As the clock strikes 2:50 p.m., a wave of college students pours out of the small lecture hall inside Bowman-Oddy Laboratories at the University of Toledo.
With her book bag hanging off her shoulder and eyes fixed on her iPhone, Zoe Flores blends in seamlessly with the pack.
A Toledo Public School student who takes all of her classes at the University of Toledo, Zoe Flores, 17, is majoring in cosmetic chemistry. This fall, she will transfer to Harvard University.
But no matter how well she fits in with her peers, she still stands out from the crowd.
It isn’t her Harvard sweatshirt or her turquoise-colored hair that sets her apart from her classmates.
It’s her youth.
For the last three years, the 17-year-old has taken courses exclusively at UT. She’s both a senior in high school and a junior at the university.
Zoe spent her freshman year of high school at Toledo Technology Academy. Before she started 10th grade, she found out about Toledo Public Schools’ college credit program, and with the superintendent’s blessing, she was able to take college courses at UT.
Now come this fall, Zoe will be attending Harvard University.
With her admission into Harvard, Zoe has, at last, reached the mountaintop.
She remembers that December evening vividly. Years of sustained academic excellence and sacrifice culminated into one life-altering moment.
She wondered this: Was her 4.7 high school grade-point average good enough? Or her 4.0 GPA at UT? Or her ACT score of 33 out of 36?
It was Dec. 12 when Harvard announced on Facebook that admission decisions were coming at 6 p.m.
Zoe logged onto her computer at 5:59.
She went to her online application, and there it was.
“I logged in, and all I saw was ‘Congratulations,’” Zoe said. “I was super excited.”
Last year, 39,506 students applied to Harvard. Only 2,037 were accepted. Zoe now has joined one of higher education’s most prestigious groups — a Harvard student.
“I’m just kind of flabbergasted that she’s my child,” said Zoe’s mom, Melanie Flores. “Everybody wishes they had a child that is a good kid, volunteers, makes donations, and instead of getting a job she started her own business.”
Student by day, entrepreneur by night
When she was a young girl, Zoe carried a stuffed animal with her to help cope with her anxiety. Then she started keeping her favorite minerals in her pocket.
“I just like having things with me,” Zoe said. “It calms me down.”
For Zoe, this journey has been intensely personal, at times stressful and full of lofty goals. Ironically, the same self-inflicted pressure that at times is burdensome drives her to complete her work one week ahead of time.
“I definitely feel the pressure, but it’s nothing I can’t handle,” Zoe said.
Today, she wears a handmade necklace infused with confetti she collected at a concert from her favorite musicians, Twenty One Pilots.
“That’s why I kind of made it, because it allowed me to encapsulate a moment and carry it around,” she said.
Propelled by a desire to help people who, like her, suffer from anxiety, Zoe started her own business making handmade jewelry. The jewelry is made of resin, a glass-like plastic, and filled with confetti accumulated from concerts.
In a short time her business, ZaoNecklaces, has become profitable. She’s sold roughly 1,200 units in the last six months and amassed a large social-media following with over 10,000 Instagram followers.
“It’s crazy how it’s blown up,” Zoe said.
She is not her hair
It started with a single pink strip of hair when Zoe was 9 years old. Now it’s turquoise, and she’s unapologetic about her colored hair.
“A person’s appearance doesn’t define them,” she said.
Zoe’s father was concerned about her going to her Harvard interview with her hair dyed a vibrant turquoise color.
Zoe was fearless in her response.
“I told him if they don’t want me because of my blue hair I could go somewhere else,” she said. “With my background, my blue hair cannot define me.”
Despite her age, Zoe said she has always felt comfortable at UT.
“Academically, it was just more of my pace,” she said. “Also, I made friends here at UT so socially it wasn’t a drawback.”
After class sometimes, she either goes to the student lounge to chat with friends or heads to Starbucks inside the Student Union to order her usual drink: a white chocolate mocha.
But as she wraps up this chapter in her life, Zoe’s more motivated than ever.
“I usually see people, and they usually shoot very low,” she said. “But we’re here only one time, and you can’t redo something, so I’m shooting as high as I can.”
Each day, thoughts of the future consume her.
“I never really look to the past. Collectively, I take what I’ve done, and I look at how I can apply it most efficiently to the future.”
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