Student ‘overjoyed’ to be attending Princeton

Ethan Whittaker - PHOTO: MATT LAMERS

Eighteen-year-old Ethan Whittaker will be packing his bags soon to attend Princeton University, one of eight Ivy League schools in the United States. The “Ivy League” generally connotes prestigious universities with selectivity in admissions and known for academic excellence.

Mr. Whittaker, one of very few Caymanians to attend Princeton, will begin his bachelor studies this fall in physics at the private university in Princeton, New Jersey, south of New York City.

After receiving his letter of acceptance, he said he was “just overjoyed really.”

“My parents were crying. It was a very emotional experience,” he added.

Princeton is typically ranked at or near the top of published lists of institutions of higher learning in the U.S. and worldwide.

Mr. Whittaker, of Savannah, also received offers from Imperial College London, Durham University in northeast England, and Duke University and Swarthmore College, both in the U.S. He narrowed his choices down to Swarthmore and Princeton.

“I was really focusing on liberal arts education,” he said. “It’s something to give me the freedom to pick courses from different departments and it’s really to follow my passion.”

Swarthmore, a Forbes top 10 liberal arts school, was the first to send him an acceptance letter. “I was really excited,” he said. “I was, like, if none of the other ones work out, I’m going here.”

He said he applied to Princeton on a whim. “I didn’t really expect to get an offer. I didn’t believe it at first. And I still don’t believe it,” he said.

Last month, he completed his A-levels in math, chemistry, French and physics at Cayman Prep. In 2014, he earned 12 IGCSEs at A and A* at the high school.

He is also an accomplished musician who plays several instruments, and in 2014 he was named Butterfield Young Musician of the Year for his musical skills on the steel pan.

At university, Mr. Whittaker will focus on studying his favorite subject, physics, which he said was inspired by his former Cayman Prep A-level physics teacher, Jason Nehra, who was also the faculty head of science.

“Going through Prep, I really didn’t know what I would study later on. And [Mr. Nehra] was the only science teacher that I had Year 10 through Year 13 who really started my passion for physics,” said Mr. Whittaker. “And it’s really because of him that I started to enjoy physics as a subject.”

He said it’s a bit “frightening” to contemplate studying at Princeton, “but very exciting.”

“A lot of the programs in the Ivy League schools are really similar, and it’s really the way Princeton teaches liberal arts education that moved me towards Princeton and away from the other schools.”

He also said Princeton was his final choice because of its campus. “When it came down to it, it was visiting the campus and seeing the student body they had and the kind of life that was there around Princeton,” he said.

“It’s still a really big school but looks like a close-knit community. Like a family, and like Cayman,” he added.

While visiting Princeton, he toured the campus and heard from professors.

Fascinated by the fields of astrophysics and psychology, Mr. Whittaker hopes to take a gap year following his bachelor studies to become fluent in French, and to intern with CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, in Geneva, Switzerland.

And some day, he hopes to teach physics.

But for the time being, “I keep checking the acceptance letter to make sure it’s actually addressed to me,” he said.

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  1. An incredible achievement for this multi-talented teenager who has truly earned his acceptance by Princeton. Not just his parents but all Cayman will be proud of him, setting an example for others to follow. I am sure he will excel in his chosen career.