Generation Next: Son of refugees inspires a community with admission to Harvard

WHITE CENTER, Wash. — A high school senior from White Center is making his community extremely proud. Abel Berhan is part of a new generation that captures success on video, and because of that, a video of him getting accepted to Harvard went viral.

“I think what’s so powerful about that video is often times you don’t see people from my community being able to reach that level and be able to be admitted into an elite university like Harvard,” said Berhan.

Only 2,000 students are accepted to Harvard each year.

Berhan was also accepted to Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford. He’s a 4.0 student, a track star and the student body president at Evergreen High School.

Berhan’s road to the Ivy League has included big hurdles. His parents emigrated from Ethiopia as refugees. That’s why he says he never takes his family, his education, athletics and the opportunity to achieve the American dream for granted.

“Whenever I attend school or I’m doing something I’m struggling with I always think about that and the sacrifice they’ve made. Instead of looking at different obstacles as a burden I try to flip my attitude and see it as an opportunity,” said Berhan.

Berhan says the obstacles he’s faced from childhood and the adversities he’s seen in White Center have ignited his passion for community.

“I’m constantly trying to see where I can leave my impact and where I can have an influence,” said Berhan.

He is only 18-years-old, but already he sees a future as a political leader. He has organized marches against gun violence, helped integrate three small high schools into one and been an advocate for making workplaces more diverse.

“If you see something in your community or this world that you don’t like or don’t approve of I think it’s important to stand against that,” said Berhan.

Berhan’s principal says his impact on his classmates is hard to measure.

“I do a monthly focus group with students and ask them what’s going well at our school and what we can do better. Just a couple weeks ago they said Abel and his success and seeing him get into Harvard and Stanford and Princeton because for them they said that means 'I can do it’”, said Jacqueline Downey, principal at Evergreen High School.

Berhan says he has a lot of hope for his classmates and the entire class of 2018.

“I think high school students now are very involved are politically engaged, involved in their communities and they take a stand when they see something wrong. They’re unapologetic, dauntless and they don't have fear if they see something wrong they will stand up for it,” said Berhan.

Berhan sees the potential in White Center and hopes his story will lift others in his community.

“I feel like if we begin to invest in the community here we can see a lot of great stories like this and this can be the norm,” said Berhan.

Berhan will attend Harvard in the fall and was one of just 20 Foot Locker scholarship recipients, receiving a $20,000 college scholarship. He plans to return to Washington state after he graduates from Harvard to run for elected office and eventually support his hometown community.