Editor’s note: This is the final story in a longstanding annual series in the MDJ spotlighting the county’s best and brightest as they graduate high school.
EAST COBB — The one piece of advice William Ellsworth would give to students as he looks back on his high school career might be less exciting than you think:
“I would definitely recommend getting sleep. If studying biology has taught me one thing, it’s that sleep is necessary,” Ellsworth said.
Ellsworth finished his four years at Walton High School as the 2019 senior class president, valedictorian and STAR student nominee, while also topping not just all Walton GPAs, but all GPAs in the Cobb County School District, with a staggering 4.875.
In both semesters of his final year, Ellsworth took three AP courses and two dual enrollment courses at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
The 18-year-old was also recently named a U.S. presidential scholar by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, an honor bestowed upon only 161 of the 3.6 million students expected to graduate from high school this year.
Ellsworth, whose combined math and science SAT score was only 10 points shy of perfect, is also the founder or co-founder of two clubs at Walton: a neuroscience club and a coding club. But, as a sophomore, placing 20th out of nearly 10,000 high school students in the USA Biology Olympiad, an intensive two-week biology training camp in Virginia, tops the list of accomplishments, he said.
“That was something I committed probably an average of 20 hours a week to and caused me to stay up consistently pretty late — maybe 3 or 4 a.m. Over breaks in the school year, I would spend a lot of time just studying biology,” Ellsworth said.
That accomplishment, like his many others, often stood in the way of what many would consider a typical teenage lifestyle. But Ellsworth said he continued to be motivated by a sense of true satisfaction when his hard work would pay off.
“There’s happiness that you get from little, short-term pleasures, like, for example, playing a video game or going out with your friends. But there’s a qualitatively different type of happiness that you get when you work really hard for something and it ends up turning out the way you wanted it to turn out,” he said.
Doug Wolfe taught Ellsworth’s sophomore AP biology course. Wolfe said the teenager, who had already completed AP courses in middle school, often averaged 15 or more hours of studying in a week for his biology tests.
“A lot of students just thought he was some kind of magical unicorn and that he just came in and got A’s on his tests. But he worked really hard in my class,” he said.
The fact that Ellsworth was voted class president, as well as earned the No. 1 spot as valedictorian speaks both to his work ethic and his charm, Wolfe said.
Ellsworth’s mother, Julie Ellsworth, echoed Wolfe’s sentiments about her son. She said his work ethic is a characteristic he’s had since he was young.
“While we have supported him in anything that he wanted, really it was up to him. We couldn’t force him to work hard, and he’s a really hard worker,” she said. “We expect that not much is going to change (in college). William’s going to continue being curious and hardworking, and that’s just going to lead to all sorts of success and happiness.”
Among many others, the Walton graduate’s accomplishments and recognitions during high school include participation in a research internship at Emory University’s Center for Neurodegenerative Disease; second place and recognition as an international biology scholar with distinction in the University of Toronto’s National Biology Competition; and being named a two-time silver medalist in Le Grand Concours national French contest.
Ellsworth will attend Stanford University in the fall, with a major in computer science. He said after graduation he hopes to work as a software engineer at a tech company, focusing on artificial intelligence and machine learning. Ellsworth said his ultimate goal is to become a technology entrepreneur.