VACAVILLE — Princeton, the 264-year-old Ivy League college that graduated Michelle Obama and had lecturers such as Albert Einstein, will accept its first Vacaville students next fall: Nickolas Dreher of Will C. Wood High School and Brandon Sixto of Vacaville High School.
Both are attending the prestigious university on a full-ride QuestBridge scholarship. It was awarded to only 22 students across the nation.
“It is amazing that two of us got accepted,” said Sixto. “It is a great year for Vacaville.”
No one with the Vacaville School District could recall a student from the district being accepted into Princeton.
Dreher first heard about QuestBridge in June during a seminar about college while he was attending the American Legion’s Boys State program in Sacramento, which shows students how state and local governments work.
“So I thought an extra application never hurts,” Dreher said.
QuestBridge, whose roots extend back to 1987, is an Internet-based nonprofit organization that links bright, underserved, low-income students with leading colleges and scholarship providers.
Dreher was in the school library Nov. 30 checking on the status of his profile and applications when he decided to see his status with QuestBridge.
“I saw the letter that I was accepted and my college counselor started yelling behind me,” Dreher said.
The rest of the library joined in cheering. His attempt to remain low-key in the English class that followed failed after a friend asked him why he looked so happy and Dreher formed the shape of a P with his hands, which set the class abuzz.
“It was just a great sense of relief from anxiety that I felt,” Dreher said, describing his feelings upon learning the news.
Sixto learned about QuestBridge last year when one of his teachers handed him a pamphlet about the nonprofit. He did some follow-up research and applied earlier this year.
Sixto was with his college counselor Nov. 30 when he got the email saying he was one of 22 students accepted to Princeton with the full-ride scholarship.
“I spent the next hour-and-a-half running around school telling all of my teachers about it,” Sixto said.
The excitement hadn’t worn off weeks later.
“I am still in slight shock about it,” he said.
His mother, Yolanda Sixto, said the call from her son was about the most excited she has ever heard him to be.
“This is so exciting,” Yolanda Sixto said of her son’s good news. “I have gotten an early Christmas. We always expected him to do something big, but not like this.”
Dreher said he wanted to study bioengineering “as long as I can remember.” Part of that came from memories of when his grandfather died from complications of Parkinson’s disease when he was very young, while another part comes from a sense of altruism.
“I like helping people,” he said.
His track record proves the truth in the statement. He became a senior patrol leader in his Scout troop when he was 13 and later achieving the rank of Eagle Scout. He worked as a lifeguard and swim instructor, earning recognition as the best lifeguard of the with the Silver Whistle.
His Eagle Scout project was raising money to fill 600 care packages for Travis Air Force Base troops who were deployed overseas. The project brought accolades from the base commander.
Dreher’s involvement at Will C. Wood High School includes Best Buddies, Key Club, Latinos Unidos, Link Crew, Cat Kartel and Crosswalk. His volunteer work includes the annual Coastal Cleanup days, food drives and support for the community’s Opportunity House homeless shelter.
Dreher habitually starts his day at 4 a.m. with study, followed by a 6 a.m. Bible study class before heading to school. After school, he’s working on student activities and then his job as a lifeguard before ending the evening with time with his family.
He admits that attending an Ivy League school such as Princeton will be a big culture shock, but he said he’s ready.
“Pressure is nothing new to me,” Dreher said.
His mother, Marielena Cook, agreed.
“He is very easy-going and nothing bothers him,” she said.
Dreher and his family moved to Vacaville from Suisun City in 2009.
When he was growing up, his grandmother regularly read him a stack of books and his mother has been solidly behind him throughout his life, no matter what was happening in either of their lives.
“My mom did so much for me as a single mom,” Dreher said, to which Cook replied, “It is all him, because I was just trying to do the best that I could.
“I feel he was and is a blessing given to me in a time when I truly did not deserve it,” Cook said.
One incident that helped Cook and Dreher push as hard as they could was encouragement from local dentist Kejen Corsa, for whom Cook worked. Corsa, who knew Dreher’s abilities, “told me don’t think that your son can’t go to a college like Harvard just because he doesn’t have the money.”
Cook now thinks Corsa’s encouragement was almost like prophecy.
“I have always tried to do right by our family and this is a little bit of validation that I did not blow it,” Cook said.
Sixto’s plans include studying biology and chemistry, with the goal of becoming a doctor specializing in the field of hematology.
When not immersed in advanced-placement classes at Vacaville High School, including one on calculus he designed himself, Sixto is involved with jazz music, which he described “as a way to balance myself.”
He also plays tennis after school and tutors other students. He has been involved with speech and debate competitions, the school’s California Scholarship Federation chapter, the Amigos Unidos Club and as a volunteer at the Opportunity House homeless shelter.
The rest of his year will be spent keeping up his grades and continuing to apply for scholarships. He said he is very exited to be finally through with the long hours of preparing college applications.
Sixto said it will be a little bit daunting to a college where “everyone is the best.” He said he is very grateful for all the support he has gotten from family, friends and the community.
“There is no way I could have done this without the help of my family,” Sixto said.
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.