A few weeks ago, Andrea T., a senior at Hillcrest High School, checked her inbox and was surprised to find an email notification from Harvard University. Just a few minutes before, she had received a rejection from Brown University but thought, “Let me just check what Harvard says.”
When she opened the email, she could barely believe her eyes: An animated message saying ‘Congratulations’ appeared before her. She had been accepted into one of the most prestigious universities in the world.
“I remember my uncle saying to me, “I don’t think you have realized how huge this is,” said Andrea. “Growing up, Harvard seemed like a dream to me. I still can’t believe it, and I am sure I won’t until I set foot on the campus as a student.”
Born and raised in Cameroon, Africa, Andrea spent the first 13 years of her life dreaming of becoming a doctor, a teacher, or an architect. One thing was clear: She wanted to change the traditional view that girls are just supposed to get married. “My goal was to become so powerful that I could respond and change the stereotypes.”
Five years ago, Andrea’s parents, Jean Claude and Ndjandja, made the difficult decision to move to the United States to give their five daughters a better life. It was not an easy transition since they came from a country with a different culture and language. But, despite that, Andrea’s parents never doubted that this was the right decision.
“The best thing I can do for myself right now is to give my children the opportunity to live their best life,” said Jean Claude. “I’ll make sure they are always covered so they can prioritize their education. All they have to do is go to school.”
Adapting to life in the U.S. was not always easy for Andrea. Looking back at herself five years ago, she admits she was very shy.
However, being very tall from a young age, she was encouraged to join the basketball team, and through that, she started to feel more confident. Now, five years later, she is the captain of the varsity team, where she is affectionately known as ‘Mama Drea.’
“Basketball helped me improve my connection with my teammates and become better as a student,” said Andrea. “My first year was a bad experience because I couldn’t speak English and didn’t know how to play. But my coaches and teammates helped me realize that it’s not just about you but the team; everything you do affects somebody else. That helped me love basketball.”
During her time at Hillcrest, Andrea put into practice one of the core lessons her father passed on to her: always leaving her mark wherever she goes. Similarly to her transformation inside the basketball court, her teachers noticed a complete transformation of her character from freshman to senior, going from an intelligent but shy girl to an authentic and capable student-leader that others are drawn to.
“Her work ethic and perseverance are a huge testament to our school in general,” said Principal Terrence Florie. “I was just talking to a kid and mentioned having an interview for one of our kids who got into Harvard, and they went, ‘Yeah, Andrea got into Harvard!’ All the kids are excited for her.”
Andrea’s family and teachers never fail to mention her determination and her need to always work hard to achieve her goals. Shawnetta Murray, now assistant principal at Hillcrest, recalls that Andrea is the only student she knows who has asked to transfer from the comprehensive program to the collegiate academy.
“She was so driven and knew what she wanted to do. You don’t find that very often: a ninth-grade student with those goals in mind,” said Murray.
As she moves on from Hillcrest to Harvard, Andrea recognizes that her high school teachers provided her with the tools and training necessary to succeed in college.
“At first, I was worried because other applicants shared that they were the captain of this or were in a certain club, and I didn’t have any of that,” said Andrea. “However, Hillcrest helped me put together many of the building blocks of who I am today. So I used everything I had and worked hard, knowing the result would come. And it did!”
At Harvard, where she will study computer science, Andrea plans to continue practicing her father’s lesson on her career path. Her goal is to one day develop software that can help improve education back in Cameroon first and then in other African countries.
“One of my plans has always been to help transform education in some way because, in my country, only the rich can aspire to have the highest education,” said Andrea. “With computer science, if you have an idea, you can write the code and make it a reality using your creativity and logic.”