How a 16 Year Old Was Accepted into Harvard

An authentic insight into John Ferguson’s amazing story.

“After becoming the youngest graduate in the Lakota district’s 61-year history at 16 years old, John was then one of the youngest students ever accepted to Harvard University.”

John Ferguson, 16, will be working with the U.S. Department of State in Beijing, China for a year before starting his studies at Harvard in the Fall of 2018. He is passionate about creating a life of value to the people around him through entrepreneurship, philanthropy, the creation and development of ideas, filmmaking, and business.

In Beijing, John will be filming a TV show with China’s largest broadcast agency, collaborating with the Chinese government to bring Scouting to China, and working on a variety of projects to further develop his entrepreneurial and philanthropic endeavors.

At the age of 12, John founded an international nonprofit, The Shoe Project, which has put shoes on more than 15,000 people and educated hundreds of young students on global poverty. Living with families in remote villages in countries such as Burma and Cambodia, John has made it a priority to understand people’s first hand struggles on a personal level. In partnership with 50 organizations and 500 volunteers in 50 countries, The Shoe Project is now testing more sustainable approaches to fight poverty. The Shoe Project was recently named the official nonprofit partner of USA Triathlon. Additionally, John was named one of North America’s Top 20 Teen Entrepreneurs of 2015 and has delivered a TEDx talk for his work.

At the age of 15, John was appointed as the youngest head U.S. intern in Fulbright history, overseeing the largest English camp in South Korea and tasked with the mission of leading youth cultural exchange between students from the U.S., South Korea, and North Korea. John was then the youngest American selected to represent the U.S. Department of State in China, performing standup comedy on national Chinese television at the height of the South China Sea dispute, using language and laughter to ease anti-U.S. tensions.

Born to a Chinese mother and an American father, John hopes to build connectivity and unity between the United States and China. His life has been a hybrid of Eastern and Western values and coming from a mixed East-West background has been one of his greatest assets. From his mother, he learned the importance of academics and hard work, while from his father he learned how to be creative and innovative in overcoming obstacles and designing solutions.

Being awe-strucked by John’s amazing journey, I reached out to him and I’m glad to have him take time out of his busy schedule to give us an authentic and in depth insight to his story

1. Humble Beginnings

Q. How did you get started and what or who inspired and empowered you to?

I got started when I was one of several kids from the United States to lead a South Korean english camp and work with both South Koreans and interact with defectors from North Korea. I was 14 at the time, and the youngest to ever get selected for the program. The director, who is now a great friend and a mentor, told me it was a big risk to take me on, simply because of just how young I was.

The camp was one of the best experiences of my life and set me on my path to wanting to learn as much as I could about the world, and find my place in it.

Growing up, my parents have told me to “never let school get in the way of your education,” pulling me out of school to let me explore a different part of the world as I grew up. This was probably one of the most important things growing up, because I had a love for the unknown since an early age, and made me realize just how big the world is, and at the same time, just how small of a part I occupy in it. Hi Mom and Dad, if you are reading this, I just want you to know I love you both!

Q. What unique and creative strategies if any did you use when you were first getting started?

When I was first getting started, I liked the saying, “either you win, or you learn.” And to me, the beginning stages of getting started meant there was a lot of learning to be done. Developing my nonprofit, I missed critical opportunities, didn’t follow up when I should have, and didn’t see things like I do now. But through each of these experiences, the lesson I took away was a part of me forever.

2. Mindset

Q. What mindset distinguished from others who were doing the same thing? How did you develop it?

My motto, inspired by the filmmaker Casey Neistat, is that if you’re doing what everyone else is doing, you’re doing it wrong. I’ve always liked to study what everyone else is doing, then do something completely different, or even the opposite. Because statistically, 100% of everyone cannot possibly succeed, therefore the people that do, do not follow the pack. This mindset is what inspired me to skip my final year of high school, apply to college at 16, etc.

3. What is your definition of success?

My definition of success is how many lives I can positively affect in my time here. We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. I think success can be measured by what and how much we give.

4. What do you think is the main reason why some people face failure when going after their vision?

People are paralyzed by opportunity cost. The most difficult part is getting started and the reality is, there will never be “the perfect moment.” People wait, plan too meticulously, and end up never actually seeing their vision become a reality because they either fear the thought of failure and the deconstruction of their grand plan, or they are paralyzed by what else they could be doing with their time and they don’t know if that’s what they should be doing. I’ve always told myself that in the time I spend thinking, planning, and preparing, I probably could’ve gotten it done already.

5. What is the best piece of advice you have received or came across and would like to share with everyone?

If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough. Mario Andretti said that and it completely encapsulates my entire attitude toward life. To me, if I don’t feel uncomfortable, overwhelmed, or exhausted at the end of each day, I don’t think I’m growing or pushing myself to become a better person each day. Half of the life we experience is over by the time we turn 7 because as we grow older, one year is a smaller and smaller fraction of our total life. When we are one year old, one year is 100% of our life, so in mathematical terms, our time perception is logarithmic. It explains why parents see their children grow up much faster than children perceive themselves to be. Just like watching something shrink in your rearview mirror, it’s why time seems to be getting faster as we get older, and there’s not a scarier thought in the world to me.

To view John’s work and get in contact with him visit http://theshoeproject.org

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