Lake Stevens High School’s Hayden Davis has served on the Snohomish County Human Rights Commission since he was 17 and is headed to Harvard this upcoming fall. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Hayden Davis, Lake Stevens High School: Harvard bound

The Future is Now

This is one of a series of profiles of noteworthy Snohomish County high school graduates: Hayden Davis, Lake Stevens (Harvard) Arianna Calvin, Kamiak, and Tholen Blasko, Sultan (WSU) • Peter Faber, Snohomish and Academy NW (US Naval Academy)Michael Larson, Everett (Gonzaga)Naomi Lee, Kamiak (UW)Aurelio Valdez-Barajas, Mariner (SPU)

LAKE STEVENS — It took a few minutes to sink in.

Hayden Davis had three emails from universities to open after school: one from Harvard, one from Princeton and one from Columbia. He decided to go in order of acceptance rate, which meant Harvard was last because it’s the toughest. His mom and a few friends were with him.

“I got rejected by Princeton. I got wait-listed for Columbia,” he said. “And by that point I was like, ‘It’s not really even worth opening Harvard, but I’ll open it anyway.’ ”

He remembers staring at the animated image at the top of the acceptance notice. It showed people decked out in crimson Harvard gear, dancing. His eyes skimmed the message below. He couldn’t believe it. The prestigious school was welcoming him. A friend snapped a picture of Davis sitting in front of the laptop, hands over his face in disbelief.

His mom started jumping up and down, and Davis called his sister, Abigail, who was on a school trip in Rome. She had just fallen asleep when the call woke her. When her brother told her he’d gotten into Harvard, she was so happy she cried.

“I never even dreamed that I could get in,” Davis said. “I kind of applied on a whim … It was a very wonderful surprise.”

The 18-year-old plans to move onto campus in Massachusetts this August. He chose Harvard over Stanford, Duke, Georgetown, University of Southern California and University of Washington. Six of the nine schools he applied to admitted him.

Davis is one of about 550 students graduating from Lake Stevens High School this month, and one of thousands more across the county. Each has their own story of leadership, academic achievement and perseverance. Some of those stories are highlighted inside today’s graduation package.

High school staff think the last time a Lake Stevens grad went straight to Harvard was 2002, according to the district.

The Ivy League application wasn’t the first time Davis tried for something he thought out of reach and found success.

In late 2015, the teen was watching news about the Syrian refugee crisis. He wanted to find a way to help, so he read up on the Snohomish County Human Rights Commission. They had an opening and he applied, thinking it unlikely someone so young would be chosen.

He was appointed to the commission at 17. He now serves as vice chairman. He helped plan human rights awards and organize a diversity forum where leaders from Islamic centers spoke. The commission is working on improving outreach to children and on updating the county’s human rights ordinance.

Davis also was a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Convention, something a Stanford admissions officer told him stood out.

He hopes to study government and economics. He’d like to work in government or as part of a non-governmental organization.

“The end goal is to hopefully not sell my soul to Wall Street,” he said.

He started reading about fiscal policy and economic theories after his grandmother got him a subscription to The Economist. He’s been fascinated for years by the inner workings of government.

“I am very interested in studying how one translates ideals into concrete government policy,” he said. “But you never know. Perhaps I’ll graduate with a degree in bioengineering or something out of left field. I’m open to new possibilities.”

Davis grew up in Lake Stevens and went to grade school at Hillcrest Elementary. He’s the oldest of three children. His mom is a lawyer and his dad a police officer.

He’s always loved school and is a straight-A student with a line-up of advanced classes, among them AP government and politics, statistics, European history, psychology as well as a college English course through UW. He’s in his third year of studying German, and is part of the business class that runs the student store.

Physics was the most daunting class he’s taken, but he’s glad to have done it. School is more fun when you’re challenged, he said.

Davis belongs to DECA, competed on his school’s Knowledge Bowl and Hi-Q teams, and mentored younger students through Link Crew.

He hopes his Ivy League plans can be an inspiration.

Of 39,506 applicants to Harvard, 2,056 were admitted this year, or about 5 percent. Davis isn’t sure what tipped the scales in his favor, but as soon as he spent time on campus during an admitted students weekend, he knew it was the place for him.

“People from Lake Stevens don’t normally go to Harvard,” Davis said.

“I want the kids out there in elementary and middle and high school to know that it’s possible if you work hard enough and you’re lucky enough.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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