What’s Next For VHS ‘17: Duke University

By on August 7, 2017

On August 22, the freshmen will begin to move into their dorms at Duke University. This year, for the first time ever, there will be a student from Verona High School among their ranks: Austin Camp, the valedictorian of the class of 2017.

Traditionally, VHS graduates have gravitated toward colleges within a three-hour drive of Verona, schools like the University of Delaware and the University of Scranton. But in recent years more than a few Veronans have ventured farther afield, often drawn to southern destinations by Verona connections down there.

Camp’s paternal grandparents and maternal grandmother all now have places in North Carolina, and Duke became the first visit among the 18 colleges he would eventually apply to. Still, he wasn’t initially sure that Duke was where he was meant to be. “I was intimidated and overwhelmed,” he recalls.

That’s somewhat understandable, even for someone who had a 4.77 GPA in high school. Duke is, to quote the college guidebooks, a very hard place to get into. Duke’s acceptance rate for 2017 was 11%, above that of Stanford (5%), but lower than Johns Hopkins (14%), Georgetown (17%) or Notre Dame (20%). UDel, by contrast had a 68% acceptance rate, while Scranton’s was 77.3%.

With an inclination toward a biology major that would prepare him for a career as a medical examiner, Camp knew there were lots of colleges he could apply to, some much closer to Verona than Duke. But at orientation, he heard that Duke emphasizes double majors and that appealed to his wide-ranging academic interests. (If you saw Camp at graduation, you would have noticed that he wore academic cords for the math, science, history, art and Spanish honor societies, as a gold tassel for graduating with high honors, a gold sash for the National Honor Society and a gold medal for being valedictorian). Camp now thinks that his second major at Duke could be mathematics or history. “There’s so much of history that I am drawn to,” he says.

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Camp got his applications in and, in late winter, the college decisions began to roll in. He was accepted at the University of North Carolina, George Washington, Boston University, The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) and John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Camp was given a thumbs down at Yale, Columbia, Stanford, Princeton, Washington University, Tufts and Brown, and wait-listed at Harvard, Lehigh, Wake Forest, Vanderbilt and NYU.

Duke kept him in suspense until March 30, and when he came home and found his mother and grandmother crying at the kitchen table, he suspected the worst, but opened the letter anyway. “When I saw ‘Congratulations’, I started bawling my eyes out too,” he said. (For the record, Camp is not the first VHS student to be accepted at Duke. Diana Flores, VHS ‘16 had that honor, but she chose to attend MIT.)Austin Camp

You’ll note that so far, we haven’t talked at all about sports, which might seem odd given Camp’s early years in Verona’s junior wrestling program and his high school career in football as a right guard and defensive tackle. But sports are going to be taking a back seat to academics for the next four years. “I’m definitely going to be at the football games and I’m going to be ‘tenting’,” says Camp, referring to Duke’s tailgating traditions. If he plays anything, it might be a sport that doesn’t now have a male team at VHS: volleyball. Duke has both an intramural and a club men’s volleyball team.

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Camp says he is deeply indebted to VHS, and its teachers, for his success. Not just Casey Harris and former VHS teacher Roseanne Prendergast for encouraging his love of biology, but Jonathan Thai, Danielle Mutovic, Dr. Janan Wehbeh, Rich Wertz and Christopher Tamburro. “Teachers at VHS don’t get enough credit for what they do,” Camp says. He would also like to see more students stepping up to the challenges that VHS teachers can give, and more students participating in student government. Camp was class president in both his sophomore and junior years and president of the Student Council, which, he says, taught him the most about being a leader.

Any student can use VHS as a springboard to a top college experience, Camp says, “if you put in the time and make the most of what Verona has to offer.”

Where he’s supposed to be: Austin Camp at Duke University’s Chapel Bell Tower.

“What’s Next” is a series of profiles about what members of each Verona High School class intend to do after graduation. MyVeronaNJ has been publishing the series since 2010 and you can read all of them here.

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