Pandemic gave 16-year-old opportunities she otherwise wouldn’t have considered

In 2018, 12-year-old Veronica Richmond scored 1400 on her SATs. She completed two advanced placement exams and 22 high school credits. Academically, the middle schooler was ready for college.

But Richmond had a five-year plan, and it didn’t include early graduation. She wanted to take her time with high school. She wanted the “teen movie” experience.

Then, COVID-19 hit, forcing her to change course. Looking back, the now 16-year-old high school graduate says she is grateful, in some ways, to the pandemic for giving her opportunities she otherwise wouldn’t have considered.

Richmond was a sophomore at Boise High in March 2020, when Idaho’s high schools started closing their doors. She completed the final months of school online, but by the fall, isolation and virtual learning had taken a toll.

I was already a bit sick of online classes since learning just wasn’t the same, and I couldn’t befriend my classmates or teachers as easily,” said Richmond. “I decided to not sit around in high school for another year when I could instead move my life forward.”

Veronica Richmond, 16, decided to attend the University of Miami after applying to 30 colleges and visiting campuses across 20 states.

So, the Boise student skipped from sophomore to senior year and registered for dual credit classes with seven different providers, working to graduate two years early at only 15.

Despite its drawbacks, Richmond says that online learning gave her more flexibility. During her senior year, Richmond took a 49-day RV trip, visiting college campuses across 20 states with her mom, sister and two dogs.

“It was a disaster but it was fun,” said Richmond, laughing. “But it was really helpful, I think. I got to go onto some campuses and meet with admissions counselors, scholarship people…it really helped me decide.”

Richmond applied to 30 colleges, including some she saw on the trip. She was accepted to at least 25.

Veronica Richmond (left) stands by Idea51 leadership at One Stone’s graduation. Idea51 is One Stone’s “research and design hub,” which Richmond worked closely with during her internship.

At the same time, the senior researched scholarships to help pay out-of-state tuition. While she applied to Idaho universities, she says she was inspired by a friend to use college as a time to “do something completely, radically different.” She also wanted to be surrounded by more diversity than she felt Idaho could offer.

“I’m really concerned about politics, and even being in Boise I don’t think there’s enough diversity in politics…just ways people think,” said Richmond. “I just wanted to find someplace different.”

Richmond applied for and won the Stamps Scholarship, a full-ride award funded through the Stamps Family Charitable Foundation. After the win, she was left to choose from five schools, all fully funded.

After many “tears, flow-charts, t-charts and pro-con lists,” Richmond settled on the University of Miami. But after the May 1 decision deadline, she decided to postpone her enrollment and take a gap year.

“My mom and I started talking about how dangerous the pandemic was, particularly in South Florida…that really scared us,” Richmond said. “Plus…I was 15 at the time and my mom thought that was too young. We talked a lot about it, and again, a lot of tears, but we ultimately decided that was a good move.”

Richmond spent her gap year working at Two Birds, a student-led business and creative studio affiliated with Boise non-profit One Stone. She specializes in graphic design, and raised approximate $75,000 for the program since she started, according to Director Michael Reagan.

“Since day one, she blew me away. She works so hard, is so smart and is such a joy to be around,” said Reagan. “I have no doubt that Veronica will make the world a better place because I’ve seen her do it almost every day in real-world, professional and challenging environments.”

In this case, Richmond heads to the University of Miami to study biology. She wants to make science more accessible by applying her graphic design skills to her major, pushing past the “language barrier” in the discipline. The 16-year-old also plans to get her driver’s license.

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