Committed Change-Maker John Gabrieli ’12 Delivers Wyner Lecture

On April 11, Roxbury Latin welcomed alumnus John Gabrieli, Class of 2012, as the year’s Wyner Lecturer—a series featuring individuals committed to solving big problems for social good.

Until recently, John served as co-chair of the Every Voice Coalition—a grassroots movement to combat sexual violence on college campuses and support survivors—which he founded and which he now serves as board chair. Since 2016, the Every Voice Coalition has brought together students and survivors, community organizations, and universities to combat campus sexual violence by passing student and survivor-written legislation on the state-level. The organization is currently active in 12 states with five bills already passed into law.

“My work on Every Voice began when I was a college student myself, almost eight years ago now,” John began in Rousmaniere Hall. “Coming into college, I had seen the headlines, and I had read the statistics: According to the U.S. Department of Justice, one in ten college students will experience rape or sexual assault before graduation. It’s one thing to know the statistics on sexual assault, and it’s another thing to find out that it has happened to a friend, family member, or loved one.

“Most people I know who have been impacted by sexual violence have never reported. The few who did choose to report often faced drawn-out, sometimes years-long legal struggles that were often re-traumatizing but rarely resulted in any kind of justice. For me, there was a sense of powerlessness that came from seeing people I cared about being impacted, and not feeling like I could do anything about it… I knew that the vast majority of perpetrators would never be held to account, and that the cycle would continue to repeat itself, year after year. Because while you may have heard the statistics—1 in 5 women, and 1 in 16 men will be impacted by sexual assault on college campuses—what you might not know is that these rates have held largely constant now for almost 50 years, as far back as we have data. Widespread sexual violence had seemingly become the norm on our college campuses; as students, we weren’t willing to accept that.” He and seven other college students got together, in the basement of a friend’s home, and got to work.

“We didn’t have funding or official status, but we made a website and some flyers and gave ourselves a name. All of a sudden, we weren’t eight random college students, we were The Every Voice Coalition, and legislators started meeting with us and taking us seriously.”

A lifelong and devoted reader, with a fondness for history and languages, John was awarded deturs in English, French, and History during his senior year at RL. He was a National Merit Scholar and a member of the Cum Laude Society, and he stood out as a member of the Debate team, for which he served as president, earning international accolades, including a fourth place finish at the World Public Speaking Championship in Brisbane, Australia. He went on to graduate from Harvard, with a degree in economics, where he earned several prizes for his excellence in scholarship and his thesis.

“John’s academic record is stellar, but it’s not the most admirable part of his story,” Headmaster Brennan said in introducing John. “For four summers John put his painstaking scholarly skills to good use in a neuro-science lab at MIT, where, he says, ‘What I learned about the importance of hard work, self-control, and an open mind challenged my preconceptions about the central role that natural talent plays in determining outcomes, and this has permanently altered my beliefs about success.’

“John discovered at a young age that history—and its effects—can be deeply personal, and that the only forces with the potential to drive political change for good were human compassion, investment, and hard work. Already in his young career as an activist and civic-minded change-maker, John Gabrieli has walked the walk, leveraging his skills, and his gifts, and his humanity, seeking out solutions to problems that help individuals in need. John is the very embodiment of our persistent admonition that RL grads go on to lead and serve.”

Today, John is co-founder and managing director of Trio New College Network, an organization aimed at providing underserved students across the country access to an innovative, hybrid-college degree program that works for them. After teaching middle school through Teach for America, John went to work expanding access to college for non-traditional students as a research associate at Southern New Hampshire University’s Sandbox Innovation Center. There he became convinced that the hybrid college model had the potential to transform higher education. He is passionate about building an equitable higher education system that gives every student the opportunity to lead a choice-filled life.​

During his remarks, John urged students to persist in the face of inevitable setbacks; not to rely on others to come up with solutions to the problems they see; and to remember that no one is too young to make a difference.

View the entirety of John’s Hall remarks and the student Q&A that followed.

John continues a tradition of esteemed Wyner Lecturers who have been committed to societal change for good in various facets of life, and who have shed light on important social issues for Roxbury Layin’s boys. The series was established in 1985 by Jerry Wyner, Class of 1943, and his sister, Elizabeth Wyner Mark, is a living memorial to their father, Rudolph Wyner, Class of 1912. Past speakers in the lecture series include historian and author Doris Kearns Goodwin; “Schindler’s list” Holocaust survivor Rena Finder; Billy Shore, founder of Share Our Strength and the No Kid Hungry campaign; Mark Edwards, founder of Opportunity Nation; Dr. Iqbal Dhaliwal of MIT’s Jameel Poverty-Action Lab; alumnus Bo Menkiti, who transforms underserved communities through real estate development; and, last year, Juan Enriquez, whose fascinating foray into imagining the future through an ethical lens was insightful and memorable.