Cormac enjoy his first days at Harvard University

Cormac enjoy his first days at Harvard University

6 October 2021

CORMAC Savage was only 14 when he got his first experience of the hallowed halls of Harvard University.

Standing in the same place where former president John F Kennedy once walked was enough to confirm to the young teenager that this is where he had to be one day.

Just four years later, the Downpatrick man has fulfilled his dream and is studying at the world-renowned Ivy League university in the US. 

The former head boy of St Patrick’s Grammar School has jumped right in and immersed himself into his classes and every extra-curricular activity and group he can possibly join.

He has been in the city of Cambridge, on the fringe of Boston, since late August.

Despite getting four A* grades in his A-Levels and having achieved considerable praise for his roles in school politics and as a Youth Parliament Member for South Down, he said he was overwhelmed to have been accepted into Harvard late last year.

“Every single day I think I’m so lucky to be here. I see the tourists who visit Harvard Yard every day and they remind me just how special it is. I think all of the students here have a great awareness of the university  and its history, the great people who have walked through these gates, but also our professors and how incredible there are. We realise that not only are we being taught by some of the greatest minds in their field but also in the world.”

He intends to share his excitement and his awe of the university with others.

“I was lucky enough to visit Harvard four years ago and I was completely struck by the place,” he said. “I never thought I would get in and I want to give that experience for any prospective students coming to visit.

“When I see young people out with their families, I always offer to take photographs of them as I think it’s really important to show them that if I, a wee boy from Ireland, can get in, then so can they.”

As one of the 2,000 new intake students this year, the 18 year-old is indeed walking in the footsteps of impressive former students. Eight former American presidents studied there, including John F Kennedy, George W Bush and Barack Obama, along with leaders from all aspects of life, such as the politician and diplomat Henry Kissinger, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, the poet TS Elliot, actors such as Matt Damon and Tommy Lee Jones and a host of Nobel and Pulitzer prizewinners.

He lives in a building on the corner of the iconic Harvard Yard — the university’s historic centre thoroughfare — where President Obama’s daughter, Malia, and actress Natalie Portman once stayed as undergraduates.

Cormac brings a lot to the Harvard table as well. Along with getting involved with youth politics and speaking at a debate in the House of Commons, he is a determined campaigner on social issues.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic last year, Cormac helped to establish the Secondary Students’ Union of Northern Ireland (SSUNI), the first of its kind here, and was also central to getting former Education Minister Peter Weir to do a U-turn on A-Level grades after last year’s controversial algorithm was used to determine grades in 2020.

He was made honorary president of the Secondary Students’ Union at the same time as studying for his A-Levels and also fulfilling duties as the Member of UK Youth Parliament for South Down.

He explained: “I had to submit to an entirely different application process to that of UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) and applied quite early, having to have it done by November 1 last year. 

“I had to write two essays, one about being from Northern Ireland and how it impacted on my identity as a person, and the second was about me founding the Secondary Students’ Union and running our first campaign while working over the summer cleaning the toilets at Tyrella Beach. 

“I also had to submit my academic record while writing various mini essays and had weeks of essay writing and redrafting and redefining my work to ensure that I was putting my best foot forward.

“The best thing about having to make the deadline in November was that I found out that I had an unconditional offer by mid-December so the pressure was totally off me when it came to waiting on results day in August. I was in a lucky position that I already had my flight booked for Boston 12 days after that.”

Believed to be the only ‘Red High’ student to have attended Harvard, Cormac is the son of Gina and Stephen Savage. His mother is vice-principal at St Patrick’s.

Cormac hopes to major in Government and graduate in 2025, but has taken the opportunity to get involved in other activities such as being admitted to the John F Kennedy Junior Forum.

Cormac was one of 15 people accepted out of 200 applications.

“It’s really competitive to get into to so I threw my hat into the ring not expecting to get it so I was completely blown away when I did.” he said.

“The group organises heads of states, politicians and leaders in business to visit campus where we moderate discussions and debates with them and a student audience.

“While I’m on the digital marketing team helping to promote the events, I could also find myself on stage later this year with Nancy Pelosi, the serving Speaker of the House of Representatives, which is completely mind-blowing.”

Cormac has suggested inviting Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission — a sign of his continuing interest in all things European.

He met President Joe Biden when he was 13 after an opportunistic letter to him turned out to be beneficial.

“I was a massive Biden fan long before he ran for President and I’m still very proud that I predicted his presidency four years ago. I wrote a letter at 13 and said if I would like to meet him if he was ever in Ireland. My parents and I got the chance to meet him in Dublin the day after the Brexit vote.

“I’m more likely to ask him now if he’s going over to Ireland, would he give me a lift on Air Force One,” he joked.

Cormac is still not behind the door connecting with famous people with his red hair helping him engage with TV host and producer — and fellow redhead — Conan O’Brien when the former Harvard student gave an address to new students.

“The rest of the guys suggested we get a picture together as we look alike but he was great fun. The best thing was that I was wearing my Red High GAA shirt,” said Cormac.

While he has taken Harvard and the US to his heart, Cormac retains his real love for his home.

“I’ve really loved the adventure of having to adapt to the American culture and my three best friends here are all Americans. But what I have realised here is that I really love the place that I’m from and so proud of it.”