Five Ivies on the vine

A PCHS senior was accepted into five Ivy League universities. Which one will she choose?
May 2, 2019 at 8:32 a.m.
Five Ivies on the vine
Five Ivies on the vine

By By Sarah Wolpoff- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

It was Mar. 28, a Thursday. As a dedicated crew member in the Port Chester High School Drama Club’s production of “Mamma Mia!”, Jacinta Olonilua was meticulously keeping to the chock-full schedule tracked on her phone and spent hours after school working behind the scenes at rehearsal.

To most students there it was a normal Thursday. But to Jacinta, it was potentially one of the most pivotal days in her life so far. It was Ivy Day, the designated date when all the Ivy League schools announce their admissions decisions, and Olonilua had applied to several.

The list was released to eager students across the country at 7 p.m., but Olonilua anxiously waited 30 minutes before checking. She was committed to rehearsal until around then as well and had to drive home right after. Even though it was a moment the 18-year-old had been working toward her whole academic career, she didn’t want to use her phone while on the road. Olonilua is disciplined, to say the least.

“I didn’t tell anyone in my family it was Ivy Day. When I got home, I ran into my bathroom, because I didn’t know where else in my house to go,” Olonilua humbly described. “I applied, of course, with the hope to get in, but I wasn’t thinking ‘oh, I’m for sure getting in.’”

As she scrolled through her phone, her eyes got wider as the jaw-dropped grin grew across her face. UPenn, Columbia, Yale, Cornell, Harvard—Olonilua was accepted into five Ivy League universities.

“With each one, my level of screaming just intensified,” Olonilua beamed. “My brother yelled ‘what are you doing in there,’ and I just sent a photo of all the acceptances into a family group chat. My dad was downstairs and immediately ran up, he was so happy. It was a really nice time, everyone was proud.”

Olonilua didn’t tell her parents about Ivy Day largely because she wanted the family to cherish that potential surprising moment. After all, she credits them for instilling the motivation to succeed in her. Not only does she strive to make them proud, but it’s a part of their culture.

Her parents are Nigerian immigrants, who came to the U.S. despite having an established life in Africa because they thought it would be the best place to raise their children. Olonilua and her three older siblings, Emmanuel, Daniella and Benedicta, are first-generation.

“That in itself motivated me. I don’t want to waste the fact that they left their whole life in Nigeria to come here. I do the best I can to make my parents proud so they know they didn’t waste their efforts,” Olonilua said. “In Nigerian culture, it’s a country where not only academically but in life hard work is what gets you through. You can’t just be lollygagging. My mother and my grandmother always say, ‘make sure not to get too comfortable in what you’re doing because quickly that can change, and you have to be prepared for that type of change.’”

For Olonilua, that meant developing into a strong scholar is all areas. Though her primary interest is in the STEM fields—she plans to study chemistry or chemical biology in college—she prioritized taking the most rigorous course load possible.

Throughout high school, she took seven AP classes and three IB classes while maintaining a cool head. With a current GPA of 101.394, she clearly did well.

Steve Gibaldi, a Port Chester High School history teacher who worked with Olonilua in AP U.S. History her junior year, described her as an eloquent student. She got good grades because she truly loves to learn, and never complained or fought for an extra point in the process. Most importantly, Gibaldi said, she does the right thing when no one’s looking.

“Her goal is to be in the sciences, and she not only did well but mastered my very difficult AP U.S. course. That tells me everything you need to know about her ability,” Gibaldi said. “She’s a wonderful student but an even better person. She exhibits ethical values and is a quiet leader in the classroom, leading by example.

“In my class, the breadth of knowledge you’re required to know is vast, but I also mix current events in, and that was an emotional year in politics with the U.S. election,” he continued. “We had a lot of intense discussions in class and Jacinta participated so meaningfully and just soaked up everything. She’s a unique young woman who deserves these accolades.”

Originally, Olonilua said she was planning to commit to a school by spring break, the week of Apr. 15. That didn’t happen. During the college application process, Olonilua was primarily looking for universities with strong research programs.

Who knew it would be so hard when she ultimately had to choose among the top research facilities in the world?

Just days before her deadline, she had to commit by May 1, she finally made her decision after a month of exhausting deliberation. In Fall 2019, Olonilua will be starting her undergraduate education at Harvard University.

And she’s thrilled.

“Harvard has an amazing research center, the resources available are unknown in the rest of America,” she said. “I’m an avid book reader, and their library is amazing. Not only does it have great resources, but there is an amazing alumni network. It’s really inspiring.”

Admittedly, Olonilua said financial aid was another factor. Harvard ended up being one of the cheaper options, as the university is granting her more than half the tuition cost. All in all, it ends up being perfect because Harvard is where her eyes were set anyway.

“It’s Harvard,” Olonilua nearly exclaimed. “Everyone has known Harvard since they were 5 years old. It’s always been my dream school. I’ve always envisioned myself going there, surrounded by people who are also driven, work hard and love to learn. I’m really excited that’s where I’ll be next year.”


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