LIMA — They say they are far from “super geniuses” and don't spend all their time studying, yet the three Lima Central Catholic High School seniors are all headed to Ivy League schools next year.
“People usually think kids who get into schools like that are the super geniuses who haven’t come out of their basements in 12 years,” said Sam Huffman, who will attend Princeton University.
His buddy since the first grade, Alex Swick, is on his way to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and Sarah Pajka has been accepted to Yale University. The three have grown up together and while they have taken their studies seriously, they have also been involved and made the most of high school.
“We are all just regular kids,” Huffman said. “Everyone knows us in the community. We are involved. We have fun with our classmates. We are no different from any other kids.”
LCC and other schools in the region have seen students go off to Ivy League schools in the past, but three from one school is rare. The three didn’t set out to get into elite schools and even while wearing shirts displaying where they will spend their next four years, they remain surprised.
“When I first moved to Lima, my first friend was Sam Huffman, and we were not exactly the Ivy League types growing up,” Swick said. “We did not place a lot of emphasis on getting into an Ivy League, we just wanted to have fun.”
Pajka looked at several Ivy League schools and fell in love with Yale, but still was certain she would never get in. She found out while checking her email at an airport.
“I thought there was no way I was getting in there,” she said. “When I finally read the acceptance letter, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I did not know what to do. It was crazy.”
The three have participated in many of the same activities, including the class play, National Honor Society and Student Senate. Pajka and Swick have been in Quiz Bowl, JETTS and Science Olympiad. All three are athletes: Pajka on the volleyball and track teams; Huffman playing football, basketball and baseball; and Swick is a two-time state runner-up tennis player.
Swick is LCC’s valedictorian. Pajka is right behind him as salutatorian. Pajka and Huffman, who will graduate in the top 10, both point to Swick as the one they would have predicted to be Ivy League material.
“He was always going to be our valedictorian. We pretty much have known that since fourth grade,” Huffman said.
Swick will major in finance and is following his elder brother, Adam, who also went to Wharton. Swick expected to land at the University of Notre Dame or University of Michigan.
“It was not necessarily Ivy League for me, it was who had the best business school,” he said. “When I got into Wharton, it was kind of a no-brainer for me.”
Huffman also wasn’t thinking about Ivy Leagues and knew little about them until football recruiters started calling. He’ll play football at Princeton in the fall. He is undecided about a major, but is leaning toward something in business or finance. Pajka is also undecided, but suspects she will end up in a science-related field.
Pajka said she knows how lucky she is to be going to Yale. All three also know life at the Ivy Leagues will be different from high school.
“It has come kind of easy for us in high school, but it is going to be a lot different in college, especially colleges like these,” Huffman said.
“There is definitely going to be a lot of people there who are really, really smart,” Swick said. “But it is more of an excitement to see how you are going to do. If you want to compare yourself with the best of the best, this is the place to go.”
All three point to support from parents, who let them get involved in what they wanted to in high school and investigate any colleges they wanted. The parents have done their share of talking about the accomplishments of their youngest children.
“My dad cried when he found out,” Pajka said. “He has definitely talked about it a lot more than I have. … There is no way I would have gotten in if it had not been for them pushing me.”
Pajka is the daughter of John and Linda Pajka. Huffman is the son of Matt and Sheryl Huffman, and Swick’s parents are Mike and Danette Swick.
Students also say LCC and its staff must have “done something right” to produce three Ivy League-bound students.
“I think it is the support system here,” Swick said. “We are not a stereotype school. You can do what you love. Sam loved football. I loved academics. Sarah is really into service and the sciences. You can really be who you want to be.”