From Haiti to Ivy League

On March 26 this past spring, students across the country waited eagerly for the news of their acceptance into the nation’s Ivy League schools. On the day deemed as “Ivy Day,” one Valencia College Horizon Scholar student was among this group of students. Jessica Brevil, a recent Wekiva High School graduate, waited with bated breath as the mail arrived, holding onto all hope that she might have been accepted into her dream school, the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn). But when the mail arrived and Brevil opened her letters from across the country, she found that she wasn’t accepted to just one of America’s top universities––she was accepted into several.

Brevil’s acceptance letters ranged from Brown University and Duke University, to other top-tier institutions such as Johns Hopkins and Vanderbilt universities.  Included amongst the many notes of congratulations was one from her top choice of UPenn, where she was admitted to the Benjamin Franklin Scholars program.

“I opened the letter and was surprised to see an acceptance letter…to the Wharton school,” Brevil said. “Though I had tremendous doubt that I would receive acceptance to the school, I still applied and hoped for the best.”

Brevil will tell you herself that she thought the odds of her being accepted into her dream school were slim. As a Haitian immigrant and first-generation college hopeful, Brevil didn’t have a traditional support system while attending school. Between the language barriers in the classroom, lack of access to technology, and her parents’ inability to help her academically, the obstacles seemed to be endless. But nothing could get in the way of her passion for pursuing academic excellence, which stretches back to the moment she stepped foot in America at age seven and realized living in the U.S. could be the key to her educational success.

“As someone who had experienced life in a third-world country, I was very aware, even at a young age, that living in the U.S. was a big opportunity for me,” she said. “While living in Haiti, I understood that going to school was a privilege because in my village, not every child went to school…However, when I first began schooling in America, I realized the difference. I quickly learned that education was gifted to all children. For the first time, the conversation of paying for school was removed and the fear of not being able to attend school with it.”

From there, education became her top priority. She dove into reading to improve her English skills, and found extracurriculars that expanded her love for the arts and music. While Brevil hopes to minor in music, it is her passion for business that has her pursuing UPenn’s Business Economics and Public Policy program with an emphasis on Social Impact and Responsibility this fall. Through this program she wants to help make a positive difference through social entrepreneurship at the prestigious Wharton School of Business, whose famed alumni have transformed companies such as Apple, Google, JD Power & Associates, Pepsi Co., and others around the world.

But while juggling her academics, extracurriculars, summer internships and artistic endeavors, Brevil still struggled to find a group of peers who could relate to her personal experiences and the barriers she faced. That is, until she managed to discover Valencia College’s Horizon Scholars program.

“I strongly believe that a mentor was one of the best things that had ever happened to me,” Brevil said about her time with the program. “Neither of my parents completed high school and did not know the process of applying for college or being able to successfully complete high school. Not only was I given a mentor who understood my educational journey, but I was also given the opportunity to go to college.”

The Valencia College Horizon Scholars Program works with low-income students in grades 9-12. Each student who is enrolled in Valencia’s  Horizon Scholars Program is matched with a mentor who provides guidance and academic motivation. Students and their parents/guardians agree to specific academic performance standards. In order to receive a college scholarship, students must stay in school, maintain an acceptable GPA, and remain drug and crime free. After successfully completing the program, each Horizon Scholar is offered a scholarship that is eligible for any Florida college or university, and is transferable outside of Florida as well.

With the right mindset and building a proper support system, Brevil has taken her dream of attending an Ivy League school and turned it into a reality. Bolstered by the support of her peers and mentors at the Horizon Scholars program, her family’s unwavering love, and her overall drive to achieve the goals she created for herself, Brevil has taken her education to a new level, and encourages the next generation of Horizon Scholars to do the same.

“I am very aware that my background and demographics are statistically aligned to a circumstance that is different from mine [and] I feel that I often had to look beyond myself to be able to achieve the success that I have,” Brevil said. “I always had big dreams. Never limit yourself.”