BRADENTON -- Matthew Davis, 17, already has helped found a schoolwide tutoring program at Southeast High School, where he is also president of the National Honor Society.
He’s already the youngest person ever to serve as lieutenant governor of Manatee County’s Key Clubs. And he is on his way to a 4.5 grade-point average as a graduate of Southeast’s prestigious International Baccalaureate program, which focuses on rigorous education and assessment, and teaches students effective time management.
Now, Davis is elevating the reputation of both the IB program and himself by earning a full scholarship from the U.S. Navy to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which has the lowest acceptance rate of any college in the country. Davis is the third IB graduate at Southeast in three years to be accepted at MIT, which this year accepted only 680 of the 6,080 students who applied for early admission.
“I’ve always taken the attitude that to whom much is given, much is expected,” says Davis, who will major in aerospace and astronautical engineering. “With this kind of gift, I really understand the responsibility of making a big contribution to our country and our world.”
Davis’ scholarship totals $160,000, and his goal is to start an engineering company that not only makes ground breaking contributions to the world of space travel, but also furthers a sense of worldwide unity.
“We’re all one human species on this planet, and this is a tiny, tiny planet that is insignificant in the grand scheme of things,” he says. “Life in this universe is an extraordinarily precious gift for all of us. We really need to take care of each other and watch out for everyone.”
Shane Hall, assistant principal at Southeast, describes Davis as “an outstanding young man who has great character” and says Southeast’s IB program, the only high school IB program in Manatee County, has been a key part of Davis’ development.
“One thing about IB is that it challenges students to take risks, sometimes beyond their ability,” Hall says. “You’re going to identify your weaknesses, and it’s going to put you in situations where you’re going to need your strengths.”
Davis encountered his weaknesses with a few high-level math classes -- trigonometry and Algebra 2 -- where he earned the only B grades of his entire education. But he says he’s proud of those Bs because he worked hard to earn them, staying after school every night with a tutor to study.
He attended elementary school at Jesse P. Miller and middle school at Manatee School for the Arts, and ensured from an early age that he was receiving a well-rounded education beyond physics and science. His mother, Terri, remembers how Davis decided on his own to take up figure skating, at which he excelled for six years before becoming involved in theater and choir.
“Ever since he was a child, if he set his mind to something, he would succeed,” Terri Davis said. “I could go on and on with the things he’s done. We’re awestruck as his parents, but he’s done all of this on his own.”
Matthew credits his success to several key role models: John F. Kennedy for demonstrating what Davis calls true selflessness, his former figure skating teacher for driving home to him the importance of doing rather than just trying, and physicist Franklin Chang-Diaz, who invented the first rocket engine fueled by plasma.
Christine Hawes, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.