Student credits faculty, family & friends for helping “a first-generation, low-income Latino student” get into an Ivy League program
BROWARD COUNTY, FL – March 11, 2016 – Anthony O’Neil has reasons to celebrate. The Somerset Academy senior just received acceptance letters from two prestigious Ivy League universities, and he’s waiting to hear back from Stanford and Amherst
These acceptance letters are more than just an indication of where he’s headed next, they’re a testament to his hard work and the support he’s received from faculty, family and friends. “I cried not only in honor of my own efforts, but for the sacrifices my parents made in giving me everything I needed to have a good life; for the unrelenting efforts of my sister and her friend (Tony Morales) in ensuring I was well-equipped to navigate the college process; for the school’s faculty and administration who have supported me every step of the way. A first-generation, low-income Latino student doesn’t get into Harvard by himself. Together with my family, friends, and community–the whole village, we were accepted to Harvard.”
Anthony has been a student at Somerset Academy in Pembroke Pines, FL since the 5th grade. A minority and a child from a low-income family, he is the son of a Cuban immigrant, a product of a single-mother household, that managed to beat the odds. Throughout his high school career, he’s taken 32 college classes and 20 AP courses —maintaining a 5.67 weighted GPA (3.94 unweighted GPA) and earning a perfect 800 on the Math SAT. In June, he will graduate with a high school diploma along with an Associate’s in Arts degree he earned from Broward College. Additionally, O’Neill has been named a National Hispanic Scholar, a National Merit Finalist AND a Gates Millennium Finalist.
“I know that my experience at a traditional public school would have been totally different; a charter school such as Somerset Academy nurtured the confidence I needed to excel. I never felt like a number. My principal, Mr. Montero, addresses me by name and asks how my sister and mother are doing. When I go to school, I know my teachers want me there because they love teaching. I’m able to sit down and have lunch with my counselors any day of the week. The faculty members at Somerset charter school genuinely care for their students – they do everything they can to allow their students to succeed,” gushes O’Neil.
While at Somerset, O’Neil has been a part of the school’s student government association and trivia team all four years of high school. A leader of the Animal and Environmental Science club, he worked with local shelters assisting with helping abandoned cats and dogs and aided in the establishment of the school’s recycling program. More recently, he became a mentor for a fellowship program called Under A Tree, Inc. O’Neil explains, “This experience has solidified my commitment to social justice and awareness as I’ve explored critical social issues alongside some of Somerset’s most motivated and capable students through peer discussion groups and civil service projects.” In 2014 he attended a summer program at Harvard, and in 2015 he went to a veterinary medicine summer program at Cornell.
O’Neil aspires to work in the field of conservation medicine, researching emerging diseases, addressing public health concerns, and promoting environmental welfare. He volunteered at a wildlife rehabilitation center in Costa Rica this past summer, thanks in part to a partial scholarship from Somerset. On Tumblr, he ran a blog at giraffeinatree.tumblr.com where he shares animal photography of many great artists as well as his own amateurish pursuits. O’Neil was appointed by Tumblr administration to serve as one of 30 editors to moderate and feature works for #Animals, until the program’s discontinuation in November 2015. With about 24,000 followers to date, O’Neil’s blog gives awareness and support to a number of wildlife charities and endangered species through other ways, such as public discourse and fundraising.
Somerset Academy principal, Bernardo Montero, proudly exclaims, “Anthony is a uniquely impressive student: he’s earned the highest GPA in the 10 year history of our high school, he’s taken enough college courses to earn a bachelor’s degree, and he’s been repeatedly recognized on a national level for his academic excellence. When I think of Anthony, though, the first things that come to mind are his humility and his support of his peers. Anthony shies away from compliments yet is always eager to help other students and improve our school. I am immensely proud of the young man I’ve seen him become and I’m confident that he’ll make his family, including Somerset Academy, proud.”
Anthony O’Neil’s college dreams were born when he witnessed his sister, Meriah, and her close friend Tony Morales accepted to the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League university in Philadelphia; they are currently in their 4th year. Morales says, “Earning admission to both Harvard AND Yale is one of the rarest college admissions feats. It’s a big deal!” O’Neil proclaims, “Every step of the way, I have had their support and encouragement, and their own series of successes have served as models to guide my own. And right behind them was my doting mother, cheering me along with every triumph and failure alike.”
About Somerset Academy: Founded in 1997, Somerset Academy Charter Schools offer high-quality K-12 educational programs in Florida, Nevada and Texas. In 2009, Somerset Academy became the first network of public charter schools in the nation to earn district accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools for its proven commitment to quality and educational excellence. Visit http://www.somersetacademy.com/ for more information on Somerset Academy in Pembroke Pines. Academica, one of the nation’s longest-serving and most successful charter school service and support organizations, is the education service provider for Somerset Academy Charter High School as well as over 100 charter schools in Florida.