It didn’t take long for Horizons at CA to spark a passion within Nehemias Luna ‘10, who arrived on the Colorado Academy campus as a shy 6-year-old with little more than rudimentary English and a glimmer of hope for a bright future.
“At a young age, Horizons taught me to love learning,” says Luna. “Going to Horizons was the most important thing I’ve ever done.”
Luna will get a chance to rediscover that thirst for knowledge this fall—only this time, it will be within the hallowed walls of Harvard Business School. Call it a close second.
Horizons is a nonprofit program offering enrichment for Denver Public Schools students from low-income families. Students spend six weeks on the Colorado Academy campus in the summer, engaged in new experiences with academics, athletics, and the arts—all designed to combat the “summer slide” in skills and build a lifelong interest in learning. Throughout the school year, Horizons students also take part in experiential learning opportunities on Saturdays.
Luna says his time at Horizons paid, and continues to pay, dividends beyond the classroom. The experiential learning and connections helped him land his first summer job and a spot on the board of the Horizons affiliate in San Francisco. When he remembers his time at Horizons, he recalls the significance of seemingly simple pastimes that many take for granted: learning to swim, listening to speakers, and going on field trips.
“Those experiences nurture you in a way that makes you believe in yourself, and they give you confidence in your own skills and self–worth,” says Luna.
Colorado Academy Years
Luna’s transition to becoming a full-time CA student in 2002 went smoothly because of the time he had spent in Horizons. By then, the campus was familiar, as were many of the faces, but still, he knew he needed to take full advantage of his years as a Mustang.
“I’ve always understood that the opportunity that I’ve been given is unique,” says Luna.
It was unique in that many teachers helped Luna, despite his self-admitted lack of experience. Vocal Music Director Cindy Jordan encouraged him to start singing in the CA choir, even though he lacked one critical skill.
“I couldn’t sight read [music] to save my life, and a lot of the other kids around me knew how and had that discipline and years of singing classes,” says Luna, who faced a similar scenario when it came to CA’s team sports. Luna hadn’t competed on the same level as many of his peers, but still, he was determined to work hard and play on a Varsity level. Enter Coach Bob Ulrich, a constant in Luna’s life from the first day he pursued athletics at CA.
“When I think about the CA family, Coach Bob has been there from the start and has always been one of my biggest cheerleaders,” says Luna. “His support of the student body personifies the unique relationships between faculty and students that make CA an incredible place to grow.”
After graduating in 2010, Luna was awarded the Daniels Fund Scholarship and chose to attend Santa Clara University, where he studied finance. He quickly landed a job at Texas Instruments, where he worked for two years before moving to Seattle to work at Amazon as a marketing operations analyst. His career was blossoming, but it didn’t allow Luna to flex his innovative muscles, and he knew he needed a change.
“I tie it back to CA,” says Luna. “Having a creative outlet and trying new things like sports and the arts has always been a part of me.”
Ivy League Bound
The confidence, knowledge, and perspective Luna gained at Horizons, CA, and college came in handy in early 2018 when he began researching top business school programs, including Harvard, Northwestern, and Wharton.
“The first obstacle in applying to top MBA [programs] is feeling that you are qualified enough to even try it,” says Luna, who reached out to his first teacher at Horizons, Jenny Leger, for encouragement.
“Her words emboldened me,” says Luna. Ready for an earnest reimagining, he began reflecting on his work in finance and operations and decided that’s “not where I want to be.”
“I want to reset fully and go on a path that’s more fulfilling for me,” says Luna.
Armed with the confidence to apply, a second obstacle remained. Luna needed to shape a compelling application story that elegantly captured his divergent background. That meant reaching out to former teachers, friends, and mentors who helped him navigate the “two worlds,” he occupied: his Latino community and his CA family. He also began thinking about a career that would “help kids like me do cooler and better things and allow me to leave a positive legacy.”
Knowing his path to a higher education was unique among many MBA applicants buoyed Luna during the application process, and he stuck to that story when he shaped his essay and interviewed with the admissions team at Harvard.
“I have a better understanding of who I am now,” says Luna.
The coming months will be busy for Luna. He’ll pack up his belongings in Seattle, take a bucket–list trip to see World Cup soccer, and then head to Boston, where he’ll meet the 899 other Harvard Business School students who make up his cohort. Once again, Luna will walk on an unfamiliar campus, a little older, and with a sharper focus. But underneath it all, Luna is still just a kid excited about school.
“I can’t wait to really to soak it all up.”