When President Obama recalled meeting inspiring Americans in his address at the Democratic National Convention last Thursday, Samantha Garvey ’16 had no idea she would be mentioned.
“The young woman I met at a science fair who won national recognition for her biology research while living with her family at a homeless shelter—she gives me hope,” said Obama.
This young woman was none other than Garvey, a first year at the College living in Hyde Hall.
Garvey met Obama last January when she was named a semifinalist in the Intel Science Talent Search, one of the country’s most prestigious science competitions for high school students, for her research on the defense mechanisms of mussels.
While her research is notable for its scientific merit alone, Garvey’s success at Intel gained national media attention—she appeared on “Ellen” and in The New York Times—due to her compelling personal story. The Times reported that at the time of the competition, Garvey and her family were living in a homeless shelter in Suffolk County, Long Island, after having been evicted from their home on New Year’s Eve.
It was a difficult time for her and her family, but Garvey kept her spirits high.
“I always tried to keep a positive attitude throughout the whole thing, just because if I kicked myself and put my head down, I wouldn’t have gotten where I am now,” Garvey said.
She said that concentrating on her research helped her keep up a positive attitude despite not having a place to call home.
“If other kids find what they’re passionate about, that’ll make them really happy even if they are going through some sort of struggle,” said Garvey.
Though her family faced difficult times financially, money was not a critical factor in Garvey's college application process. She tried to pick the best institution for her, regardless of the price.
A $50,000 scholarship from talk show host Ellen Degeneres, which Garvey was awarded when she appeared as a guest on Degeneres's show last January, helped.
“Being on ‘Ellen’ was a really, really cool experience. She was funny and she really seemed genuinely excited about the work I had done,” Garvey wrote in an email to the Orient.
After receiving the award, “any worries that I had in the back of my head were gone,” Garvey said. “I could just keep on trucking with what I had originally intended: to find the school that I really wanted to go to and get there.”
Fifty-two percent of Bowdoin students do not receive financial aid, and students come from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds; matriculating at the College meant entering a new environment for Garvey.
“I don’t feel like Bowdoin is a place where people will look down on me for any reason. All the students are here because they each offer broad interests, and talents,” said Garvey.
Shortly after her appearance on “Ellen,” Garvey and her family moved into a new home in Bay Shore, Long Island, where they live today.
Though she originally planned on attending a large research university—Brown and Yale were among her top choices—she changed her mind upon visiting Bowdoin during Experience Weekend.
“I saw the intimacy of the campus and how close everyone was. It was such a tight knit community and I thought I wouldn’t get something like that at a big university,” she said.
While she is excited by the prospect of continuing her oceanographic studies, Garvey said she plans to broaden the scope of her academic interests. This semester, she’s taking classes in anthropology, oceanography, and art history.
“My classes are really great,” Garvey said. “I feel like I’m smiling all the time. I didn’t expect that the course work would be so crazy, but it’s really great. I’m glad I chose to come to Bowdoin.”
Garvey said she is excited to explore the Coastal Studies Center, a College-owned research facility located on Orrs Island.
“I hope I have the opportunity to do research there one day,” she said.
As for Obama’s shout-out at the DNC, Garvey said she was not aware that he planned to mention her in the speech.
“It was definitely a big surprise,” she said.