Lloyd Chen, 17, delivers his valedictorian speech at Laguna Creek High School in Elk Grove, Calif., on May 30, 2013. Chen received full scholarships to nine elite universities and will be attending Harvard in the fall. Photo credit: KCRA
A California teen who has overcome a lifetime of hardships received nearly $3 million from nine elite universities bidding to have him as part of their freshman class in the fall.
Lloyd Chen, 17, received full scholarships to Harvard, Yale, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego and UC Davis.
All the schools to which he applied wanted him. He chose Harvard, the Cambridge, Mass., university with a 6 percent acceptance rate and Chen's dream school since he was young.
Chen graduated May 30 with a 4.79 GPA. He was the valedictorian of Laguna Creek High School’s class of 2013.
"It is your choice to have a fulfilling life as it puts the burden on you, but it also gives you the power to do something about it," Chen told his peers during his graduation speech. "So do it."
Chen’s achievements are unique for any teenager, and become even more impressive in the context of his upbringing.
“I never felt like I had hardships until senior year when I reflected on my whole life and tried to figure out my life story,” Chen told NBC-affiliate KCRA.
Chen grew up in dire poverty. His father left Chen’s mother, two sisters and a 1-year-old Lloyd penniless, shortly after his parents emigrated from South Korea to the U.S.
His mother suffers from an autoimmune deficiency that makes her unable to work. For the past couple years, Chen assumed the role of her caretaker after his older sisters moved away to attend college. The family lives in a small apartment paid for, in part, by federal subsidies.
“I’ve never met anyone who’s had so many things going against them, who’s risen above them all,” said Alycia Sato, Chen’s high school counselor.
Chen transferred to Laguna Creek High School during his sophomore year. He was attending a school some 20 miles away because of its intensive baccalaureate program, but the drive was wearing on his mother, who often waited at the school because she was short on gas money to go home.
He transferred to the closer Laguna Creek High School in Elk Grove when the school started its own baccalaureate program.
Sato met with Chen every two weeks and in that time, came to know a boy who seemed very mature for his age. But the 17-year-old only shared the details of his personal story with Sato his senior year, because he was unsure if he should include it in his college applications, Sato said.
“He didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him or give him anything based on pity," she said.
Sato said the teen’s most remarkable quality is his humility. He’s top of his class, but will always lend a hand to a peer who is struggling and is quick to credit his family and every educator who has been involved in his life for any success he has achieved.
When Chen received his early acceptance letter to Harvard, he emailed Sato a message: “This is our success.”
After Harvard, Chen plans to earn a masters degree. And he won’t have to pay a dime.
He was awarded the Gates Millennium Scholarship, which promises to pay his tuition, room and board, and book fees through graduate school.
Chen plans to use some of the Gates scholarship funds to cover any costs Harvard won’t, that way he won’t have to get a job when he moves to Cambridge in the fall.
He wants to “figure out why we do what we do,” Sato said. He’s expressed interest in studying economics, psychology and maybe engineering.
In her decade as a counselor, Sato said she’s never met a student like Chen.
“He’s at the top of the heap, definitely,” she said. “I’ve never met anyone who matches him.”
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