Santa Fe High School mass shooting survivor now a freshman at Harvard University

Even as the rise in COVID-19 cases has many uncomfortable with being on campus, that isn’t the case for one Houston student who is thankful to be there for several reasons. 

Jai Gillard, who survived a deadly mass shooting at Santa Fe High School is excited to start her college career at Harvard.

Santa Fe shooting timeline: What happened that horrific day

Gilliard was among the many children at Santa Fe High School, who had to witness what some war veterans don’t. 

"That day taught me to live life to the fullest and make every moment important and cherish it," Gillard explains. 

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10 people were killed at her high school, including some students who were hiding with her in a closet. She was just a freshman at the time, but now, she’s a freshman at Harvard University.

"It’s still a surreal feeling," says Gillard. "I don’t think I’ve processed it all yet, like ‘oh my gosh, I’m really at Harvard.'

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 "It is a beautiful campus. I know it’s so historic," she continues. "Just seeing the buildings. It gives you the feeling of like, you’re important (laughs)." 

The 18-year-old arrived on campus Monday with her family. 

"My mom, my Nanny (my Godmother), and T-Wanza (Aunt)," she said. "Outside it’s always so peaceful and my dorm is right next to the memorial church and there’s a bell. Every hour I hear the bell."

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Gillard tells us she's majoring in psychology, a subject she hopes will help her learn how to encourage others, who have also suffered after a tragedy.

"I want to focus on mental health in adolescence and just be of help because of my experience," she says. "I want to help people work through their trauma. Not knowing whether I would make it out alive on May 18, 2018, and knowing that I’m here now is a very reflective moment."

The teen sometimes still has nightmares but says she's come a long way in the three years since the school shooting. 

"It just shows you the work God does and what He can do," Gillard said. "There are no limits to what He can do for you and through you. 

"It’s easy to feel like there’s no hope left but there is hope," she adds. "You’re destined for bigger and greater things." 

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The 18-year old says brighter days were something she couldn’t even begin to imagine in the months after the shooting. So she’s grateful to be here physically and emotionally starting this new chapter.

"I mean, I can’t even explain it," she said. "It’s really great and I'm really blessed."

Gillard admits, she does feel a little homesick and in this pandemic, she hopes that’s the only "sick" she’ll experience. However, being at Harvard is absolutely living a dream come true and we wish her all the best.