Teen paves her own road to Harvard

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Riley Hoveland sits for a portrait in the library at Bigfork High School on Thursday, Jan. 4. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

A Bigfork High School senior has her eyes set on the White House, and this fall she’ll take her first step toward Washington D.C. as part of Harvard University’s class of 2022.

Riley Hoveland, 17, said she had dreamed of attending the country’s most famous university since elementary school, but the road leading to her acceptance was largely self-paved.

Though the teen said she received plenty of support from her father and stepmother, Peter and Tara Hoveland, her mother turned out to be what she described as her “anti-role model.”

Hoveland went back and forth between her mother and father as a child, but when her mother became addicted to alcohol, the two began to grow apart.

Three years ago, Hoveland’s mother walked out of her life for good before alcoholism cost her her life last year.

Her father and stepmother worried about the effect her mother’s habits and absence would have on Hoveland as she grew up, but she remained determined to prove she could succeed.

“In the end, I don’t thank her for making me walk to the bus stop or dealing with her anxiety attacks, but I do thank her for being the person that I don’t want to be,” Hoveland said.

Hoveland went on to dominate high school, taking an interest in politics and government that drove her to serve on student council, lead the varsity speech and debate team and become editor of both the school’s newspaper and yearbook, among countless other activities.

She made efforts to help support herself, working most recently as a barista at a local coffee shop and helping out with the Bigfork Playhouse Children’s Theatre for the last 10 years.

All the while, the teen managed to keep up with her studies, never letting her GPA fall below a 4.0 and scoring a perfect 33 on the ACT.

Despite an exceptional high school career, Hoveland said her grades and test scores provided only the bare minimum for her admission into the college of her dreams.

The deciding factor, she believed, in the school’s decision to accept her was the personality and drive she exhibited.

“I showed myself in my essays and in all my extra curriculars and in interviews, that I have the drive and ambition to get out,” Hoveland said. “I need to move on to bigger and better things, and there’s nothing bigger or better than Harvard.”

Part of her interest in the school, Hoveland said, was its location. On her first trip to New England several years ago, she said she knew she’d found her future home.

Both the midnight lights and Broadway shows of New York City and the history and culture of Boston are just a train ride away from the college, an exciting prospect for the history buff and theatre enthusiast.

Harvard’s proximity to Washington D.C. was another major draw for a student with high hopes for her future.

Hoveland plans to major in government, Harvard’s equivalent of political science, with an emphasis in either foreign relations or journalism.

From there, she will decide between three potential career paths: a political commentator on CNN, a communications liaison for the FBI or a seat somewhere in the White House. And Harvard, according to Hoveland, will provide the perfect launching pad for any of the three.

“Part of it is the name,” she said. “With a degree from Harvard University, you can do anything you want.”

Harvard did not gain its shining reputation through an open door, however, and despite her enthusiasm and determination, Hoveland said she thought the chances of her getting in were one in a million.

Still, she filled out her application over a month in advance.

Out of over 6,600 early applicants, less than 1,000 were accepted, and after a month and a half of waiting, Hoveland received a letter stating that one of those few spots was hers.

On Dec.12, her family filmed her as she took a peek at the screen and immediately burst into tears that she said did not subside for about three hours.

“I’m a very loud person. You cannot render me speechless, and the only words I could say for about an hour were ‘Oh, my God,’” Hoveland said.

She spent the next several days making calls and sharing the news with the teachers, family and friends that knew her best and influenced her most.

Her father, whom Hoveland said built a business and career in the construction industry without the benefit of a college degree, has mirrored her own excitement and pride.

“It was like I finally won. I’ve been pushed down so much, from dealing with my mom and dealing with people at school and just dealing with a lot of hate,” Hoveland said.

“It still doesn’t seem real and it’s been almost a month,” she added.

The support her family and her community have shown in the month since her acceptance has highlighted the things she’ll miss about her home when she moves east this August.

“I’m so glad I got to grow up here, but I’m definitely ready to move on,” she said.

In preparation for this next chapter, Hoveland has spent almost every night corresponding with some of her future classmates, sharing her anticipation and anxieties with peers in the same boat.

She said she has no misconceptions about the challenges she will face, but as moving day draws closer, Hoveland said she has grown more confident.

“I’m going to go there, and when it’s hard I’m just going to work harder. At least that’s what I say now,” she said with a chuckle.

“I want to somehow change the world and change how people think,” Hoveland said. “Because everyone’s opinion matters. Everyone’s life matters. There are too many people, not just in this country, but in this world, who don’t realize how important their own voice is and how important they are.”

Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or mtaylor@dailyinterlake.com.

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