A Look into Handshake America Students, Gabby Gillespie and Matthew House


Gabby Gillespie (front) has been on the cross-country team since her freshman year. photo credit: Gabby Gillespie

Tara Goff

They say that the first impression comes from the first handshake. At Handshake America, students have the opportunity to learn all about the entry into the professional world, setting them up for future success.

Every year, junior student-athletes from all over Atlanta are nominated for the program by their coaches who see they have “grit.” This may come from courage, persistence, or leadership on a team. Representing Roswell High School this year are juniors Gabby Gillespie and Matthew House. Both run cross country, and Gillespie also runs track while House plays soccer and basketball. When asked about how they have shown grit in their sports, Gillespie says that she has “persevered through injuries while showing determination and hard work every day.” Coach Allegood, head girls’ cross-country coach, added “The best part about Gabby is her character. You have people on different levels running, and she makes an effort to bring everyone together, even when she feels down on herself.” House, who was nominated by Coach Phillips, stated he has “learned to play despite have no fingers on my right hand.”

Those who are chosen by the Handshake America selection committee participate in the year-long program, in which they learn all about the path to success in a diverse environment. They are grouped together and given a “coach” to teach them the lessons and guide them on their path to success. Participants come from various schools and personal backgrounds, therefore providing an eye-opening opportunity. Gillespie notes how she is “most excited about being around others who are like-minded in their show of determination.” The main idea taught by Handshake America coaches is that leaders represent Perseverance, Passion, Positivity, People, and Presence, or, as they call it, “the 5 Ps.” She mentioned how she is also excited to meet her coach, because she feels like she will learn a lot.

Handshake America is an exclusive program, offering only two spots per school – one male and one female. The application process involves an essay where applicants express a time in their life where they have had to show grit. The reward for being accepted into the program involves a $1,000 college scholarship, as well as the promise of the 5 P skills learned over the course of the eight sessions of the program. Gillespie hopes to “apply these qualities, and the ones she has in her sport, to the real world to help me be more successful.” Because of the program’s exclusivity, it helps participants really stand out. House recognizes this, saying he is “excited about getting some college connections and a life coach” and hopes to “learn about my different education options past high school, maybe even looking into playing soccer somewhere.”

To learn more about the impact Handshake America has on participating student-athletes, watch their video testimonials here. Also, read up on Gillespie’s and House’s sports on The Roswell Sting (cross country, track, soccer).

Gabby Gillespie (right) has shown support to the team, even when unable to compete herself. photo credit: Gabby Gillespie