By MARINA WATERS
From taking numerous AP classes to participating in community service projects and programs, Daniel Boone High School senior Nashirra Best has put in the extra effort.
Throughout all that work, her goal has always been to strive to be “more.” And now it’s certainly paid off.
Best is gearing up to attend Yale University in the fall of 2018.
“It was just important (to be more),” Best said. “From a young age, people have always just pushed me. My middle school teachers would be like, “Oh, you’re going to go to Harvard.’ But that set in when I got to high school. I just kept pushing and pushing myself to take these AP classes I didn’t necessarily have to take. I could have just taken the normal classes.
“I like to be the best that I can be. I don’t want to be less than that. So if the best is learning something new or doing something harder, then I’m willing to do that.”
Not only did the Washington County native secure a spot at an Ivy League school, but she also landed the QuestBridge Scholarship of over $200,000. The non-profit organization was created to provide an opportunity for talented, low-income high school students to attend some of the country’s top colleges and universities.
QuestBridge is partnered with 40 schools with which students can be matched. Schools such as Vanderbilt, Stanford, Duke, and Princeton are included in the list, but for Best, Yale always remained in the top spot.
“There were two parts of me; (the first part said) ‘List the most schools. This is a full ride. You don’t want to give that up.’ Then another part of me was like, ‘You don’t want to go somewhere where you won’t be completely happy. It’s not worth it. Your happiness is not worth prestige or a name.’ So I researched and combed through (the schools) and I ended up with a list of four, but Yale still came out on top. I knew Yale was going to be my first choice no matter what.”
Best initially heard of QuestBridge from a Daniel Boone student who was awarded the scholarship last year. So during her junior year, she looked into the scholarship and joined the college prep scholars program. After months of working on her application and writing essays for the scholarship, on Dec. 1, she finally got the news that her college dreams were about to come true.
“Before I opened that email, I was praying. I was like, ‘It’s okay if I didn’t get it. There will be more chances,’” Best said. “I kind of hyped myself down. So when I actually opened it, I burst into tears. I don’t think I’ve ever cried that hard. I cried for a very long time. I called everyone and I was in tears. I was not even expecting it.”
However, Best’s mom, Shameka Okolongwu, who was in a business meeting at work when she got the news that her daughter just landed a full-ride to Yale, said she wasn’t at all surprised by her daughter’s scholarship award.
“From a parent’s perspective, I knew a long time ago that she was destined to do something better,” Okolongwu said. “You always want your kids to excel and to go further than you have.
“I just thank God for QuestBridge because I was more focused on the resources and financial aide because of the type of schools I knew she would be accepted into. That was a major concern for me. Above all, Yale, and a full ride — I was like, ‘Okay, let’s go!’”
What makes her accomplishment so meaningful isn’t just her Ivy League acceptance; For Best, she hopes going from “Nathan Hale to Yale”, as she said in her twitter announcement, sends a message to other students.
“I think it’s important that I’m bringing this small town outlook to Yale. It’s not like it’s just (applicants with ties to) money and alumni that can get in — it’s anybody that’s willing to work hard enough,” Best said. “I hope that I can bring a different outlook to students up there, and then to the younger students here in Washington County, that they don’t have to stay here if that’s not what they want to do.
“I hope I can be a sort of role model for them and that they know that if they push themselves, they can do anything that they put their mindset to.”
The road to Yale wasn’t a totally easy one; Through Best’s advanced classes and her community service involvement, the high school student had to push her self to reach her goals. According to Best’s AP English and Composition teacher, Sheila Clark, it’s her drive, in addition to her personality, that sets her apart as a person and student
“She’s very confident in who she is. Very personable — sparkling, actually. She’s so comfortable in who she is that you can’t help but gravitate towards her,” Clark said. “She’s a great representative of what a great high-achieving high school student should be. She is the epitome of that. You couldn’t ask more from her. She asks more from herself than what anyone else could actually ask of her.”
Best said she is considering going into global affairs, politics or international law. She also said she’d love to travel and do humanitarian work, specifically in women’s education overseas. But for now, she’s mostly ready to embark on her college adventure in a new place.
“I’m really excited just to be in a new environment. I’ve grown up here since first grade. I’ve been in this small town since I was little where everyone knows each other, everybody does the same thing and it’s not very different,” Best said. “I think I’m just very excited to go to a place where there are so many different cultures, different people and so many different things to learn that I didn’t have the opportunity to learn here. I think it’s just broadening my spectrum of life and just getting all that good knowledge in.”
Best may be finishing up her AP classes and soaking in her last few months at Daniel Boone High School before she heads off to Yale, but she’s also been spreading the word about QuestBridge to younger students who are going through the process of thinking about their futures.
In considering what advice she would offer to any student from who might want to look at broadening his or her horizons, Best said she would tell them to keep pushing through the work and to remember why they started. Above all, she said she feels the people with which you surround yourself are another key in staying on the path to your dreams.
“I also hope that (other students) don’t let any negative thoughts get to them. I hope the thoughts of their friends don’t keep them back,” Best said. “I’ve had friends who are like, ‘I don’t think you’re going to get it and I think you should give up.’ I was like, ‘Well, you’re not my real friends then.’ I have real friends who were so happy and they cried with me. That’s really important just to surround yourself with those good people who will support you. That’s my biggest advice for them.”
“There are naysayers. There are going to be naysayers no matter what, but you only need that one person to push you on.”