School News

East Clarendon Valedictorian awarded almost $800,000 in scholarships


Seventeen year old Olivia McConnell, daughter of Joe and Amanda McConnell of New Zion, SC, will soon be the Valedictorian of the 2023 graduating class from East Clarendon High School. However, McConnell is a bit different from the standard Valedictorian.

McConnell lobbied the State House in Columbia at age nine to have the South Carolina State Fossil named and then wrote a book about it entitled, Can You Dig It?

At age eleven, she made headlines again for winning first place in several science fairs. She, along with two friends, did a project to see if tobacco could possibly kill e. coli. The month leading up to the science fairs is when Clarendon County was hit with the thousand year flood, which destroyed not only MCconnell's family home, but also the tobacco that she needed for her experiment. None of this stopped McConnell.

McConnell's mother said, "Olivia has always relentlessly chased her passions and dreams and we have always encouraged her not to follow the path but to blaze the trail. As a parent, watching my child go through this process, I noticed that it is so different than years ago. These universities are only accepting a select few kids. University of Michigan's acceptance rate is now less than ten percent."

The process McConnell's mother is referring to is the application to colleges and universities for graduating students. A process her daughter has certainly mastered, currently having been offered scholarships totaling $790,000. McConnell applied to 25 Universities in the last six months, writing over 65 essays without duplicating a single one. Of the 25, Universities she was accepted to sixteen, waitlisted by five, and rejected by four. McConnell applied to many top ten universities. She was accepted to NYU the Gallatin School of Individualized Study and received $6,000 a year for four years. NYU had over 49,000 applicants with an overall acceptance rate of nine percent. McConnell has committed to Duke University.

McConnell's mother said, "Olivia has continued to search for educational opportunities in an underfunded and poor district. She has always strived for academic excellence and has big dreams to take her beyond her backyard. She desperately wants other kids to know that, although the road is hard, it is worth it and it can be done. Her college counselor says that only four people in the last 20 years who graduated from East Clarendon have gone to college out of state. She added, "Proud is an understatement."

McConnell plans to attend law school postgraduate and plans to enter into politics due to her desire to "make a real change in the world."

Below are her high school resume and the essay she submitted to UChicago University . The essay prompt was "What advice would a wisdom tooth give?"


"What Advice Would a Wisdom Tooth Give"

by Olivia McConnell

At the ripe age of seventeen, I have never had a cavity. True story, every visit to the dentist ended with a pompous boast about my oral health to my mother, who had only one. Thus, when I began to notice the pain radiating from the rear end of my jaw, the fear that my competitive streak against vicious tooth decay was compromised arose. Thankfully, Dr. Green reassured me that it was simply my wisdom teeth making their debut. Relieved and resigned, I made the brief journey home and pondered why the "wisdom tooth" moniker belonged to an otherwise pedestrian bone. How could a tooth give or signify wisdom? I mean, is seventeen the age where wisdom reaches its peak? Certainly not.

Without a concrete answer, I set off to join my younger cousins for a day of gallivanting through Charleston. After an afternoon of shopping on King Street, my youngest cousin, Jake, asked to go inner-tubing in Charleston Harbor. For those unaware of the joyous and somewhat dangerous activity, inner-tubing includes riding an inflatable raft, usually shark-themed and attached to a power vessel with a detachable rope, and zooming within the bounds of white water rapids. Pro-tip, keep your eyes closed when the wind picks up to avoid ocean water's dreaded salty sting. Unfortunately, the raft was punctured by a loose piece of metal—another devastating consequence of littering. So instead, we paused the boat and dropped the anchor in an isolated channel for a quick swim. My younger, fearless cousins dove into the murky sea as soon as my uncle confirmed that there were no sharks or alligators in the waters. I, however, was reputable For my abundance of caution when it came to the unknown. Thus, my hesitation to dive became a solidified decision. That was, until my aunt Lee passed behind me, and suddenly, I felt two petite hands on my shoulders forcing me forward off the vessel. I was enraged until my aunt guided me further away from the boat and told me to float on my back. My ears were underwater, and my body reached a serene state. In this position, I could hear the waves rippling against the shore, the blue crabs scouring the ocean floor, and the rare echolocation signals sent by nearby dolphins. Fear was replaced with a beauty I couldn't see until I changed my perspective, from atop a manufactured vehicle to immersed in nature.

Finally, I understood what made the far-back molars arbiters of wisdom in the mouth. Wisdom teeth benefit from resting in a position granting them a view of all other teeth. These teeth see everything happening in the mouth from an angle the others cannot. Growing up, my father always taught me to approach life from a thousand feet above the clouds, a perspective where every inch is visible. Whether it was a football game, quiz bowl, or book signing, the lens I used to view the event was equally as impactful as the event itself.

Furthermore, I argue the symbolic bestowment of wisdom to a seventeen-year-old is not the result but rather an indication of capacity. At seventeen, a child begins a transition ending with adulthood and the agency to form their identity. At long last, many young adults chose to build a lifestyle in a new city, state, or country. Therefore, high school seniors haven't gained the perspective possible by taking on full individual responsibility. The elusive wisdom tooth personifies the newly acquired capacity for change—no wonder the elders of most communities are considered the wisest based on life experience. Nevertheless, this is only a theory. Next visit to the dentist, I will be sure to glance in the miniature mirror and ask my pearly whites for their perspective."