The secret of my success

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How do you get into all 8 Ivy League schools? Key Clubber Harold Ekeh credits a strong support system for his impressive academic achievement.

Story by Brett A. Halbleib  •  Photos by Chasi Annexy

When Harold Ekeh went to school the day after finding out he’d been accepted into all eight Ivy League schools, he didn’t yell and scream. He didn’t gloat or do a touchdown dance.

Instead, he walked into several classrooms at Elmont Memorial High School on Long Island, New York, and simply thanked his teachers. He thanked them for everything they’d done for him.

“That’s who he is,” says Elizabeth McGarry, who’s an advisor to the Elmont Memorial Key Club, to which Ekeh belongs. “He’s a very humble young man.”

Ekeh is an intelligent young man too. In addition to the Ivy League schools, Ekeh (pronounced Eck-AY) was accepted into five other prestigious schools, including MIT, NYU and Johns Hopkins.

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He plans to attend Yale University this fall. He attended a model United Nations conference there and people in the campus community mentored him through the application process. Yale creates a stimulating environment, Ekeh says, noting he also liked the school’s emphasis on community service.

He points out that none of his success would’ve been possible without a strong support system, which included his teachers. “That’s what really sets the conditions right for any type of success,” he says.

The most important contributors to his success were Ekeh’s parents, Paul and Roseline Ekeh. When Ekeh was eight, they moved the family from Nigeria to the United States to take advantage of the opportunities it would afford Ekeh and his four brothers. At the time, he felt sad and excited, recalling how he tried to memorize the names of all 50 states. “They all sounded so beautifully exotic to me,” he says.

That first year, when Ekeh was in fourth grade, was the toughest. He had a heavy accent and remembers being alone at lunch and recess. He received a poor grade on his first U.S. history quiz, but the perseverance and tenacious spirit he adopted from his parents motivated him to put in the extra effort to catch up and excel. “I decided to take their example and apply it to my own life,” Ekeh says. “Instead of being isolated, I was going out at recess and talking to other kids, embracing this new culture. Ultimately, my efforts were rewarded. I began to thrive and make new friends.”

“I want to be able to say I made a difference in my community and made a difference in my world, and that’s what Key Club really inspired me to do. If you see something wrong in your community, you have the power to change that.”

That extra effort has stuck with Ekeh.

“I would see him up at the table doing homework until 1:30 a.m., and I’d be telling him to go to bed and get some sleep,” says his mother, Roseline.

But a few hours later, she’d get up and see he was still working at the table.

Ekeh’s drive extends well beyond school. As a Key Club member, he’s volunteered at a prom for senior citizens, worked at a food pantry and raised money for breast cancer research.

He also started a college prep tutoring program at his school to encourage students to apply to upper-echelon universities. The program provides tutoring, workshops and resources for sophomores and juniors. Ekeh wants to “create that culture” of success as part of his legacy, he says.

And it’s working. “Some of the other kids—that’s their goal now, to try to do the same thing Harold did,” McGarry says.

Key Club, Ekeh says, played an integral role in shaping his character.

“I want to be able to say I made a difference in my community and made a difference in my world, and that’s what Key Club really inspired me to do. If you see something wrong in your community, you have the power to change that.”

His advice for Key Club members is to “find something you’re passionate about and stick with it. You have to be targeted and focused in your approach to high school.”

After Yale, Ekeh plans to attend medical school. Ultimately, he wants to conduct research in neurology, perhaps focusing on Alzheimer’s disease, which afflicts his grandmother. If the past is any indication, he’ll have plenty of universities from which to choose.


 

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Snapshot:  Harold Ekeh

Age: 17

High School: Elmont Memorial High School on Long Island, New York

Average grade: 100.51%

SAT: 2270

College: Yale University

Major: Neurological research, possibly specializing in Alzheimer’s disease

Activities: Key Club; school newspaper editor; national Intel Science Talent Search semifinalist; college mentoring program founder; youth choir director; church youth group member; drama club member; Model United Nations; homecoming court.

Favorite team: New York Giants of the NFL (but he’s not generally a “one team” kind of guy, preferring to see a good game)

Favorite foods: Starbucks; chicken pot pie; Chipotle (which is where he celebrated his admission to the Ivy League schools)

Favorite people: Jay-Z; Beyoncé; Oprah; “influential people who change communities”

Favorite TV shows/movies:  Grammy Awards; MTV Movie Awards; Hunger Games; Harry Potter


This story originally appeared in the September, 2015 issue of Key Club magazine.

 

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