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West Allis Central senior reaches unattainable college goal: Yale

He earns special scholarship aimed at students like him

Feb. 10, 2014

West Allis — West Allis Central High School senior Mitchell Mares was in an after-school class when he received a notification that there was a message for him on the computer.

Opening the message, he read it once, then twice and then a third time, until it finally sunk in.

"Oh, my gosh, I got into Yale," he shouted, joyfully jumping out of his seat.

The young scholar had received a four-year scholarship.

"It was pretty intense," he said.

A successful Quest

It was an intensity driven by a reality, that attending Yale would be no easy feat, financially speaking, without a scholarship.

"It's an astronomical amount of money," some $66,000 a year, said the obviously bright and articulate Mitchell.

But he had applied anyway through QuestBridge, a program that finds talented students of modest means and gives them a shot at four-year scholarships to some of the best universities in the country.

The application process is demanding, and QuestBridge reports that all its students are on track for graduation. Their median family income is $31,500 and more than 70 percent are the first generation to attend college.

Yale University has been pleased with the students it gets from QuestBridge, said Jeremiah Johnson, director of Yale undergraduate admissions.

"QuestBridge does a fantastic job," Johnson said. "The students come right to Yale and do tremendously.

"We are very, very excited welcoming him to the Yale community," Johnson said.

For some time, Yale has been committed to making a top-flight education available to all talented students regardless of the size of their wallets, he said. To that end, Yale has a generous financial aid policy, he added.

Parental pride

To Mitchell's parents, James and Kerry Mares, the four-year scholarship is a dream come true.

"We always knew he would be something special," James Mares said, adding later, "He's going to go on to some really great things in life."

The couple had worried about being able to financially give him the kind of a start that would enable him to spread his wings. James is a chef at the popular That's Amore restaurant in Greenfield and Kerry is a homemaker who had previously cared for elderly people in their homes.

"We've been trying to squirrel away and save here and there," James said, noting that Mitchell has been saving, too.

They had hoped he would win some kind of scholarship, James said, "but no one ever dreamed he would go to Yale."

The scholarship has the entire family aglow.

"It's amazing and wonderful," said Kerry Mares, whose mother — a former teacher and the only family member in three generations to have attended college — felt especially touched by Mitchell's scholarship award. "My mother had made a comment that it gives her a feeling of hope."

Academics and more

During the rigorous application process, Mitchell remembers thinking, "Aw, it would be too good to be true.... There's no way I'm going to get it."

But the casual onlooker might have thought otherwise, based on academic numbers alone.

Mitchell has a grade point average of 4.0 and a weighted average of 4.75 out of a possible 4.8 when factoring in his Advanced Placement college courses. His college entrance exams were nearly perfect with scores of 34 out of a possible 36 on the ACT and 2200 out of 2400 on the SAT.

Impressive as those numbers are, they only merited him an interview, Mitchell found out from Dr. Jonathan Bock at Yale. The school needed to find out more about him.

What set him apart was his passion for other things, Bock told him.

Mitchell loves the theater and has played the lead in several school productions. He also is president of the National Honor Society chapter at Central and of the French Honor Society. He is also an Eagle Scout and was chosen to represent Central at the Badger Boys State leadership camp.

But some portion of his academics were key.

By the time he graduates, Mitchell — who attended the Milwaukee Public Schools through fifth grade, then went to parochial school before entering Central — will have 10 college-level AP classes.

They were critical to his winning the scholarship, he said.

"The teachers expect so much more out of you," he said. "The maturity and preparation, organization, forward-thinking they expect from you changes you for the better."

Accepting the challenges

It is the the AP class taught by Laura Eastman that is giving him the confidence to face up to whatever challenges he will find at Yale, Mitchell said.

"Her style is to push you beyond the most remote thought of what you ever thought you could accomplish," he said. "She dangles the fruit right out of your reach, then drops it back so you can get it."

The four-year scholarship will carry him more than half way to his goal. As Mitchell heads off to Yale this fall, he will face a seven-year journey to his goal of becoming an attorney. He hopes to go on to the famed Yale Law School, earning his way with another scholarship, an internship and possibly a job as a teachers assistant.

But even that is only a stepping stone toward his eventual goal of becoming a judge.

"I always want things to be perfectly fair and perfectly even," the idealistic young man said.

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