May 2022 Volume 18

Inner-city boy’s delicious dilemma - KC alumnus has challenge deciding which of 40 universities to attend

Reprinted from Jamaica Observer
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Justin Paris is savouring what noted educator Dr Dennis Minott once described as a “delicious dilemma”.

The Kingston College (KC) alumnus, who is now living in New York, has been accepted by 40 universities, including Ivy Leagues Yale, Princeton, and Cornell.

Submitting that many applications is not normal, but Paris, 18, who grew up in the volatile Bowerbank community off Windward Road in East Kingston, was eager to get into a good university to realise his dream of becoming a neurosurgeon.

“I was extremely anxious during the application process since I knew how selective these universities were, and that I was also applying to all of the top-tier universities. Anxiety gripped me as I knew how quickly they rejected and deferred applicants. I was totally shocked when I was accepted into 40 universities,” Paris told the Jamaica Observer.

“I must say it felt fantastic to attain so many acceptances. I simply wanted to make sure I covered all of my options, and that I’m confident that whatever I choose, I’ll be happy with it.”

When the Sunday Observer first contacted Paris on April 6, he was accepted to 35 universities at the time. A week later, he revealed that an additional five universities also granted him a space to study.

His family members, who he described as supportive, have told him congratulations so many times it has begun to sound like they are reciting the chorus to a song.

“My family was incredibly supportive of each and every acceptance, cheering me on as the acceptance letters rolled in. Their emotions overflowing with excitement and contentment. My friends also offered me a lot of love and support, saying, ‘We see how hard you worked, you deserve everything and so much more.’ Cornell was the first Ivy League university to accept me. When I received the acceptance letters, I was both surprised and elated,” he recalled.

Paris told the Sunday Observer that he was extremely nervous last month as ‘Ivy Day’ drew nearer. Ivy Day, March 31, is when all Ivy League universities release their results.

“I recall waking up at 2:00 am, praying to God that I wanted this so much, and that I gave it all I had. I was so nervous as 7:00 pm approached. I nervously opened the decision portals, tears welled up in my eyes as I saw the Yale congratulations video Welcome to Yale. My heart was flattened down like a comfort cushion,” Paris said.

At this point, he called out to his parents, “I got into Yale!”

“I hadn’t even finished opening my decision letters, but I was so overwhelmed. I took a deep breath, went on to open the rest, and I was accepted to Princeton… that was a shocker. Princeton’s acceptance rate fell to the lowest in history and was also ranked as the number one university in the world for 2022. My dad, filled with excitement, called all his friends to share the good news, while my mother was filled with tears, screaming that God has blessed her son.”

Paris provided copies of the acceptance letters from all three Ivy League institutions.

All three universities assured him that his spot has been reserved as they await his decision, with Yale going in detail to say: “It is clear from your application that you are a person who lives for challenge, for excellence, and for making a difference in the world. We look forward to celebrating your unique contribution to the university’s traditions, life, and mission. Congratulations again on your achievements so far.”

Paris said he still hasn’t made a decision as to which university he will settle with, saying he is still torn between all three Ivy League schools.

“I had a dream of becoming a doctor and making a difference in the world. I lived with my mom because my father had migrated to the United States in 2003 to make life better for his family and children, and so I was left with my mother. When it came to academics, my mother was very strict with her children. I remember staying up until 1:00 am studying my timetables up to 15 times when I was nine years old. My mom and my dad enrolled me in extra classes, summer school, and even Sunday classes.

“Growing up, I was always at the top of my class, so I had that drive implanted in me from an early age. I began my primary schooling at Mavisville Preparatory School and afterwards transferred to Harbour View Primary School. When the GSAT [Grade Six Achievement Test] results were released, I was placed at Kingston College.”

Further, he said growing up in Bowerbank, he had a front-row seat to hardship and financial struggles.

“Despite being afforded a comfortable lifestyle by my mom and dad, not everyone in the community had the same luxury. It was a community built on love and enjoyment. The residents showed me immense love and respect throughout my 15 years living there,” he said.

“Though I lived in the garrison, I never experienced it fully. My mom was very strict and I devoted my time to either reading books or venturing to the cartoon channels. Eventually, violence invaded the community... [but] the people of the community helped groom me and others, and I managed to rise above the status quo and became a role model for the younger generation and an inspiration for those before me. I will never forget them.”

Paris told the Sunday Observer that KC developed him in many ways.

“I was groomed by teachers who treated me as if I was their own and was moulded into the young man I am today. I had to rediscover myself and saw that the students there didn’t play when it came to their academics, and I had to adjust to the academic atmosphere. I began studying diligently and was placed on the honour roll as well as receiving top prizes at prize-giving ceremonies,” he said.

“Kingston College is unquestionably a high-quality institution; it is well organised and has the greatest support system, in my opinion. I made friends who became like family to me, and I treasure those bonds wherever I go in this lifetime. Everyone cannot be a Fortis man. A Fortis man is a sportsman, a scholar, and a gentleman, all at the same time,” he said in reference to the school’s motto Fortis cadere cedere non potest, which, when translated from Latin to English, means the brave may fall but never yield.

The youngster said he would be remiss to not name some of the most essential players in his grooming.

“The late Juliet Wilson, former [KC] vice-principal, ensured I was on an academical path to success whilst striking a balance with the social skills and community involvement at the school. She did not play when it came to standards. My business teacher, Mrs Nicole Morgan, who called me her own son, placed me on a path of wisdom and strength. Cecile Lawrence from principles of accounts, Bookroom Manager Bettyann Cummings, Emily Redwood, and Carmeta Cameron Sinclair were also instrumental figures in my school life. It’s impossible to name all, but I must take this opportunity to say thank you.”

Meanwhile, KC Principal Dave Myrie told the Sunday Observer that Paris has left a smile on the face of the school.

“We’re just proud of the young man for what he’s done and the fact that he has excelled. We celebrate with him. He is one of many and there will be others coming,” he said.

“Kingston College is a school for poor people’s children. We give them opportunities that otherwise they would not have got. We take these students from these communities that others would’ve thought have no hope,” Myrie said.

After graduating in 2020, Paris moved with his mother and younger sister to the United States that summer. That, he said, was indubitably the most difficult part of his journey, since he had to leave all his friends and family behind.

“But I realised that, in order to make my dreams come true, I had to do what was necessary. From a young age I’ve been interested in the brain, which has led me to build a love and enthusiasm for it. That’s when I understood that neurosurgery was my profession. I wanted to learn more about the brain and all of its secrets and beauties. I committed my summers to attending Harvard medical internships and also other medical-related internships,” he explained.

In September 2020 Paris enrolled at George Washington Carver High School for Health Sciences.

“Everyone was extremely kind and treated me as if I had been there for a long time. They did not lack competition either, as I discovered that students from Jamaica, like myself, had migrated too. The Campionites, Wolmerians, and the Haitians and the rest of the kids did not hold back their intellectual capabilities,” he said.

“It was a close race as we all competed for valedictorian. I was named valedictorian for the class of 2022, which was a dream come true for me. When the results were released, I was rated first with a cumulative average of 97 unweighted, and a 104 weighted. Getting valedictorian was definitely the icing on the cake,” stated Paris.

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