Gianni Hernandez de la Pena

While the Class of 2020 was grappling with the repercussions of school closures, one Maricopa High School senior received very good news last week. Harvard College informed Angello “Gianni” Hernandez de la Pena by email he had been accepted.

Harvard College is the undergraduate college within Harvard University, the second-ranked institution of higher learning in the nation.

Career and College Coordinator Bernadette Russoniello said Gianni is the school’s first admission to a “top-tier academic university” in her 20 years at MHS.

Hernandez said his application to Harvard was one of a string of applications he completed this year. He had several options to accept other opportunities that were closer or less of a challenge.

“Oh, I’m going to Harvard,” he said.

Originally from California, Hernandez was in fifth grade when his family moved to Tortosa. Attending Desert Wind Middle School, he learned computer programming and was hooked. His course of study remains computer science.

“If I’m being honest, when we think of Harvard, we think that’s where Mark Zuckerberg went,” Hernandez said. “I know they have a good computer science program.”

In accepting him into the Class of 2024, the Harvard admissions office stated, “Our admissions committee considers each application with great care, voting to admit those who will make the best use of the opportunities at Harvard. We admire all you have accomplished, and we believe that Harvard is a particularly good match for your talents and interests.”

He didn’t get quite that far down the announcement Thursday before he was celebrating loudly with family All he needed to see was the bolded word “Congratulations!” under his name to yell for his brother and hug his mother.

“I was happy, very happy,” he said. “What you’d expect.”

Given the circumstances, it may be awhile before he can set foot on the Harvard campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but he can take a virtual tour online.

Though the rest of this school year is winding up to be a wash, with courses finished online, Hernandez had proved his chops last year by earning a spot in a summer program at Carnegie Melon University. He earned 10 college credits focused on computer science, calculus and game development. He later became a National Merit scholarship finalist.