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Hard work pays off for marine science student Jacob Hollis

Groton — From an early age, Jacob Hollis knew what he didn't want to be.

He didn't want to grow up to have money worries, or to live in low-income housing, or end up in trouble with the law or his family.

Hollis knew he wanted a satisfying career, a good-paying job and security and stability.

So the 18-year-old set out early in his high school years to make his dreams come true. Already a good student, he focused even more keenly on taking the right courses and getting good grades. By sophomore year, the accomplished athlete gave up sports to focus more intently on academics and community service.

It all paid off.

Hollis, who was raised by a single mother in New London, will graduate from the Marine Science Magnet High School in Groton next week and start his studies in neuroscience at Bates College, where he has received a four-year merit scholarship to cover the annual $64,000 cost of tuition, room, board and fees.

"I was elated," he said, of when he received notice of his early-decision scholarship to Bates.

In fact, he wasn't sure if the scholarship was for just one year, or all four, so he asked Principal Nicholas J. Spera to look at the details and assure him he wasn't mistaken.

"Dr. Spera said, 'Oh my God, this is crazy,'" and Hollis knew the news was as good as he suspected it might be.

"I called my mom on the phone and told her, 'Guess what? I got accepted and I got a huge scholarship, but I'd rather tell you in person.'"

Later, at home, Hollis detailed the specifics to his mother, who cried when the reality set in. 

"I'm very proud, wicked proud," said Cynthia Corey-Hollis, who said her son has always been driven and sometimes she has worried that he's been too hard on himself.

"My mom has been my drive, my inspiration for what I do. I love my mom," said Hollis.

Years ago, Hollis, who attended elementary and middle school in New London, where he lives, decided he wanted to meet new people and have new experiences in high school.

He attended the vocational-agricultural program at Ledyard High School for the first two weeks of freshman year, but quickly decided it wasn't the right place for him. His mother suggested the new Marine Science Magnet High School in Groton, and Hollis enrolled there.

On June 17, Hollis, who has a GPA of 3.8, will be one of the 53 seniors to receive a diploma, the school's first class to attend all four years. He was looking for something different and found it at the high school where the current 272 students hail from 32 towns, some as far away as Clinton and Coventry, and where part of the marine sciences curriculum involves raising barramundi and tilapia.

Spera, the principal, said he could not be more proud of Hollis, whom he described as a school leader and a role model.

"He's shown that hard work can overcome all odds," said Spera. "He had to work double hard to get where he did. He is athletically gifted and he gave up being a varsity athlete to concentrate on academics."

Hollis was active as a peer mediator, served on Student Council, was involved in Interact club, and participated in other school and community programs.

Initially, he thought his dream was to study marine sciences at a big university, but later, when he realized that neuroscience was his passion, he was open to the idea of Bates when guidance counselor Christopher Contos suggested it.

"But the tuition was $64,000 a year, and I thought, 'How am I gonna do it?'" recalled Hollis, and (Contos) said, 'Just look at it.'"

Hollis, who wants to become an emergency room physician, said his parents divorced when he was about 10, and that money has always been a struggle. "My mom, she works almost seven days a week, she works really hard," he said, adding that financial stability as an adult has always been his goal.

"I know what I was experiencing wasn't what it should be or what I wanted in the future. ... But you have to be OK with the situation you are in to be able to get out of it," he said, explaining he's at ease with those who struggle and those who are affluent.

"If I could go back and change anything about my life, I wouldn't, because it's made me who I am," said Hollis.

He's already visited Bates and he's looking forward to starting there. 

"Everyone was so friendly, it feels like a community there," he said, adding that is what he liked so much about the MSMHS.

"It's very personal here, and I've always felt welcomed," he said, sitting in the principal's office to talk to a visitor. "But if you come here, you have to be ready to work. The staff, they won't stop teaching content until everyone in the class understands it."

In five years, Hollis would like to be in medical school. He knows he will have to continue to give academics his all.

"He's a role model for students who didn't think it was possible to achieve the success that he has," said Spera. "His commitment and attitude have helped to shape this school."

Cynthia Corey-Hollis said Jacob has been focused since the time he was a little boy.

"This is all his own doing," she said. "He's worked hard to get here. People want to give me credit sometimes, but I feel they are born the way they are and we can guide them, but they do their own thing. I'm very proud of him and happy for him."

Twitter: @annbaldelli


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