Ivy League schools accept Derek Onserio's application

Derek Onserio, 17, is an American with Kenyan roots. He applied to eight Ivy League schools in the US and got accepted. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Derek is the only son of Mr Onserio and his wife Euniah, and the third born out of four children.
  • Another reason for Derek’s high ranking among the Ivy League schools is his participation in activities outside the classroom.

It could be luck, a miracle, being a genius or all of the above that have made Derek Onserio, an American boy with Kenyan roots, a sensation in the US.

Applying for admission in all the eight most prestigious universities in the US and getting accepted by each one of them, is no mean feat, and when the family spoke to the Sunday Nation this week, the reality of the achievement that was covered in the US media was yet to sink in.

Joining Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Brown, Princeton, Cornell, Dartmouth, and the University of Pennsylvania — the so-called Ivy League schools — is considered a privilege as competition is stiff.

Each of the universities receives thousands of applications.

Harvard, for instance, received 39,506 requests in January this year.

After sifting through all the applications to select those who will join, only 2,056 made it to the university, according to results released on March 30.

Derek was one of them. As if that was not enough, Derek secured an admission to all the other Ivy League schools, which released their admission results concurrently.

Teachers at his former school advise learners to apply to a few but he decided to try his luck and sent a request to all of them.

Most are ready to have him study for four years without paying fees.

This has made him the most-sought-after boy in the state of Minnesota where he was born 17 years ago.

When his father Joshua Onserio spoke with the Sunday Nation on the phone on Thursday, Derek was on a television interview together with Todd Flanders, the headmaster of his former school, Providence Academy.

After Derek’s achievement was featured in the Star Tribune, the largest newspaper in Minnesota, he has gained celebrity status.

“We have received more than 200 calls to congratulate us,” Mr Onserio said, noting that Derek had been interviewed by three local radio stations and was about to go to one more after finishing the TV session.

“For his success, we thank God. We don’t take credit; we thank God that he was accepted to the Ivy League schools,” his father added.

For Derek, prayer and hard work have helped him to score straight As in senior high school.

“I see prayer as one of my secrets to success. Before every test I took and every application I submitted, we prayed. And I think that was very valuable,” he told the Sunday Nation over the phone.

His father is a staunch Seventh-Day Adventist who, ever since he moved to the US in 1990, has kept up the church-going tradition he learnt when growing up in Nyangoso, Kisii County. He inculcated the same values in his children.

Mr Onserio is in the council of elders at the Minnetonka SDA Church, and Derek is a deacon.

Derek is the only son of Mr Onserio and his wife Euniah, and the third born out of four children.

His two elder sisters have also exceeded expectations in admission to colleges.

“His sister, aged 19, was also accepted by five Ivy League schools. She’s at Harvard. Also, their elder sister who is 20 was accepted by three of them,” Mr Onserio said. Meghan is in Harvard) and Rachael in Dartmouth.

At the moment, Derek’s headache is settling on one of the eight. He has up to May 1 to make up his mind.

“They both, of course, want me to go to their schools because they think their schools are the best,” he told the paper.

Mr Onserio said he will not try to influence his son’s choices on school or specialisation.

“Ivy League schools require you to go there for one year, do your shopping then you choose what you want, because the competition is very stiff,” Mr Onserio said.

Another reason for Derek’s high ranking among the Ivy League schools is his participation in activities outside the classroom.

In high school, he was an actor, a singer, a dancer, a tennis player, an active participant in speech, debate, quiz bowl and math leagues.

“As a personal mantra, I have always tried to take any opportunity that comes my way.

"Whether it’s joining a club with my friend or saying yes to being a mascot for my school, I always try to take advantage of any opportunity,” he told the Sunday Nation.

That, his father reasoned, is why Ivy League schools that charge at least $75,000 (Sh7.7 million) a year as tuition fees are willing to take him in.

“The schools are fighting to give him 100 per cent four-year scholarship,” he said.

Mr Onserio is a financial consultant and his wife is a psychologist.

In the last two previous General Elections, he has unsuccessfully run for MP in Kenya.

In the 2013 polls, he was one of the 16 candidates seeking to be Bobasi MP, running as an independent candidate but lost.

This year he will not be vying as he has decided to spend more time with his family.

All his four children have studied at Providence Academy, a private school, for their secondary education.

The annual fees at the institution is $18,000 (Sh1.8 million) and his last-born, Kylie, is currently learning there.

“You can lose money. But for the education that you invest in them and that knowledge, you will get a benefit: not money from them, but you’ll get a benefit,” he said.

“I made a decision: no politics at this time. After I didn’t win the last time, I gave up. I have to look at life in different dynamics.”