Barstow, California, high school senior Jamaal Willis has been accepted to six Ivy League universities, receiving full scholarships to most of them. Willis, 18, is a first-generation Jamaican American and a student who excelled in his AP courses, mock trial events, and athletics during his high school career. He has chosen to attend Harvard University in the fall of 2021.
Commenting on his achievement, Willis stated that he had been taught by his mother and grandmother from a young age that education was key to success. He came to the United States from Jamaica in 2017, and before moving to the US, his mother Tanya Distant Goulbourne said she knew nothing about the college admissions process but that her son was focused on the issue. She said she was overwhelmed and overjoyed at Jamaal’s acceptance to so many top universities. “Proud is an understatement,” she said, adding that she had been hoping he would get a chance to be as successful as he can be.
Willis represented his new home state of California at the 59th annual US Senate Youth Program in March 2021 and was the captain of his school’s mock trial, speech, and debate teams. He was also the captain of the track and field team and the founder and captain of the boys’ volleyball team. He was the first Black male ASB president at Barstow High School. In addition to his academic efforts, Willis has put in many community service hours with the 64th District Office of Assemblyman Mike Gibson, an area that includes the cities of Compton and Carson in Los Angeles County. Willis was named a Yale Young Global Scholar and the QuestBridge National College Match Finalist from the High Desert. He participated with the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, and the Safe Youth Coalition on work targeting racial equity, civil rights, and homelessness. His passion for activism and politics was prompted by the police killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed the killing in 2020.
In addition to Harvard, Willis was accepted to Stanford, Princeton, Duke, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, Georgetown, University of California Los Angeles, UC Berkeley, Cornell, University of Virginia, University of California San Diego, Chapman University, University of Oregon, and Penn State. He was placed on the waitlist at Yale, Brown University, the University of Chicago, and the University of California Irvine. He was rejected by New York University and Northwestern University.
Willis, who plans to become a civil rights litigator and to serve in a public office by running for the US Senate, is preparing to move from California to the East Coast. He acknowledges that this will be another adjustment in a life in which he has already made several adjustments. “Everything is good except the cold, I’m not looking forward to the cold,” Willis said.
When asked what advice he would give to his fellow students, he said they should never give up. He wants to give people hope and let them know that no matter the kind of stigma or stereotypes imposed on their communities, they do not have to “just sit there and take it and be a victim.” He advised students to always make an effort to follow their own paths and to “just be who you are unapologetically.”
Photo courtesy of California Department of Education