His brother Kane’s diagnosis of Tourette syndrome at age 3 was “a shocker” for Jake Gilbert’s family in 2013, but it also started to increase the Wheatley School senior’s passion for leadership and public policy, he said.
Gilbert, a Roslyn Heights resident, traveled to Washington as a ninth-grader the following year to train as a youth ambassador for the Tourette Association of America, lobbying members of Congress to support research and later going to schools across Long Island to talk about Tourette syndrome.
“That’s sort of when I realized that the capital is where change is made and if I wanted to make a change for my brother and for my country, then that’s where I’d end up,” said Gilbert, 17.
Later in 2014, when he was in 10th grade, Gilbert started The Track Foundation, a nonprofit that raises money to support Tourette research and sends volunteers to other groups’ fundraising events. He also built and coded the foundation’s website.
That was also the year Gilbert was elected president of his class, a position he still holds. He also leads four other clubs at Wheatley, including the robotics club.
Combined with his straight-A grades and high SAT scores, Gilbert’s leadership got him into Harvard University in a year when it accepted 14.5 percent, or 938, of its early applicants, according to the Harvard Gazette.
Gilbert said he credits much of his success to Wheatley, where classes have been “a good mix of challenging and interesting, and I think the clubs have been just so prevalent and involved that I’ve been able to do so many of them and take charge and rise through the ranks of them,” he said.
Gilbert’s interests in politics and computer science overlap sometimes, he said. For instance, he’s created new divisions and roles in the robotics club and, along with other members, recently asked the East Williston school board for more funding, he said.
Gilbert said he has raised about $10,000 through The Track Foundation since 2014 for the Tourette Association of America and the TicTocStop, a Tourette research organization founded by WFAN sports radio personality Craig Carton.
He first became a youth advocate for the Tourette Association to help debunk myths about his brother’s disorder, which is often inaccurately associated with random cursing, he said.
Tourette syndrome, a disorder that produces physical and vocal tics, affects one of every 160 children in the United States, according to the Tourette Association. But only about 6 percent of people who have it develop cursing as a tic, Gilbert said.
“I just wanted to dispel the misconceptions surrounding the disorder and sort of [support] this research that could make him [his brother] start doing better,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert said he will continue running The Track Foundation from Harvard’s campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and eventually hand it over to a younger brother, Derek, a ninth-grader at Wheatley.
He planned to apply to 17 colleges, he said, but Harvard’s campus and strong political science and computer science programs made it a top choice.
Gilbert wants to eventually run for public office no matter which major he chooses, he said. But it was Wheatley’s high standards that first got him motivated to work hard as a high school sophomore, he said.
“Really I feel blessed to be going to a high school with so many opportunities and such personal teachers,” Gilbert said.
Reach reporter Noah Manskar by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 516.307.1045 x204. Also follow us on Twitter @noahmanskar and Facebook at facebook.com/theislandnow.