Jeremhy Cesar credits his experience as a student leader with helping him gain admission to Georgia Tech.

Listing National Honor Society chapter president on your resume is not a bad thing when you’re looking to get into a highly competitive college. In fact, Jeremhy Cesar credits his experience as a student leader with helping him gain admission to Georgia Tech, a world-renowned public research university in Atlanta, GA. 

Cesar, a first-year student there, served as NHS president at Lanier High School in Sugar Hill, GA, an Atlanta suburb. He understands that getting to that level of leadership—and excelling in an impressive array of other programs and activities—takes hard work and perseverance, especially coming from a family that didn’t always have the money to support his broad interests.

Cesar exemplifies the four pillars of NHS: scholarship, service, leadership, and character. But it was volunteering that really piqued his interest in service and inspired him to expand his chapter’s own service focus when he became president. Starting the summer before high school, he volunteered at the Giselle Dumornay Community Center in Clarkston, GA, which serves refugees who have fled their home countries.

“I vividly remember counseling my first child, Saachi, who was a Nepali refugee,” Cesar says. “She had never slept in a bed until she moved to the United States. She came from a country plagued with continual civil wars, and this made me realize that, despite my own social and financial struggles early on, other children were much more disadvantaged than I was. That really changed my outlook on how I view community.”

The center’s volunteers organized food drives and recreation programs, as well as social awareness efforts to let the community know how they could help the refugees integrate into society. “There has been no greater gift I have received in my life than the gift of helping a community and knowing they now have goals and resources in their life because of my efforts,” says Cesar, who has continued volunteering at the center as a college student.

A Focus on Service

“I became president of NHS because the volunteer aspect of it is what I was really passionate about, and I wanted to spearhead those sorts of outreach programs,” Cesar says. He recalls that for a couple years, his school’s chapter wasn’t really volunteering outside of school as much as he thought it should be. So, when he became president, he took the initiative to broaden the chapter’s service efforts. The chapter organized a clothing and toiletry drive for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. It also hosted a Halloween event, which included donating candy to families in Buford, GA, and organizing a trunk-or-treat event at the high school for families from around the city. He and his NHS peers also focused their efforts within Lanier High School by tutoring students who were failing their core classes.

Cesar’s academic prowess became clear early in life. He was solving puzzles at six months and reading at age 2. His passion for mathematics, which has only grown at Georgia Tech, was also evident in his K–12 schooling; he regularly took classes above his grade level and eventually skipped seventh grade. 

“I struggled to fit in with and relate to my older classmates, and those difficulties only got harder in middle school when I skipped a grade,” he says. “But I focused on what I wanted to achieve academically and didn’t focus heavily on the social aspects.”

His parents—a mother who was a teacher and a father who served in the Air Force—struggled financially at times, especially to help his older brother with Asperger syndrome get the expensive therapy and services he needed. “It was difficult for my parents to support me academically at times during my school career,” he recalls. But they did what they could to improve his academic prospects, including moving to an area that had good public schools.

NHS Scholarship Expands Opportunities

Winning scholarships was an important part of being able to attend a top college. Cesar received $3,200 as an NHS scholarship semifinalist, “which was huge,” he says. “I spent so much time applying for scholarships my junior and senior years because money was an important factor for me.”

Having a stellar academic and extracurricular record didn’t hurt either. His accomplishments included: president of National Math Honor Society, lead attorney for the mock trial team, first chair of the clarinet choir group, and leader of Code Quest competition group. That’s in addition to taking six AP classes as a senior. “I really tried to diversify myself in high school,” Cesar says. “But I didn’t want leadership positions just for the sake of getting those positions. I aspired to lead programs that I was very passionate about. My past and current roles have enabled me to grow as a person and understand what it truly means to be a leader.”

Even with that broad experience, the transition to college hasn’t always been easy. “It’s definitely challenging academically,” he says. “But people don’t really talk about how challenging it is socially.” 

He notes that almost a quarter of the students at Georgia Tech were valedictorians or salutatorians in high school, so it’s a campus full of overachievers. “Finding your place and finding your community is hard at such a big campus like Georgia Tech,” he says. “But I welcome those challenges and trying to solve them. I love what I’m learning about, and I’m really glad I chose this school.”

Looking Forward

While Cesar continues to volunteer with the Giselle Dumornay Community Center, he’s still getting acquainted with college life and hasn’t had much chance to explore new volunteer and leadership opportunities. But he plans to make time, whether it’s through the college mock trial team or tutoring in computer science, both of which have sparked his passion to the point where he’s considering graduate school in computer science or law school after he finishes his undergraduate studies. 

Cesar looks back on his time in National Honor Society as crucial to helping develop skills that he applies regularly in college today, and not only with academics. “NHS helped me develop very important soft skills that are definitely applicable in college, especially related to the service and leadership pillars,” he says. “Some of the best things you learn from leadership are empathy, dependability, communication, and how to work with others. It was a great experience.” 

Dan Gursky is a freelance education writer and editor based in Washington, D.C.