”

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