By Dave Ongie, News Editor
Jack Roney was standing in the library at David Crockett High School last Thursday morning, microphone in hand, when school counselor Miriam Robinson asked him to recount some of his highlights at the school.
When it comes to highlights, Roney has no shortage. He is, after all, heading to Penn in the fall as the first David Crockett student to receive an Ivy League scholarship since the early 1980s. His academic successes outnumber his failures by a wide margin.
But in front of his classmates and teachers, his mother, his principal and Washington County Director of Schools Dr. Bill Flanary, Roney went straight to a memory most folks would rather bury than rehash. With a laugh, he recounted a night during his freshman year when he hit the wrong button at the worst possible time.
Roney was in charge of playing music over the public address system during Crockett’s home basketball games. But that night, with a large crowd and both teams standing silent in the gymnasium, it wasn’t the National Anthem that came blaring out of the speakers.
“I accidentally played a protest of the National Anthem, which was not my intention,”Roney recounted, “I don’t know what to tell you. I tried. That was the end of my career (playing music).”
After he wrapped up a question and answer session with his classmates, Roney said there was a purpose for telling that particular story on this particular day – the day he was honored for receiving a full ride to Penn through the QuestBridge program.
“I always like to bring up that story because I’m not some perfect being,” Roney said. “I made a lot of mistakes in my academic career and personally. I just think that’s another misconception. I’m just a normal person, and any other normal people all around me can do the same thing.”
By landing a full ride to Penn, Roney is the true definition of a pioneer. The senior was among 18,500 applicants this year. Of those applicants, only 6,885 were finalists and 1,464 matched with a college on their list.
If you’re going to be a pioneer, you have to blaze your own trail through the wilderness, and Roney certainly did that. He started looking for opportunities to fund his college education during his sophomore year. He beat a well-worn path to his school counselor’s office and took advantage of every opportunity he could, including Governor’s School.
Once he applied through the QuestBridge National College Match Program, which connects high-achieving students from low-income backgrounds with full four-year scholarships to the nation’s top colleges, he threw himself fully into the process. Roney estimates he spent a full two months on essays alone, writing around 30 of them.
The end result is a scholarship that will cover his full tuition – between $75,000 and $80,000 per year – as well as books, room and board, food and travel to and from his home in Tennessee.
Like all good pioneers, Roney has no interest in going alone. He spent a good deal of his time in the library last Thursday telling his classmates they can do what he did. That’s why he told the story – if the guy who botched the National Anthem can go to the Ivy League, why can’t you?
“I feel like there is a misconception that if you come from a smaller school or an area not known to produce Ivy League students that you can’t do that,” Roney said. “I think the simple reality is that you can. A lot of students that go to these schools are from small towns. I met some people that are going to be in my class that are from small towns, and they don’t know anybody who did either.”