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From Eagle Rock High to Harvard: Part I

How does a kid go from NELA’s Mayberry to America’s most storied and respected college?

Of the 490 students who graduated from on Wednesday and took flight to adventures all over the country, perhaps none stands out as prominently as Alejandro Jimenez-Jaramillo. The Eagle recently returned from Washington D.C., where he was invited by the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program, established in 1964 to honor no more than 141 of the nation’s most distinguished high school seniors.

At Eagle Rock High, Jimenez-Jaramillo earned a 4.59 cumulative high school GPA, and scored an impressive 2,380 on his SAT. He is captain of the track, soccer and cross-country team, as well as Associated Student Body commissioner. Besides playing French horn in the student orchestra, he has been a senior class officer and a peer mentor.

This past spring, our presidential scholar had the rare honor of being able to turn down Stanford, MIT, U.C. Berkeley and Columbia—in favor of Harvard University, where he’ll be headed in the fall.

Want to get inside the head of an amazing kid like this? Patch asked Jimenez-Jaramillo about his path from Eagle Rock to Cambridge, and this is what he said:

PATCH: How do you feel about going to Harvard in the fall? How did you choose Harvard over every other school you got into?

Jimenez-Jaramillo: There are no words that can really describe how excited I am to attend Harvard. I get to start a new life in one of the most intellectually stimulating cities in the world.

My college choice was influenced by a number of factors—urban location, research-oriented, intellectual rigor and vivacity—but the final deciding factor was the feel of the campus and its student body.

I had the opportunity to spend a weekend at Harvard during “Visitas,” Harvard’s admit weekend. I spoke to an alumnus of Eagle Rock High School (Jimmy Huang, 2010) who mirrored my expectations and hopes with stories and experiences of his time there. The college felt like I place I could thrive in and enjoy for the next four years. It was a feeling that you can only get when you step on the right campus.

Along with all that, Harvard has name recognition. Wherever I work, anywhere in the world, the Harvard name is respected and trusted. My parents met at Harvard, so I had known about its opportunities and rigor for quite a while.

What my parents stressed was that the college wasn’t looking for students who would “fit in” at Harvard; they were looking for people who would either change, rewrite, or break the system. Harvard doesn’t want people who play an instrument because they want to go to Harvard—they want musicians who care more about their practice than at which college they perform.

PATCH: What can you not wait to do when you get there?

Jimenez-Jaramillo: I cannot wait to go running along the Charles River. I get used to new situations through exercise. Running the Charles River Path will be the perfect way to get used to a brand new life.

PATCH: Do you recall the first time you felt successful at school? What was the moment and what happened?

Jimenez-Jaramillo: The first time I ever felt successful was when I got my test scores back from my first set of AP tests. It was summer of 2009 and I had taken the AP Biology, AP Calculus AB, and AP World History tests in May of that year. I was sitting in the car with my mom, who had graciously waited and brought the mail to school. I opened the envelope and saw three 5’s in the scores column.

High School is a complicated time because you’re constantly making decisions between long-term success and short-term gratification. This was the first time that I could comprehend the results of my efforts in high school. I was nothing short of ecstatic, knowing I was on the right path, even though I wasn’t sure where it ended.

PATCH: When did you first believe you could achieve the highest levels of academic success?

The first time I believed I might be able to achieve admittance to one of the top colleges was after my junior year. Again, more test scores had come in. This time it was five 5’s on the AP World History, AP English Language, AP Calculus BC, AP Environmental Science, and AP Physics C: Mechanics (which I took by myself in the library) and 2380 on the SAT. I couldn’t believe I had done this, especially after an exhausting and exhilarating first semester in D.C.

PATCH:  What did your parents say to you—or do for you—that made you want to be an amazing student and high achiever?

Jimenez-Jaramillo: My parents never told me to go to Harvard or to learn to play French horn or be involved in student government. There was never any point in time when they told me I needed to get into a particular college. I knew they wanted me to go to a competitive college after high school, but there was never any pressure. In this way, they cultivated a very personal mission for success in me.

Although I couldn’t have accomplished nearly as much as I did in high school without my parents’ support and love, there was never a point in time when I studied better or worked harder for them. I did try to emulate the examples they had set for me, but that’s not the same as being pressured to achieve a certain goal.

Deborah Kac June 23, 2011 at 03:25 PM
Bravo, Alejandro. (Take that, Tiger Mother!)
Allison June 23, 2011 at 09:33 PM
So true, Deborah. We should all be as fortunate to raise a child as thoughtful and accomplished as Alejandro. Stay tuned for more from Alejandro, Eagle Rock High's educators, and the Anti-Tiger Mom herself. . .
Terry G. June 24, 2011 at 09:03 AM
Congratulations, Alejandro, and best wishes for continuing success in life!!! I'm with Deborah: here's an obviously bright and talented kid who was dedicated and hard-working enough to get himself where he wanted to go with the support and encouragement of his parents. With all respect to the Tiger Mother and what she sees as success, I think the goal of all parents should be to guide and help their kids to be happy and well-rounded people who will be able to lead productive and successful lives; a big part of that is a joyful childhood.

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