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BHS head girl granted place at Princeton

Emma O’Donnell

Hard work, perseverance and finding a passion that allows you to de-stress are all important components when it comes to achieving academic excellence.

This is according to Bermuda High School head girl Emma O’Donnell, 18, who was recently granted early admission to Ivy League Princeton University in New Jersey.

Excelling in science and maths, Emma says she puts the utmost effort into everything she does whether it be her studies, working in the community, volunteering or taking part in her many hobbies in the performing arts. Her interest in science and maths began at a very young age.

She explained: “One of my first memories of primary school was in Year 2 — I was doing a maths test and I finished it before the teacher had finished explaining it. I really understood it and liked the certainty of it, I think. I am naturally inclined towards mathematics and the certainty of science.

“I enjoy the practical side as well. At IB [International Baccalaureate] I took higher level biology and chemistry. I really like the way that they relate to the real world.

“I volunteer at Bios [Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences] twice a week. When I’m there I do more on the biological side and also some computer science. I helped to develop a species distribution model for lionfish in Bermuda — it is a model that predicts where they are likely to be found based on environmental data.

“I really like how it is possible to take the passion that you have acquired and take the work that you are doing and use it to help others — that is really important to me.

“I really love maths — I did my extended essay in maths and modelled the Ebola outbreak using differential calculus. That was interesting because I also take global politics so I could take the knowledge from that of how global governance worked and apply it to see how it affected the mathematics so it is interesting to see how it relates to real life.”

Emma was with her mother when she received the news that she had been accepted into Princeton early and said she was “shocked and thrilled”. Asked what had helped her to succeed academically, she explained: “A lot of it was hard work — I put a lot of effort into my academics and everything I do and I have been lucky to find lots of things that I am passionate about.

“That made a difference because I never tried to limit myself — I try to take on as much as possible so I can do everything that I want to do. It is important to know your limits and I am learning that as well.

“It is really important to keep it all in perspective — if you make a mistake it is not something that you have to rule your life over — you can learn from it, take it in your stride and you can help to improve yourself. It took me a long time to learn that. I was a perfectionist but I have relaxed a little bit.

“Also important to maintaining your academics is to find something that you really love doing to let the stress go. Dance really does that for me.”

Emma is a senior company member at InMotion dance and has also been very active in the performing arts as a singer, pianist and actor who has played numerous leading roles in school plays including some Shakespeare. She has volunteered at both the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo and Bios and is responsible for a BHS peer tutoring programme which matches IB students with students who are having some academic challenges.

“That has been really rewarding as well,” she said. “I have been able to take the leadership position that I have to help my community.”

Emma has not decided what she intends to study at Princeton yet but she certainly wants there to be a focus on maths and science.

“I am looking forward to exploring the options and looking at things I never knew existed there.

“Whatever I do I want to be able to help people and I want to find something that really inspires me. My parents have loved the work that they have done and they always instilled in me that it doesn’t have to be work if you really love it, so I want to find something that I really love.”