Ellie Hylton is the kind of student that legends are made of. She is graduating from Harvard University, which is enough to impress anyone. But Ellie is special, even among Harvard graduates. Besides graduating summa cum-laude with a degree in Sociology, this young student also has the highest GPA in her entire class. As a result, she’s been awarded the Sophia Freund Prize.
Ellie is also described as sweet, humble and kind. She also happens to be the niece of CNN”s Soledad O’Brien.
Ellie recently did an interview with ForHarriet.com, during which she described who she is and what she believes. She says that both of her parents were alums of Harvard, and that she decided to attend the university after doing a visit with their track team.
My parents never pushed Harvard. I did visits at several schools during my senior year of high school, and I eventually did an overnight visit with the track team at Harvard. I really liked the people that I met during that overnight trip.
She says that despite the fact that she puts high expectations on herself, she didn’t feel any added pressure from her parents. Her parents seemed more focused on helping her find ways to be happy and well-adjusted, rather than put pressure on her.
I never felt pressured to achieve anything because of what my parents have done. In fact, my parents almost never talked about Harvard while I was growing up. Throughout my four years of college, my mom and dad were pretty relaxed about all things academic. They encouraged me to do my best, but they never set specific expectations for me.
Ellie says that the way she managed both track and academics was by being careful with her time. She left the track team at the end of her sophomore year due to injuries, but before that, she kept a hectic schedule. Despite these challenges, Ellie was determined to succeed academically and be the absolute best student she could be.
I actually left the track team at the end of my sophomore year due to injuries, but before that, I relied on my experience from balancing a busy schedule in high school. I took my classes earlier in the morning, in order to free up my schedule for homework before practice. I learned to use my free time efficiently; I made a lot of very detailed “to-do” lists. I also took many classes that I enjoyed, so studying wasn’t always a miserable task.
Ellie says that the way she remained academically motivated was by finding subjects that she was passionate about. This played a role in allowing her to study topics that she found interesting, which helped her to deal with the monotony.
It sounds cliché, but I tried to follow the things that I was passionate about. When I started as a freshman in college, I thought that I would be pre-med. After taking a science course, I realized that I didn’t really love spending hours in the lab. When I took a course on social inequality, I was immediately hooked; I found that sociologists asked all the questions about the world that I was interested in. So, I decided to study sociology—a decision which opened up some great research opportunities for me.
Ellie says that if she could change anything about being in college, it wouldn’t be much. She says that her toughest moment was when she left the track team. Additionally, she says that her parents were her greatest role models in achievement. Ellie says that her parents are organized, selfless and taught her the value of hard work. She also has a strong interest in the racial achievement gap, making her a great new soldier in the battle for equality in America.
My parents are definitely my biggest role models. I admire how they’ve raised seven kids while both working. I can only hope to someday be as organized and selfless as they are; I’m still not sure how they do it!
The racial and socioeconomic achievement gap in the U.S. is an issue that’s very close to my heart. Beyond working as a tutor to high school students in Boston, I also wrote my senior thesis on the academic and social experiences of minority students in a school desegregation program. I would like to continue researching the achievement gap issue, and I hope to someday help implement policies to close the many different gaps we have in this country.
You can read more of the interview here.