From Farrington to Princeton, one graduate’s story of success

Right now, thousands of high school graduates are taking the next step in their lives.

But for one Farrington High School senior, his road to Ivy League success has been anything but easy.

At first glance, 18-year-old Jake Martin looks like any other high school senior who’s made it to graduation day. But ask him how he’s gotten there, and he’ll tell you a raw but very real story of growing up.

“I’m from Ilocos Norte, Philippines and it was life on the farm,” Martin said. “We were one of the poorest families there.”

The Martins were so poor, bugs were a part of their everyday diet.

“I remember them being really, really good, like probably they were one of my favorites, but thinking about it now, it was kind of weird because all we had was our farm,” Martin said.

Martin and his siblings in the Philippines (Photo: Jake Martin)
Martin and his siblings in the Philippines (Photo: Jake Martin)

Martin emigrated to Hawaii with his family at age seven. He said watching cartoons in the Philippines helped him learn English.

But his family frequently fell on hard times, moving more than a dozen times.

All of his three siblings dropped out of school.

“I knew about going to college, but I didn’t have like a goal set in mind,” Martin said. “I just took it one year at a time, one step at a time. I just knew that I wanted to do well.”

That he did, eventually ending up at Farrington High School with a 4.3 GPA. Martin is one of six valedictorians and already taking classes at Honolulu Community College.

His accomplishments read like a laundry list of academic accolades, but most notably is his choice of college.

“I am in a full ride and that’s including the grant from Princeton, the federal Pell Grant and my scholarship, so it is a full ride,” said Martin.

The Dept. of Education said Jake is the first student from Farrington to be accepted into an Ivy League school in four years and possibly the first to ever make it into Princeton.

Angie Koanui is Jake’s college prep teacher. She said his story has opened her eyes.

“As I got to know him, I got to know about his background,” she said. “(He is the) first in the family to go to college, that his siblings got their GED or didn’t graduate high school, so I thought, wow. So it made me wonder how did he come with that, that value in education.”

Martin’s story of success in the DOE isn’t the first and won’t to be the last.

“We’ve seen more and more students who are from low-income families, maybe first in their entire household to go to college, and we see that they are succeeding both here in Hawaii and on the mainland,” said Hawaii P-20 executive director Karen Lee.

“One of my biggest fears is me going to Princeton and someone telling me, ‘How did you get in? You’re from Farrington. You’re from Kalihi,'” Martin said. “But I kind of remind myself that hey, even with a socioeconomically disadvantaged school like Farrington, I was still able to get my own resources, be an independent student and get accepted into the same school as other private school students.”

As for life after college, “I’ll just go wherever like takes me but I know one thing. I do aspire to start my own non-profit organization one day to make sure I give something back,” Martin said.

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