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EDITOR'S NOTE: On Nov. 30, 2018, The New York Times published an article documenting how the T.M. Landry school had falsified the backgrounds of its students in order to help them gain admission to Ivy League colleges, in addition to abusing many of the students.
“Ever since I was little, it was Harvard," said 16-year-old Ayrton Little. "I didn’t know how I was going to go but I knew I was going to go."
That childhood dream is now a reality for the Opelousas, Louisiana native, who found out he got into Harvard University on Monday, less than a week after his brother Alex Little, 18, got accepted to Stanford University.
His gleeful reaction was captured on video and has now been viewed more than 5.8 million times on Twitter alone. Surrounded by his fellow classmates, in a Harvard hoodie, he opened the letter and leaped into a fit of joy sixteen years in the making. His dream on the screen in black, white, and crimson.
According to Harvard, out of 6,630 students who applied for early admission, 964 were selected to join the Class of 2022. In a phone interview with NBC News, Ayrton said he is excited to have been chosen.
“As you can see in that video,” said the high school senior. “When I realized my dream was a reality, it kind of rocked my world."
“I told him his acceptance day, not mine, was the best day of my life,” brother Alex told NBC News.
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Raised by a struggling single mother, the brothers had less than stable financial situations even at times studying as pipes dripped and bills were left unpaid. But through times of uncertain income and overwhelming adversity, their mother made it a priority to provide her kids the encouragement and support they needed to succeed. Their mother bounced through odd jobs, even selling baked goods to pay her sons’ tuition when she fell on unemployment before landing a stable gig as a culinary teacher at a vocational school.
“Our mom did a good job of not making it a center point of our lives,” said Alex. Both brothers credit their mother for their success and for always making them a priority.
“She tells us this all the time: No matter how tough things were, whatever bills weren’t getting paid, whatever lights might be cut off, I knew that they were always working and I knew that I’d come home to good grades and good report cards and kids who were striving in school," Alex said.
Ayrton and Alex understood that education is the key to propel them forward.
“I could have easily turned to drugs and gangs and to not caring about school, but that wouldn’t have gotten me to where I am now,” Aryton admitted. “I knew, in the end of working hard and staying in school and just having a love for learning, I knew that it could bring me to Harvard or just bring me to a better place in life.”
Both brothers attend T.M. Landry College Preparatory in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, a school that focuses on independent student-driven learning. The private school started in 2005 and boasts a one hundred percent college enrollment rate with graduating classes as small as eight students earning over $11.2 million in scholarships.
“I go to the best school,” Ayrton said. “95 percent of the students here are driven and they care about school, the other five percent are new.”
Tracey Landry, principal and founder of the school, said she is proud that students, in particular, Ayrton, Take ownership of their learning and their educational goals.
“He’s always the first one to try and find out the answers or go beyond the lesson,” she said about the Harvard-bound teen.
Landry also mentioned that while Ayrton and his brother Alex "have truly struggled through the process” with various situations at home, "they are truly humble young men.”
Ayrton is ready to meet his new classmates and make a huge impact.
“I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of people and being exposed to a lot of different cultures because I’ve been in the South as far back as I can remember,” Ayrton gushed. “I’ve only been around people from the South and I know that there’s a whole world out there that I don’t know about yet and I think that that’s the best thing.”
He plans to study applied mathematics with a minor in computer science at Harvard next fall. With his degree, he hopes to pursue a job on Wall Street that will allow him to make enough money to start a nonprofit to give back to kids in his hometown.
“I’m excited to grow," he said.