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$9 Million in College Scholarships! Did New Orleans’ Amari Shepherd Just Set an All-Time Record for a High School Graduate?

With a possibly record-setting $9.2M in scholarships and acceptances to 162 colleges, valedictorian eyes Spelman, law school — and the Supreme Court.

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May has been quite the month for Amari Shepherd, 17. With a GPA of 4.86, she gave the valedictory speech at KIPP New Orleans’s Frederick A. Douglass High School’s graduation ceremony May 17. A few days before that, she had picked up an associate degree from Bard Early College. And she has racked up a potentially record-setting in scholarship offers, as well as acceptances from 162 colleges. 

As she prepares to enroll at Spelman College in Atlanta, here are five things to know about Shepherd:

How she did it: Shepherd sent her bona fides — which include the publication of a book titled “Thirteen,” seats on the New Orleans mayor’s and superintendent’s youth advisory councils, and extensive community service — to every college or university she could find that waived the application fee. She also submitted her application to , an online portal that offers direct admissions to colleges whose criteria students meet. 

Amari Shepherd (Kipp: New Orleans Schools)

About those scholarships: KIPP New Orleans leaders believe Shepherd has received more scholarship offers, or nearly so, than any graduate, ever. Because of unprecedented delays caused by problems with this year’s FAFSA, her total tally is likely to keep rising as colleges and philanthropies continue processing awards. All told, so far her senior class has earned $26 million in scholarships.  

Where she’s headed: Shepherd is waitlisted at an Ivy she’d prefer not to name, but it wasn’t her first choice. She’s had her eyes on Spelman College for years — even if it wasn’t always clear how she’d get there: “My mom always told me to play my role and everything else would fall into place, and that’s exactly what happened. (They did also give me a full ride 😉.)” Shepherd texted in response to The 74’s questions. “So I’ll be going to my dream school for free!”

After that: Shepherd plans to follow a political science degree with law school, after which the two-time winner of KIPP New Orleans’s Black Lives Matter writing contest plans to tackle some societal issues. “I want to be on the Supreme Court because I want to be a part of change to make a more fair, just and equitable society, and what better way to do that than from inside.”

Her inspiration: Shepherd was in kindergarten when her father died. More recently, she lost both of her maternal grandparents to COVID. “Education meant everything to them, so I didn’t really have a choice but to do well in school,” she says. When her grandmother passed, Shepherd channeled her grief into making her proud. “It made me feel like everything I do moving forward .”&Բ;

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