“I got into Stanford,” were the words that undeniably and irreversibly changed the course of Senior Birukti Tsige’s life as she spoke them to her father, stunned by the sight of his daughter’s hair, short and shaven like he had never seen before.
Though her father “kept looking around to see if there was any imaginary hair that could be salvaged,” processing the absence of the curls that had previously clustered around his daughter’s face, Tsige explains, he did not hesitate to embrace her as soon as he heard her utter those life-altering words.
“The hug he gave me was one of a lifetime,” Tsige notes, and “his smile warmed me to my very core.” Her father’s outward validation of her accomplishment confirmed what she already knew: she was now one among the 1,044 nationwide who were awarded the coveted QuestBridge College Match Scholarship, a full ride scholarship, covering tuition, room and board, other expenses and sometimes travel costs— “the ultimate dream for any high school student wanting to attend college.”
Her acceptance to Harvard University, though just as momentous, did not receive as enthusiastic a reaction— “over the years, [she] has learned that it is good not to be too reactive to decisions so [she] just forced her heart to calm down and patted [herself] on the back.”
Once her acceptance from Harvard came through, Tsige was confronted with the fact that “half the battle was choosing between both institutions,” a decision she did not solidify until the last possible moment by placing down her deposit on May 1st, known as National College Decision Day, when she finally decided to commit to Harvard because of its “proximity to home.”
Tsige plans to major in Biology on a pre-med track and minor in Creative Writing at Harvard, where she will be enrolling in the fall, an eclectic choice which reflects the myriad interests she pursued throughout high school.
Tsige is heavily involved in local government and civic engagement. As the First Chair of the Malden Youth Civics Council, which she founded with MHS class of 2018 graduate Harrison Zeiberg, she leads members in voter registration drives, voting workshops, Malden City Council attendance and local activism, which recently has included advocating for the Vote 16 initiative.
Last year, Tsige served as the student representative on the Malden School Committee, treasurer of the Speech and Debate team and Vice President of National Honor Society. This year, she has continued to serve both of the latter student organizations as President of NHS and Vice President of Speech and Debate, which she has won various accolades for, including a first place win for poetry at the Garcia Burkill regional tournament.
Her interest in creative writing has also manifested itself throughout her life in various iterations, both academically and extracurricularly. Tsige created and maintains a Facebook writing group with more than 1,500 members from more than 50 countries and was awarded the National History Club Lessons of Leadership award for her historical writing.
Tsige has written on Wattpad, a publishing platform, since she was 14 years old and has garnered a loyal readership with more than 20 million total reads and 88,000 followers, a network which allowed her to publish and query her book in November of 2018, an accomplishment she never believed possible. “[The book] is a sappy, cliche, young romance novel, but it’s [hers] and [she] gets to hold it in [her] hands,” Birukti states with pride.
Academically, Tsige has taken 11 Advanced Placement classes, four Bunker Hill Community College classes, scored high on the SAT and ACT and maintained a top class rank. Meanwhile, she has attained state certification as a nursing assistant and balanced her numerous extracurriculars, commitments to Cross Country, Choir and Bible Classes at her church, Technovation, a club that encourages female presence in the world of technology, and her responsibilities as her family caretaker, especially for her two younger brothers.
Though professionally ambitious, family values have always oriented and underpinned Tsige’s aspirations. Neither one of her parents attended school, but the diligence and hard work they demonstrated in their emigration from a small village in Ethiopia has allowed her to know them as “some of the most brilliant people [she has] ever met.”
Knowing her parents did not have the financial means of providing her with tutors, private schools and many other resources available to other students, Tsige took heed of her parents’ instructions to exert herself academically to the best of her ability. “When [she] showed [her] dad [her] straight A’s in middle school, his response was always ‘good job Birukti, next time get an A plus plus,” advice which initially frustrated her but began to motivate her as she reached high school.
Tsige acknowledges that many students face the same hurdles as she has faced and suggests that they take advantage of the resources Malden High provides. “Attend workshops, become close with leaders in the community,” she advises, “they open doors for you.”
She expresses her gratitude for the staff members who pushed her to excel during her academic career, citing her particular appreciation for Damian Aufiero, who “inspired [her] to go against the grain,” Kate Haskell, who kept “ her Crying Closet open to [Tsige] for hard days” and Julie Jones, “whose room I could walk into and just exhale.”
She, the girl who had spent years rifling through college newsletters and viewing acceptance letter openings, “anything to fill up [her] time while [she] waited for [her] moment to come,” was finally accepted to her dream school, a “high” she wishes every student is able to experience.