By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools
The email arrived just before noon on December 1.
Jose Cerritos and a friend looking over his shoulder read it twice to themselves. Cerritos read it three more times without saying a word.
“I didn’t believe it at first,” said Cerritos, of the message informing him that he was chosen as a recipient of a fully funded QuestBridge National College Match scholarship and will attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the Fall 2021.
The Smyrna senior was in his Cambridge math class and anxious classmates finally broke the silence. They were eager to know what the “decision letter” said.
They cheered when he told them he got it.
“My mind was blank,” said Cerritos. “I was such a shock. … I was very happy to be able to go to college and for free too.”
He added, “It hasn’t set in.”
Cerritos is one of six Rutherford County seniors to receive the QuestBridge scholarship. Nevaeh Morris, who also attends Smyrna High, was matched with Vanderbilt as was Kenneth Goodman, who will graduate from Central Magnet School. Two other Central seniors — Catherine Abdous and Lizbeth Lozano — will be matched with Notre Dame and Yale respectively. Oakland’s Constantia Georgiou was matched with Stanford.
Founded in 1994, QuestBridge is a national nonprofit based in Palo Alto, California that connects the nation’s most exceptional, low-income youth with leading colleges and opportunities. By working with these students — beginning in high school through college to their first job — QuestBridge aims to increase the percentage of talented low-income students attending the nation’s best colleges and to support them to achieve success in their careers and communities, according to QuestBridge.org.
Finalists were contacted on October 21.
This year’s matches were notified on December 1.
Last year, 92 percent of the finalists came from families with a household income of $65,000 or less, while 89 percent were in the Top 10 percent of their class and 71 percent were first-generation college students.
Likewise, Cerritos will be the first member of his family to ever attend college.
His parents immigrated from El Salvador.
Their goal was simple. They wanted their son to attend college. Period. Cerritos had something else in mind—attend the best school that would offer him a full scholarship.
His parents are, understandably, sad their son will be moving 1,100 miles away and only just beginning to understand he will be attending one of the most elite schools in the world. Cerritos, on the other hand, is relieved to know it will be paid for.
At this point, his friends are going through the application process and Cerritos is trying to be supportive of them and their journey. He understands the stress they are under in choosing a school, while also being financially responsible in their decision-making.
For instance, Akpedze “Paige” Adekplor was a finalist for a match through QuestBridge.
Unfortunately, the LaVergne High senior was not selected but is still hoping to attend Columbia University. The Ivy League institution is located in New York City.
Cerritos is excited about the next four years.
He plans to double major in physics and either electrical engineering or math with a dream of one day becoming a professor at a university. While he knows there is a lot of work to be done and will not be easy, it pales in comparison to what his parents went through just to get to the United States.
“As long as I keep that in mind, I’ll succeed,” Cerritos said.