Micheal Brown’s streak started in December, when the high school senior checked on his application status at Stanford University. He had applied there early — it was his top-choice college — and fought off nerves as he sat down at a laptop, surrounded by his best friends and his mother.
“Y’all, I’m gonna press ‘View Update,’ ” he said.
A second later, the room erupted in screams.
“Oh, my God! Oh, my God!” Micheal, 17, shouted in disbelief. He burst into tears.
Berthinia Rutledge-Brown hugged her son as he wept.
“You made it!” a friend yelled.
What they didn’t know then was that Stanford would be only the beginning. Over the next several months, more acceptances would roll in for the standout student at Houston’s Lamar High School. Yale, Princeton, Northwestern, Johns Hopkins, the University of Texas at Austin and Georgetown. And finally, Harvard.
In all, Micheal applied to 20 colleges — and was accepted to all 20 of them, with full scholarships to each. “I was nervous for each one because no one ever wants to be rejected, but especially for Stanford,” he said.
The unusual feat is not without precedent — but it remains astounding considering the record-low acceptance rates at some of the schools.
And at Lamar High School in the Houston Independent School District, which has more than 3,300 students, more than half of the student body is considered at risk of dropping out. “If you look strictly at statistics and demographics, then the cards were stacked against him,” principal James McSwain said.
For Rutledge-Brown, her son’s success is all the more poignant because of their “amazing little journey.” Micheal was her “rainbow baby,” she said — born after she had lost three pregnancies before him. And she noted that Micheal’s father has remained in his son’s life after they divorced.
“Early on I noticed that Mike was very smart, so I knew that he needed to be challenged,” she said.
She said Micheal really became focused on his education in the sixth grade. “He made the decisions, so I just kind of backed up and let him do his thing,” she said. “The one thing I did insist upon is that if he started something that he didn’t quit in the middle.”
Partway through a stint with his seventh-grade football team, for example, Micheal knew the sport wasn’t for him. He didn’t like hurting people and it was interfering with his grades. But his mom insisted he play through to the end of the semester. “I said, you don’t quit in the middle. You don’t quit on your team,” she said. “You see it through to the end.”
Micheal finished the season and picked up tennis instead. Later he discovered other extracurricular activities that he loved — debate, Key Club and student government, to name but a few. Along the way, Micheal developed strong friendships with his classmates, teachers and counselors who were equally instrumental in pushing him, his mother said.
His mother also credited programs such as Breakthrough Houston and Emerge — which help students from low-income and underrepresented communities find ways to go to college. Rutledge-Brown told the New York Times that she cried at an Emerge orientation “because I realized that there was a chance that my child would get the education he deserves — the one I could not afford to pay for.”
Micheal said it was his mother who inspired him. After her divorce, she returned to school and earned her associate degree. She now works as a chemical-dependency counselor.
And despite his tendency to be shy, he decided to share his story in case it gives other students hope. He said, “I am just very happy and very honored to share my story and inspire other students.”