Mekhi Johnson sat with his mother in a booth at Red Lobster. It was 7 p.m. on March 28 — time for Ivy League schools to release their admissions decisions.
Johnson pulled out his iPhone and quickly started checking his status at each of the eight elite schools that he applied to. He started with Yale — he was in. Next, Columbia and Cornell. Those schools accepted him, too. Then, he checked Harvard’s decision.
“As soon as I saw I got into Harvard, my mom started screaming,” said the 17-year-old Baltimore student. “She started yelling, ‘My son just got into Harvard,’ and everyone in the restaurant started clapping.”
Johnson, a senior at the Gilman School, is one of just a handful of students in the country to be accepted into all eight Ivy League schools.
“I didn’t have words then, and I don’t have words now,” he said. “I just felt extraordinary.”
When Johnson was 6 years old, he heard a story on the radio about a student who earned acceptance into all the Ivy League institutions.
His mother, Tawana Thomas Johnson, said her son turned to her and said, “I want to do that.”
“Even at six, he was pretty serious and goal-oriented,” she said. “He kept this idea in front of him through all those years. It’s a wonderful thing and is certainly a testament to what you can do when you set your mind to it.”
Johnson also got into the University of Chicago, according to a news release from his all-boys prep school in the Roland Park neighborhood.
The Ivy League schools received more than 280,000 applications last year, with fewer than five students getting into all eight universities, according to the release. Johnson is the first Gilman student to achieve this.
The chances of getting into any one of the Ivies are slim: Less than 5 percent of applicants got into Harvard this year, for example.
Thomas Johnson said her son is humble, and he hasn’t even posted about his accomplishment on Facebook. But plenty of his friends are celebrating his achievements, rushing to give him high-fives upon hearing the news.
Johnson has attended Gilman since first grade, and has a 98.1 average. He edits the school’s yearbook and literary magazine, plays in the jazz band and drum line and works on musical theater productions.
He also volunteers with a group that serves elementary school students from low-income neighborhoods.
A National Merit Scholarship Program commended student, Johnson sings with the Gilman a capella choir and serves as Diversity Council president.
Anna Follensbee, a college counselor at Gilman, said she was “shocked but also not surprised at all” by the news. She said not only has Johnson excelled academically, but he also elevates the level of discussion in the classroom.
Johnson hopes to study political science and eventually attend law school. He said he wants to use the unique experiences he’s had to combat systemic racism.
“Going to law school seems like an effective way to do that,” he said.
Johnson represents the fourth generation in his family to attend college. His great-grandmother attended the prestigious New York University, according to his mother.
“That’s pretty significant for the African-American community,” Thomas Johnson said.
Johnson said that legacy drives him to make his family proud.
He has not yet chosen which of the elite schools he’ll attend.