From Kohala to Cambridge

  • Rodger, Melissa and Jordan Virtue stand with Yuki Zbytovsky, Karen Nakamoto, Akiko and Michael Zbytovsky, Peter Gregg, Steve and Nancy Lundblad. Jordan and Yuki will both be freshman students at Harvard University this fall. COURTESY PHOTO

Yuki Zbytovsky and Jordan Virtue recently had reason to celebrate: they both received acceptance letters to attend Harvard University this fall as students in the class of 2020. Both are residents of North Hawaii, with Zbytovsky a senior at Kohala High School and Virtue at Hawaii Preparatory Academy.

“I could not believe my eyes. Was this true?” Zbytovsky said.

Virtue was equally incredulous when she received the news.

“I was completely blown away!” she said.

Neither girl is a stranger to success. Virtue had an article published in The Washington Post during her internship at the newspaper, which has a circulation of nearly 17 million per month. She also represented the tennis team as captain for the state competition and is a National Merit Scholarship finalist.

Zbytovsky continues to maintain the valedictorian status she has held the past four years. She is her senior class president and was a state qualifier for both swimming and cross-country.

“When I was younger I was able to visit Boston. I remember passing the Harvard campus and thinking to myself, ‘Wow! That’s where all of the ridiculous geniuses go to school,’” Zbytovsky remembered.

She has yet to step foot on campus but brims with anticipation, looking forward to the opportunity to meet a wide variety of people that call Harvard home.

“Coming from a minuscule island, from a small town, it will be an incredible yet enriching change for me,” she said.

Virtue, on the other hand, recently returned from a campus visit where she was able was to experience a Harvard version of aloha.

“The culture and tradition on campus are unlike anything I have ever seen before,” she said.

Virtue was enamored with the arched passageway, the Veritas seal looming above and an inscription alongside that read, “Enter to grow in wisdom.”

Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States. Now close to its 400-year anniversary, the admittance rate for 2016 was a mere 5.2 percent — an all-time low for the university.

“Zbytovsky is an extraordinary young woman,” Melody Nietfeld, Kohala High School’s counselor, said. “I have been at Kohala High School for 19 years, and this is the first student to earn admission to Harvard.”

Besides her leadership of the student body and the school’s credit union, Harvard also learned of Zbytovsky’s role as a standout athlete that contributed to breaking the 2009 Kohala High School 3-mile course record this year.

Virtue’s application showcased her internship with the editor of The Washington Post, Fred Barbash, who published her article titled, “Don’t call it a snow cone: Nothing tastes quite like Hawaiian shave ice” in the reputable national newspaper.

“Jordan has a sterling character and a zest for taking on new challenges,” said Andrew Kelsey, HPA’s director of college counseling.

Both Virtue and Zbytovsky also highlighted their passion for service on their applications. Countless hours were contributed to mentoring young swimmers and tennis players, volunteering at church, building projects with Habitat for Humanity, participating in food drives and highway clean-ups.

As for career goals, Virtue remains flexible at this stage.

“I don’t want to be so set on achieving a specific goal that I miss out on the risk-taking and immersion that college is about,” she said.

Through numerous travel abroad, Zbytovsky has witnessed the plight of the poor, including stories firsthand from families in Peru and Nepal.

“I hope to study business at Harvard and eventually make a difference in the world’s communities by assisting people with their small business ideas,” she concluded.

Despite the paths that Virtue and Zbytovsky may take to Harvard and beyond, Kohala will always be home.

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