Calderwood headed east to Cambridge

South Whidbey High School senior Cayla Calderwood is headed to Harvard University this fall, one of the few that made the cut. - Jeff VanDerford
South Whidbey High School senior Cayla Calderwood is headed to Harvard University this fall, one of the few that made the cut.
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford

Of the more than 30,000 students who applied for admission to Harvard University in the fall, fewer than 7 percent were accepted.

South Whidbey High School senior Cayla Calderwood was one of them.

“I’m very excited and honored, but the credit needs to go to our schools on Whidbey,” Calderwood said Wednesday. “We’ve had recent students accepted at Princeton, M.I.T., Cornell, Dartmouth and Columbia. There must be something in the water. Admissions departments in the Ivy League are fully aware that excellent students are graduating from here.”

Established in 1636 by the colonial Massachusetts legislature, Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States, considered the dean of the Ivy League.

Calderwood has been in the public school system on South Whidbey since the first grade. She said she’s taken advantage of all the advanced-placement programs offered, and beyond.

“I think it’s ridiculous for parents to consider sending their children to schools on the mainland, when they can get a world-class education right here on the island,” she said. “The word is spreading.”

After getting accepted, she took homemade cinnamon rolls around to her teachers in appreciation.

“Especially Mr. [Mark] Eager and Mr. [Andy] Davis, who wrote letters of recommendation,” she noted. “They must have said something nice.”

But she said she needed more than a cumulative 4.0 grade point average and high SAT scores — 2,260 out of a possible 2,400, including a perfect 800 on the reading test — plus lettering in three sports, to gain acceptance at the prestigious university.

Along with her application last fall, she sent several essays, including one on her experience as an exchange student in Chile and a whimsical look at the writing of college essays. An extensive interview with a representative from Harvard was followed by a trip to the Cambridge campus in late January.

“I went with a family friend,” Calderwood recalled. “It was very cold, but the people I met were natural, relaxed and quite friendly, despite the school’s lofty reputation.

“No one was writing equations in the snow,” she laughed. “I went on a tour of the campus; it’s just incredible.”

She also applied, and was accepted, at Princeton. During the college interview process, it soon became apparent what type of students the top schools are searching for.

“They don’t want people who have sacrificed personality in favor of achievement,” she explained. “It seemed to me the focus was more on character than simply grades. The lady from Harvard and I had a good, long talk, and I invited her to come and visit South Whidbey.”

Officially, she’s undecided on the curriculum she’ll pursue, because college is all about exploring options.

“But I will be taking a lot of English courses with a view to studying journalism,” she said.

Until she leaves for university, Calderwood is busy preparing for graduation while trying to improve her triple and high jump distances — events she's described as being sort of like competitive hopscotch — to get ready for state track finals in May.

"In my life, I'm always busy."

— Jeff VanDerford

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