With just over 1% of applicants receiving an award, the Gates Scholarship is one of the most prestigious scholarships awarded to high school students in the United States.

This year, one of those recipients is Coby Hayes, a senior at Marion High School.

On Saturday, Hayes was notified that he was selected as a Gates Scholar for 2024, selected from a pool of more than 53,000 students who applied for the scholarship.

“It’s truly an amazing honor,” Hayes said, noting that the scholarship will help ensure all of his college costs are fully covered when he enrolls next year at what he called his dream school – Harvard University. “Between the financial aid I’m getting from Harvard and the support of the Gates Scholarship, all of my expenses will be taken care of. It’s a huge weight off of me and my mom’s shoulders.”

The Gates Scholarship is a highly selective, last-dollar scholarship for outstanding, minority, high school seniors. Each year, the scholarship is awarded to exceptional student leaders, with the intent of helping them realize their maximum potential. Hayes earned the scholarship after a rigorous application process that included submitting GPA and test results, writing an essay, and completing an interview with a member of the selection committee.

Hayes said he was accepted to more than 20 colleges, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Columbia, but Harvard was always his top choice.

“I really love Harvard’s location,” Hayes said. “Being right there in Boston, there are several colleges in the area, and I think it will be good for networking. When I visited the campus, I felt like the black community was very welcoming. They weren’t all boujee or uppity. They made me feel welcome. It felt like home.”

Ranking at the top of his class with a 4.32 GPA, Hayes said he feels well-prepared to take his education to the Ivy League. Beyond academics, he is the Student Council president and has been involved in school activities including National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, tennis, Interact, band, and the high school quiz bowl team – a team which he helped get started when he was a sophomore.

“Harvard was always my dream, so I’ve worked hard in school to maximize my opportunities,” Hayes said. “I’ve tried to take advantage of the things our school offers, but then also push the boundaries to create some of the things I wanted to see for both myself and my classmates.”

He also said his teachers have played a big role in his educational success, specifically shouting out MHS counselor Dionne Harris, math teacher Farrah McFarland, and AP psychology and European history teacher Patricia Rebick.

On May 23, Hayes will receive his high school diploma, and his time at Marion will come to a close. As a Gates Scholar, he will participate in the Gates Scholarship Summer Institute, and then it will be off to Harvard. Thankfully, over the past several months, he has participated in a series of virtual meetings with other current and future Harvard students, some of whom are very impressive, Hayes said.

“Every meeting there’s someone amazing,” he said. “I got to meet the National Youth Poet Laureate. I met Angela Bassett’s son. I met someone who is already working with astronauts. I kind of have to work hard to not be a fanboy – I try to act normal. Honestly, it sometimes doesn’t feel real.”

The Marion School District is an innovative and growing district committed to helping every student find their unique path to success in school and in life. With more than 150 years of experience serving families in Crittenden County, the district offers a high school, a junior high, a seventh grade school, and three award-winning magnet schools. For enrollment information, including information on school choice, visit https://www.msd3.org/ or call 870-739-5100.