Spring Early College Academy senior Cody Chou had some big decisions to make about what he wanted to do after graduation. He also had a lot of options. That’s because Chou was accepted to nearly all of the schools he applied to – including every Ivy League school and a host of other top-ranked colleges and universities around the country.
Even though Chou had high grades, high SAT scores and exceedingly high hopes, he still admitted feeling overwhelmed as the acceptances, from school after school, kept rolling in. “I think it was a mixture of shock and disbelief,” Chou said, “but also happiness and joy because I made it.”
The Ivy League schools – including Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton and Yale – are all known for their strong academics, instant name recognition and their far-reaching and influential alumni networks. They’re also known for how tough they are to get into.
Harvard University, where Chou is headed this fall, had a 2021 admission rate of just 3.4%. A full sweep of the Ivy League schools is rare, and the feat puts Chou – who is also a Spring ISD EMERGE Fellow – in an elite group of talented seniors poised to take on the world after graduation.
“I just think he just likes to be the best that he can be,” said Spring Early College Academy chemistry teacher Rodney Schmitz, who has coached Chou for four years on the school’s Science Olympiad team. “I think he just looks at everything as a challenge that he can face, and as just another mountain to climb, and he wants to try and climb that mountain, just to see where he can get.”
Unlike some high-achieving students, however, Schmitz said one thing that distinguishes Chou is his focus on helping others be successful as well.
“He just wants to help everyone. He wants everyone to be the best they can be,” Schmitz said. “I think that’s just the most amazing thing about Cody.”
Chou has served as a tutor and mentor to other students, and classmates have been known to come to him for advice, whether about their college search or life in general. As a junior, Chou teamed up with a classmate to form an SAT prep group on campus. They ran the group again for this year’s underclassmen, and they have now identified younger students to help lead and teach the classes over the next few years, developing a leadership pipeline and empowering even more students to continue helping others and paying it forward.
“I think that’s the beauty of Cody,” said Spring Early College Academy Principal Kristine Guidry, “that as high as he has excelled and as much as he has done, he tries to bring his classmates with him and help them to be the best version of themselves that they can be.”
It’s a lesson he learned early. Chou said his parents always encouraged him, but also gave him space to find his own path – even if that meant making mistakes and taking risks, something they both understood well from their own lives.
Chou’s parents were both born deaf. His mother grew up in Vietnam, his father in Hong Kong, and both emigrated to the U.S. as young adults. Neither went to college, and the family has never been wealthy, but Chou – who learned sign language as a child before he and his younger sister later learned to speak English – said his parents’ lessons have always sustained and encouraged him.
“It’s a unique experience, because I know what the deaf world looks like and what the hearing world looks like,” Chou said, “and seeing those differences and understanding those differences really helped me appreciate how privileged I am just to even hear. And that helped me to understand why we really should understand other people and try to help them as much as possible – to understand them and their stories.”
In addition to his impressive college acceptance list, Chou recently learned he had been named a winner of the Gates Scholarship, awarded to just 300 students nationwide each year. The last-dollar scholarship – which picks up where other grants and scholarships end – is designed to eliminate financial barriers to college, enabling high-potential, low-income minority students to make the most of their potential. Chou credits his involvement as a Spring ISD EMERGE Fellow with helping him tackle the challenges of financial aid, as well as the application process in general.
“I think EMERGE was definitely one of the biggest factors toward my success, especially during the college admissions process,” Chou said. “Financial aid was a huge component of EMERGE and they really tried to get everyone the best financial aid package possible.”
Chou said he picked Harvard in part because he recognized qualities he respected in current students there, who went out of their way to reach out to him and make him feel welcome. He also knew Harvard would be a great place to begin work toward the M.D./Ph.D. degree that he is pursuing to allow him to practice medicine and pursue his research interests.
Growing up as he did at the intersection of several unique cultures – hearing and deaf, Asian and American – has given Chou an openness and a hopefulness, both about himself and about the world, that propels him forward, always seeking new ways to grow, learn, and support others.
“He’s just a great soul, and he has brought so much to the campus,” Guidry said. “We’re really going to miss him. But he’s leaving a legacy, and we know he’s going to go on and do some amazing things.”