By Meg O’Neil
Rogers High School senior Tiphanie Fuentes was pacing in her room. She was supposed to have received an email from Harvard University’s Admission Office at 5 p.m. and the clock was now reading well past 9 p.m. It wasn’t until close to 10 p.m. that the Rogers class of 2012 Valedictorian was perusing the internet and found out that Harvard’s online server had been bogged down by thousands of other students like her, eager to learn of their admission status to the prestigious school.
Not quite resolved to the situation, Fuentes tried one last time to enter her login information on the school’s website. This time, however, instead of receiving an error message, she was greeted with music and a video featuring red, bold letters simply stating: “Welcome, Class of 2016.”
She had done it. She was accepted to Harvard University. Screaming in excitement, Fuentes ran down the stairs to tell the rest of her family the news.
This year, Harvard admitted 2,032 of the 34,302 students who applied – amounting to an acceptance rate of just 5.9 percent, the lowest among Ivy League schools.
What makes the acceptance even sweeter is that Fuentes received a piece of “snail-mail” from Harvard a few days later informing her that she had earned a full, four-year scholarship.
Fuentes, who had already received acceptance letters from several other schools, including Tufts and Northeastern (all with accompanying scholarships), admits that Harvard was secretly her first choice.
Born in Warwick, Fuentes moved to Newport shortly after preschool and attended Underwood Elementary School and Thompson Middle School. Reflecting on her accomplishments earlier this week, Fuentes credits several Rogers’ teachers with helping her realize her passions: language and technology.
Monica Awde, the Academy of Information Technology teacher at Rogers, has taught Fuentes for the past four years. “Tiphanie works hard every day … she is so committed to her own education and she takes great pride and pleasure in learning. I really want to emphasize learning, because it truly is not the grades or accolades that she seeks; she seeks an education.”
Fuentes developed an online translator for her senior project that translated English phrases to German, and vice versa. Her work astonished Awde. “’Wow’ is oftentimes the word I associate with her work,” she said. “Her future is as bright as she is. She can do whatever she sets her mind to … and I will be so proud to say ‘I knew her when.’”
The support from her teachers oftentimes extended from beyond the walls of the classroom. Fuentes, who comes from a low socioeconomic background, could not afford to submit her financial aid forms. So her English teacher, Patrick Largee, paid for them. The generosity of her teachers has not gone unnoticed.
“The support from my teachers has been incredible,” Fuentes said. “Teachers like me as a person and as a student and they’re always willing to help. I wish I could get that across to other kids here: If you do even just a little bit of work and be respectful and show some enthusiasm then everyone will want to help you.”
Even since her elementary school days, Fuentes has been a star student, with her peers often playfully joking, saying: “You should just go to Harvard now.” She says that recently, one of those former Underwood classmates approached her, and shaking his head in a stunned disbelief, said, “Wow. Harvard. We called it years ago!”
When Rogers’ graduation ceremonies commence on Friday, June 15, Fuentes will take the stage to speak to her fellow students as the class of 2012 valedictorian. Next to her will be salutatorian and best friend, Kathleen McKay.
The journey of the two friends started with a pact in ninth grade. According to Fuentes, the two made a promise with each other four years ago: they would try their hardest to be their class valedictorian and salutatorian. Another goal made a reality.
Fuentes called McKay’s family “equally supportive in the college process,” as her own family, bringing her with them on college visits when Fuentes’ family didn't have the means to travel.
When Fuentes attends Harvard in the fall, their friendship will continue, as McKay will be a short distance away – in dorm room right across the Charles River at Boston University.
Fuentes says that she plans to continue studying computer science and linguistics with a concentration in Japanese. Although Japanese is not offered at Rogers, Fuentes has been self-studying the language on the side.
While Fuentes participated in a number of clubs and groups at Rogers: mock-trial, academic decathlon, and anime club, she admits, “I’ve never been a really outgoing person."
But that hasn't stopped her from already signing up for a slew of organizations at Harvard in the fall. "I’m going to try to use this college experience to be more available to people," she said. "I want to take advantage of all these opportunities that have been offered to me.”
Already accepted into a pre-orientation program, Fuentes will move in to her dorm in August and she’s already invited her classmates to come visit her when they can. “I really want people to be able to see what is possible and tell them, ‘this is available to you.’”