Suppose a trip to college is more than 2,600 miles and takes 39 hours to get there. That’s the reality for Alexander Central High School senior Ana Gray who has a full scholarship to Stanford University in Palo Alto, California and starts in the fall.
Gray applied through an organization called QuestBridge, an organization that matches high-performing students from low-income backgrounds with elite universities. Her application included requests to go to Columbia, Brown, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, and her top choice, Stanford. She opened the acceptance email with Advanced Placement teachers Ed Wills and Natasha Haas looking on.
“I didn’t want to see the screen and then when I saw I had gotten in somewhere I freaked out because if I got in anywhere it was going to be an Ivy League or Stanford, so you can’t really lose. Then I saw Stanford. I didn’t freak out, but my heart started beating really fast because I didn’t believe it was real. It felt very surreal and honestly it felt like a joke because I didn’t expect it,” says Gray.
She says her teachers believed in her more than she did. Former teacher and now assistant principal Wills says her recognition is deserved.
“She has a lot of responsibility with her siblings and family. She works. She does a lot of things that people don’t realize she does and the quality of her work never, never drags at all by any event, so she’s fabulous. The honors that she is getting she has earned every bit of. We’re super happy for her and proud of her,” gushes Wills.
Gray’s feat is extraordinary. Overall, Stanford only accepts about four percent of students who apply. She says through QuestBridge there were about 18,000 semifinalists that were then narrowed down to 5,000. She came out of that student pool with her top choice of Stanford. The QuestBridge initiative encourages young people who are first generation college students to apply.
“I’ve had a very blessed life, but it has not lacked challenges, and I think that being able to write about those challenges and reflect on yourself in context of those challenges shows a very compelling part of somebody. I think that challenges are compelling in all of us. It makes us very special and unique and strong, so I think being able to write about that and bring that to the forefront was important,” reflects Gray.
Gray’s accolades are impressive. She’s taken 13 Advanced Placement classes, scored a 29 on the ACT, and earned a weighted Grade Point Average of 4.6. The acceptance and scholarship process takes academic success into account but prioritizes student’s strength in character and intellectual spark. Gray says she is part of a competitive group of Alexander Central High School seniors who have lots of potential. She says the other students give her strength and make her better. But she says her two middle-school aged family members and an elementary-aged sister keep her motivated.
“I look up to them and they look up to me in so many ways. And I wanted to show them, especially my younger siblings, that you can do anything despite what you’ve been through or what life throws at you, you can make it,” says Gray.
Gray says she will get university money to cover most of the estimated $80,000 per school year at Stanford and hopes to get local money to cover about the $5,000 per year she expects in costs. Then, she can save money for her flights back and forth to California. Gray would like to major in political science or English and would like to work for a non-profit group after college graduation to help with relief from war or poverty.