Class of 2015: Ivy-League-bound, full of promise

On Michael Bervell’s Facebook page, there’s a message from one high achiever to another.

“After months of debating, I finally committed to attend school at Harvard University!!!!” he wrote in his May 1 post. “Sorry Joel Bervell, looks like we’re rivals now.”

With his Ivy League choice, Michael is following in his scholarly family’s footsteps. Older brother Joel will be a junior at Yale University this fall. Their sister is another academic superstar in this trio of Kamiak High School alums. Rachel Bervell is a Harvard graduate about to start at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago. And she recently earned a master’s degree from Georgetown University.

In picking Harvard, Michael Bervell joins an elite group among Snohomish County members of the class of 2015. And he got to choose. The 17-year-old was also accepted at his brother’s school, Yale; Princeton University; the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania; the University of California at both Los Angeles and Berkeley; and the University of Washington.

Michael graduated from Kamiak June 5 with a 3.83 grade point average. He served as his school’s ASB president this year. In another leadership role, he was the 2014 governor of Evergreen Boys State, an annual conference sponsored by the American Legion.

With an eye on medical school, he plans to major in neuroscience at Harvard, with minors in economics and computer science.

There must be a secret, a Bervell family formula for success. Michael’s parents, Theresa and Joseph Bervell, came to the U.S. from the West African country of Ghana. Michael’s older siblings were born in Canada. Joseph Bervell is a civil engineer and his wife works in privacy compliance for Providence Health &Services.

Michael sums up his parents’ approach simply: “They pushed us,” he said, adding that in Ghana, both of his parents were raised in large families that prized education.

The Bervells kept their youngest child in the Mukilteo School District, even after moving to the Snohomish area when Michael was in sixth grade. Every day after school, he walked to the Mukilteo Library, where he studied until his parents picked him up.

By third grade, he had started in the Summit Program, part of the Mukilteo district’s highly capable program. And by the end of eighth grade at Explorer Middle School, he had taken first-year algebra, geometry and biology. That left time at Kamiak to pursue AP science and math courses.

He was awarded a $2,500 National Achievement Scholarship, part of the National Merit Scholarship program, recognizing outstanding black scholars. Among his many other scholarships, totaling thousands of dollars, are awards from the Elks National Foundation, the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation, the Evergreen Boys State Foundation and Build-A-Bear Workshop.

Academics haven’t taken all his time.

With his siblings, he is involved with Hugs for Ghana, a student-run nonprofit founded by Rachel Bervell during her 2006-07 school year at Kamiak. Hugs for Ghana got its start when Rachel visited her parents’ homeland and saw a way to serve. Back home, she launched a stuffed-animal drive at Kamiak. Her grassroots group found ways for gifts to be delivered to kids in Ghana’s hospitals and orphanages.

Today, all three Bervell siblings serve on the nonprofit’s board. Their effort has grown to gathering and shipping donated sporting goods, school supplies and books. Michael organized Ghanaian culture nights as fund-raisers to support Hugs for Ghana, a nonprofit that now has partner schools.

In the academic realm, Michael leans toward math and science, but he added “it’s important to be well-rounded.” He plays piano, has played drums in the jazz band and marching band, and is a fan of Gershwin music and jazz great Dave Brubeck. Among his favorite novels are “The Book Thief” and “A Prayer for Owen Meany.”

Faith is central to his family’s life. Every Sunday, he attends two churches. In the morning, the Bervells worship at Bethany Christian Assembly in Everett. Sunday evenings, they go to the Church of Pentecost, a Ghanian church in Seattle, where Michael plays drums.

His work and volunteer experience includes a summer with Seattle’s Woodland Park ZooCorps, a stint with Teens in Public Service helping the Lifelong AIDS Alliance in Seattle and other nonprofits, and involvement with Housing Hope in Snohomish County.

“He’s done really, really well,” said Theresa Bervell, a proud mom.

By late August, Michael will be settled in his Harvard dorm. From there, he’s not sure where life will lead.

“I will definitely call home all the time,” he said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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