Reedley youth receives scholarship to boarding school

REEDLEY -- Gustavo González Jr. has never been away from home for more than a few days.

But that will change in the fall, when he moves to New Jersey to attend the Lawrenceville School, a prestigious college preparatory high school.

Gus, 16, a sophomore at Immanuel High School in Reedley, is one of five students in the country awarded a Davis Scholarship to Lawrenceville beginning in the 2009-2010 school year.

The scholarship will cover all expenses for three years of classes at Lawrenceville -- about $50,000 a year -- and also will pay as much as $20,000 a year for Gus' college tuition.

The grant is intended for students from recently immigrated families or students who would be among the first in their families to attend college, according to a news release.

"It's pretty scary, but it's a good opportunity," Gus said.

He's modest.

For Gus, the full scholarship to Lawrenceville affords him the opportunity to be more challenged academically, to interact with students from 40 states and 30 countries and to better prepare for the Ivy League college education that interests him.

"This will establish him as one of the premier Latino students in the country," said Martín Mares, founder of the Ivy League USA Project, which prepares talented, lower-income students for college and provides them with the opportunity to tour East Coast schools over spring break.

Gus is participating in the program.

"He's destined for greatness," Mares said. "The opportunities that are going to be available for him are going to be immense."

Gus, who has not received a grade lower than an A since elementary school, is a strong math student who is studying precalculus and trigonometry.

His academics certainly helped him earn the scholarship, but Gus thinks it was his application essay -- about his mother -- that made him stand out from other applicants.

"We didn't come from an easy background," Gus said. Gus said his father left his mother years ago and, "my mom did everything she had to to survivie."

Gus said he wrote about how his mother has inspired him and cared for him and added, "she's an awesome mom." His mother, Josie González, is now remarried.

Whether or not the essay assured him a spot at Lawrenceville, Gus said he's excited to take more challenging math courses at Lawrenceville, and he knows his other courses will be rigorous, too.

But it isn't the academics that make him nervous -- it's that he will live in a dorm with other students, so far from home.

Although he's a little apprehensive about adapting to a new lifestyle, he said living in the dorms will help prepare him for college.

And college, specifically an Ivy League university, is where his sights are set. He's interested in attending Brown University in Providence, R.I., and studying to be a physician or a surgeon.

But before he gets carried away with thoughts of college, he needs to take that first step and move to New Jersey.

"I want to just hold on to him," Josie said of her only child. "But that wouldn't be fair to him. I wouldn't be doing him justice."

Josie, a real estate and insurance agent, has no doubt that her son will thrive at his new school. She said Gus has always been a self-motivated student, to the point that she has never had to tell him to do his homework.

"He wants to achieve," she said.

Gus said he's always pushed himself academically.

"I knew I could do it," he said. "I knew I had it in myself to do it."

After seeing how hard work and determination helped him earn an impressive scholarship to a reputable East Coast boarding school, Gus and his mother are confident that Gus will achieve whatever he puts his mind to.

Josie said they never dreamed that going to an East Coast boarding school or a prestigious university -- opportunities that seemed financially out of their league -- was an option.

"(But) the possibility is there," she said. "If you work hard, it's possible. You can achieve all your goals."

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