Like many seniors throughout the country, an 18-year-old honors student from the Bronx decided he would submit an Early Decision (ED) application. This process is an indication to the prospective university or college that institution will be his first choice.
Once Papa-Yaw Afari, a senior at Cardinal Hayes High School, filled out the application, proofread his personal essay, uploaded teacher recommendations, and the necessary financial information, there was only one thing left to do:
Nervously, he clicked “submit” from his laptop.
For every high school senior, it’s “the letter” a student, who is filled with anticipation and anxiety, eagerly awaits to receive in the mail. With their hands trembling and the nervous system going into complete overdrive, he or she will finally open that long-awaited envelope or email from a potential college.
In speaking with Afari and his fellow classmates, Jaden Aracena, Jake Diaz, Joshua Okwaning, and Franco Sorza, they seemed to agree with their close friend on how their morning began prior to receiving their college acceptance letters/emails.
“My story is actually kind of weird. The school day itself, from when I came to school and when I woke up, it was a gloomy day. The whole day. I remember at lunchtime, I was really grumpy. Anything someone would say would agitate me,” stated Afari matter-of-factly.
Immediately, his classmates laughed wholeheartedly and nodded their heads.
Arriving home after school, Afari - who played varsity soccer and ran track throughout his four years - mentioned how he had soccer practice but also slowly began to receive text messages about his classmates’ acceptance into their respective Ivy League schools.
“I heard Jake got into UPenn (University of Pennsylvania), heard Jaden got into UPenn, Joshua got into Brown and my immediate thoughts were, ‘Oh my God, my acceptance still hasn’t come yet.’”
He continued nervously to refresh the page until the phenomenal news appeared on his laptop screen - Congratulations and welcome to Brown University!
His reaction was a sigh of relief but for Afari, who plans to major in Mechanical Engineering and minor in linguistics, he also had enough energy to run around his house…like a madman.
Surprisingly, no one was home to witness the proud son of Ghanaian parents achieve this remarkable accomplishment.
These scholarly, young “Hayesmen” are Ivy-League-bound. They received their Early Decision acceptance letters and will be attending the most elite institutions of higher education in the Fall of 2022.
Along with their immediate family and loved ones, they’re thrilled beyond words.
These seniors credited their parents and family members for instilling the value of an education in them but their unwavering faith in God was also of paramount importance. While speaking to Jaden Aracena, who will be attending the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, he shared a heartfelt story about his beloved grandmother.
“She would pray for me every day. Prior to opening the letter, she took me into the room to say a prayer. I prayed every night as well,” said Aracena.
Although Joshua Okwaning was raised in the Pentecostal faith, his parents, who also immigrated from Ghana, were determined to enroll their son in a Catholic school. That journey began at Saint Simon Stock in the Bronx and eventually continued to another well-known institution on the Grand Concourse.
And he’s extremely proud of his Bronx roots and Cardinal Hayes High School.
“As a student who has stayed in the Catholic school system, don’t take it as a joke. Because you may think, since I’m in a pretty good school, your life is laid out for you. However, you have to put in the work,” Okwaning said.
Born in Miami, Florida and the son of Dominican parents, Jake Diaz, who will be attending UPenn, thanked his parents for their emphasis on education.
“My mom is also a teacher, and she stressed the academics a lot [because] it would be my way out of many things,” said Diaz who not only played sports but enjoys creative writing in his spare time.
I asked Diaz if there was a Plan B - if he wasn’t accepted to UPenn. He explained, “I’m a person that’s always prepared. Whether I got accepted or not, it didn’t define me as a person. I’m still the same old Jake.”
Nevertheless, these Ivy League-bound students also credited The McQuade Honors Program at Cardinal Hayes.
Every year, a select committee interviews prospective freshmen, who will attend classes consisting of all honors and AP-level courses for their four years at Hayes. This unique program also engages students to become critical thinkers and multifaceted leaders.
“There’s not just one teacher that really impacted my Hayes experience, but I think of Mr. Guimarães and Mr. Sarcone. I feel like they’re unorthodox teachers that made me think outside the box and challenge myself academically,” said Afari who described these veteran teachers from the program.
He added: “They offered really good life advice. Mr. Guimarães was integral to my life at Hayes. He walked me through the college process and Mr. Sarcone’s classes…I’ll never forget his classes. They were really interesting. They just gave me a good perspective on life overall.”
Before we concluded our discussion, I posed this question to the group: Ten years from now, what’s the best advice you would give a future Hayesman who is applying for college?
Even though he’s undecided on his college major, Franco Sorza was determined to attend a college/university where his parents (who were born in Mexico) wouldn’t be responsible for any of his postsecondary expenses. But he calmly, in a monotone voice, conveyed his story on how he received the news of his college acceptance.
And I soon learned it didn’t happen exactly as planned.
“I didn’t read my email correctly. I thought the decision was on the 16th like everyone else. I reread it and it was today - the 14th actually. So, two days is not today, I was just nervous,” Sorza said.
But, he immediately wrapped up our conversation about what he would tell a future senior graduating from his alma mater in the South Bronx.
“Best advice? Read your email correctly. Don’t do what I did. If things don’t go well, there’s always a way. You might have to jump through some hoops but trust me it’s worth it.”