Orange schools celebrate ‘super scholars’ in livestream ceremony
Dena Cher-Fils knew when Northwestern University was to post its admissions decisions, so at precisely that time she sat at her bedroom desk and logged onto the school’s portal. Then she froze.
“Congratulations,” it read. “Oh, yeah. I started crying,” the Boone High School senior said.
Dena, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, said a financial aid package that covers the full cost of attendance clinched her decision to attend the top-ranked school near Chicago.
Her family has struggled financially, Dena said, but her mother — who works as a nursing assistant at a nursing home — always told her daughters she’d moved to the United States so they’d have better opportunities. Her mother urged them to keep up their grades and to view education as a key “stepping stone.”
Dena, now finishing a senior year that included six Advanced Placement courses, followed that advice, while also playing
drums in the marching band and lacrosse.
On Thursday, the Orange County school district honored Dena and 118 other “super scholars” in a virtual version of what in past years has been a packed, in-person ceremony. (Go to www.orlandosentinel.com/ scholars to see a list of the students.)
The super scholars program, started in 2012, celebrates seniors accepted into the nation’s Top 20 colleges and universities as ranked by U.S. News & World Report or into the country’s premier military academies.
The class of 2020 is the largest group of “super scholars” to date and earned acceptances to places such as Duke, Harvard and Stanford universities, Davidson and Vassar colleges, and the U.S. Naval Academy.
Wesdjina Brevil of Wekiva High School and Aster Zhang of Winter Park High School had the most acceptances with 10 each.
“You represent the best and brightest,” Teresa Jacobs, chair of the Orange County School Board said at last year’s ceremony. “We are enormously proud of you.”
This year, district leaders shared similar sentiments but because schools are shuttered to combat the spread of the coronavirus, the scholars were honored online in a tribute to be streamed live at 6 p.m. and available later for viewing.
Dena, who was also accepted to Vanderbilt University and the University of Florida, likely will major in biology at Northwestern, with her sights on medical school and then a career as a surgeon.
Like many seniors, she’s disappointed her high school experience is finishing online, with an in-person graduation ceremony unlikely.
But she said she’s appreciative of the education she received at Boone High, which offered a health science academy that gave her a taste of her intended field and a college counselor who started helping her plan her
future in ninth grade.
Freshmen year, she joined the school’s lacrosse team, using equipment borrowed from a friend, and also the marching band.
“I was a little shy. Being in marching band kind of helped me break out of my shell,” Dena said.
The extracurricular activities also helped her make close friends and become more confident, she said, but they were a challenge, as her family didn’t always have money for those extra costs or a working car, meaning she sometimes had to find a ride or take a bus.
When she was applying to colleges, Dena said she didn’t have one dream school; she just hoped for acceptance at a “top level” university that would also provide the financial aid she needed.
Dena said she excited about the opportunities that await her, though a little worried about the cold winters in Illinois. She has not visited the campus yet.
Dena Cher-Fils, 17, a senior at Boone High School, is one of 119 “super scholars” honored by the Orange County school district.