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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Brighton senior receives prestigious Coca-Cola scholarship

Jun 29, 2020 10:09AM ● By Julie Slama

Brighton High’s Jacob Simmons recently was named a Coca-Cola Scholar and awarded $20,000 toward his college tuition. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Simmons)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

The first week of March, Brighton High senior Jacob Simmons kept refreshing his email.

He applied in October 2019 for the competitive Coca-Cola Scholars Program scholarship—one that fewer than 1/6th of 1% of applicants receive nationwide. He already knew he was a finalist after the scholarship committee reviewed his 4.0 GPA; his perfect ACT college entrance exam score; his first class rank; his 12 perfect Advanced Placement college exams (with eight more he was registered to take this past spring); his leadership in extracurricular activities; his interview; and his written application with three essays that caused him some “pretty long nights.”

Then, Simmons checked his email one last time before he went to tennis practice.

“There it was; I got the scholarship—$20,000 for school,” he said. “It felt so good; I immediately forwarded it to my mom and grandma.” 

According to their website, Simmons is one of 150 students, selected from an initial pool of 93,075 nationwide applications, who “not only exemplify superior leadership, service, and academics—they are change agents, positively affecting others in their communities.”

Simmons is planning to attend Deep Springs College in California beginning in July, after turning down other choices of Harvard, Duke and Washington and Lee University, the latter where he received a full-tuition Johnson Scholarship.

The stand-out Bengal also has accumulated such prestigious honors as the National Merit Scholarship and the Presidential Scholarship.

“Both of those recognitions are particularly meaningful because the applicant pool is essentially the entire class of 2020, which includes millions of students. Being recognized among the top several hundred is obviously a huge honor and meeting some of the other students in these programs has been both humbling and inspiring,” he said.

Simmons also was the school’s valedictorian.

“It’s definitely been a discouraging end of the year for every senior,” he said. “My last tennis match was March 12 (he is a reigning state champion). I had no idea that would be my last in high school (where he also ran cross country, swam and participated in club ice hockey). I may not ever play (competitively) again in my life. It’s sad, but it could be worse. I’m just grateful that I’m not a freshman in college, paying $80,000 for online classes or being retired, living paycheck to paycheck. I’m hoping the Class of 2020 can take away ‘how can I help people; how can I make the best of this situation.’ I hope we appreciate friends more, once we’re able to.”

However, Simmons was able to travel to New York shortly before the shutdown with the school’s Model United Nations team, skipping the regional debate tournament. Last year in debate, he placed third at state and won the top Lincoln-Douglas speaker award.

While Simmons may not have the usual benefits of being a Coca-Cola Scholar, such as traveling to Atlanta to attend a leadership summit and to perform service work, he was able to step back from his usual studies to reflect on what he has learned and appreciated in high school and where he wants to go in his future.

“I wrote about my high school diversity,” he said. “I had a good high school experience with AP Capstone, National Honors Society and debate. There are more exceptional teachers here than if I went to other places. Brighton is academically and athletically strong, but we only have a handful of African Americans, Asians and Hispanics; my brother and I are the only practicing Jews at the school that we’re aware of. There’s a high influence from the LDS church and while it can feel suffocating inside to outsiders, I wouldn’t trade growing up in Utah.”

Simmons said as part of his essay, he addressed the lack of diversity at Brighton.

“I’d reform social studies and literature to include and invite diverse speakers and hire more (faculty and staff from) diverse cultures. I’d say Brighton is 90% white,” he said.

In another essay, Simmons outlined History Day Fair as being one of the most impactful parts of his public education. Since sixth grade, Simmons has competed in history fair and has appreciated the support of teachers, especially his Albion Middle School eighth-grade social studies teacher Eden Ellingson, who supported his “outlet for curiosity.”

“It’s an amazing opportunity for creativity and exploration,” he said about taking pivotal moments in history and bringing them to life in his documentaries.

Simmons has accumulated national honorable mentions in 2016, 2018 and 2019, and his documentary on “Fritz Haber: Feeding the World and Warfare” was named the most outstanding entry from Utah. In 2017, he competed at nationals with his profile documentary, “Louis D. Brandeis: Standing for the People,” about the Supreme Court justice and his role model.

His AP literature teacher Jennifer Mattson said Simmons is amazing.

“He’s modest; he’s an incredible, self-motivated learner who finds things of interest and makes them his own, such as with his history documentaries,” she said. “He’s a hallmark of all kids who have an interest and intrigue of learning about the world.”

Even though Simmons has a career goal to enter a physics field or become a conservation engineer, he wrote about a course he would like to develop and take: “History of Wilderness and Exploration.”

“I realized I won’t be the first person to discover something like the South Pole, North Pole, space race, technical inventions and literature of discovery as they have all been discovered, but for me and my contemporaries, this is an area where there is so much we don’t know about the universe and life,” he said.

Principal Tom Sherwood has appreciated Simmons’ academic dedication and vision.

“I’ve been in education 23 years and there are a high number of exceptional students who stand out in academics and work ethic, who have a clear vision of what they want to do and how to get there,” he said. “Jacob is a fantastic kid; he’s down to earth and realizes the importance of education.”