Orange schools cel­e­brate ‘su­per schol­ars’ in livestream cer­e­mony

Orlando Sentinel - - Front Page - By Les­lie Postal

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.or­lan­dosen­ 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.

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