Ivy League acceptance

Photo by Curt Yeomans
Davis Nguyen, a Lovejoy High School senior, shows off some of the acceptance letters he has received from some of the nation's "Ivy League" colleges.

Photo by Curt Yeomans Davis Nguyen, a Lovejoy High School senior, shows off some of the acceptance letters he has received from some of the nation's "Ivy League" colleges.

By Curt Yeomans


Lovejoy High School senior Davis Nguyen is planning to attend one of the nation's top colleges next year, but which one will it be?

He has been offered "full-ride, all expenses paid" scholarships to some of the nation's top schools, the most notable of which are Harvard University, Yale University, and Brown University. The answer about which school he will attend next year will come later, however (but, pay attention for some discreet hints).

Nguyen, 18, said he feels his acceptance to so many top colleges is a testament that, despite the struggles Clayton County schools have faced in recent years, students are capable of reaching the county's magical goal of a "world class" education. He used that as a stark contrast to recent news of the arrests of 10 students at his school for allegedly gambling and participating in a food fight during school hours.

"It think it says a lot about Clayton County schools and the kind of students that go to school here," Nguyen said. "We're not all starting food fights, or getting arrested. Some of us are actually doing some really positive things."

All three schools that have offered full scholarships to Nguyen, so far, are part of an elite group collectively known as "The Ivy League Schools." Nguyen has also been accepted to Emory University, and is on the waiting lists for other "Ivy Leaguers," Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania.

It is not every day that a student can boast about being accepted to these kinds of schools. The truth is, there is not much, if anything, for Nguyen to be blue about academically. There are cabinets in his family's Riverdale-area home that are filled with plaques, ribbons and sashes commemorating his academic achievements.

He has a 4.4 grade-point average and scored a 2170 (out of a possible 2400) on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, which is more commonly referred to as the SAT. His academic pursuits were enough to get him named by the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce as Clayton County's 2010-2011 Student Teacher Achievement Recognition (STAR) student, in February.

It may not be a surprise to find out, then, that the bookshelves in his bedroom feature a diversity of books, whose topics range from the habits of highly successful people, to the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, to U.S. history, to studying for college entrance exams.

While Nguyen has put in hours upon hours of studying, mainly over the last two years, his grades technically never reflected a poor performance at any point in high school. He just started high school with an approach to academics that is different from the approach he has now.

During his freshman and sophomore years, Nguyen said he would memorize things he studied in class, without doing extra studying at home. "I did well enough to be first in my class" at the time, he said.

Then, he went to Valdosta State University, during the summer between his sophomore and junior years, to participate in the state's Governor's Honors Program. The program, where pupils are challenged academically in a college-like setting, is open to only the top students in the state, Nguyen explained.

"I realized I was just an average student," he said.

Nguyen said he came back, and decided memorization of classroom materials was not enough. "I really wanted to push myself harder," he said. He realized he needed to devote more of his time and energy to his academic pursuits. So, with the tenacity of a bulldog, he began putting more time, both at school and at home, into studying every day. The academic overachiever said he spends up to 14 hours with academics, between his time in class, tutoring other students after school, and studying at home every night.

"My grades stayed the same, but I found my classes more interesting," he said. "I started to find that I relate more and more to what I was studying."

Nguyen got deeply interested in his English (he prefers American literature), mathematics and history classes (he's really into studying the American Revolutionary War, Civil War and Cold War eras).

He also took up an interest in reading and watching speeches, particularly those given by presidents. His all-time favorite speech, he said, was the one given in 2004 by then-U.S. Sen. (and now President) Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention.

"He was talking about overcoming barriers and his family," Nguyen said. "His speech was resonating with me. I'm a first-generation American ... No one thought I'd go very far."

Nguyen said he has entered several oratory contests, offered by various groups. He was even one of the winners of the school system's "Hear Our Voices" speech competition in 2010, where he talked about his Vietnamese heritage and how he will be the first person in his family to graduate from an American high school.

Outside of studying, Nguyen said he is also a participant in 11 clubs and organizations at Lovejoy High School. Among his many activities, he said he is also the president of Lovejoy High's National Honor Society and Elite Scholars chapters, captain of the school's math team, the state treasurer for the Technology Students Association, and a member of Students Against Drunk Driving, and the BETA Club.

He is also part of Lovejoy's International Baccalaureate program, which draws students from across the county. "I really enjoy what I do," he said. "One of my favorite quotes is, 'If you do what you love, you'll never get tired.'"

In February, Nguyen's STAR teacher (and an English teacher at Lovejoy High School), Zach Etheridge, said he doubted he would ever get to teach a pupil like this one again in his career. He said, at the time, that Nguyen typically puts more work into his class assignments than other students in his class.

"I give an assignment on Monday, and say it's due on Friday," said Etheridge, in a February interview. "I'll have the first draft on Tuesday morning from Davis. I'll have two more before Friday, each of which I'm then required to mark up thoroughly, and discuss with him, so that when he turns in the finished assignment on Friday, it's a polished fourth draft."

If anyone has not yet figured out which school Nguyen will attend next year, he has confirmed it will be Yale. Nguyen said it was all about finding the right fit for him. "Harvard offered me a full-ride scholarship and [an Apple] Mac Book, but Yale offered me a full-ride scholarship and a home," he said. "As soon as I stepped on the campus for my visit, I really felt welcome there. Harvard was really amazing, but I just don't know the words to describe Yale."

He said he will major in something, either in the humanities, or the social sciences, likely either, English or political science.