Courtesy of Brendon Gauthier '21

Brendon Gauthier stands holding a Cornell banner next to his mother and step-father.

December 11, 2016

Louisiana Student Cries After Receiving Cornell Acceptance Letter in Viral Video

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Brendon Gauthier’s fingers were shaking Thursday as he sat at a computer surrounded by dozens of friends, teachers and family members, waiting to see whether he had been accepted or denied to his top choice, Cornell University.

“It was just the most nervous I’ve felt through all my 17 years of living,” Gauthier told The Sun. “Typing on the computer was very slow to what I normally do.”

The moment, captured on video and already viewed millions of times on social media, ended in celebration as Gauthier was hoisted off of the ground and carried around the room after quickly reading his acceptance letter.

But Gauthier, born and raised in Opelousas, La., said the viral video didn’t catch everything.

“What’s not in there is me crying,” he said. “As soon as I got to my family, I immediately just broke down. Whenever I saw them, I saw my history — I saw my life throughout 17 years and all the trials and tribulations that I went through.”

“People see that positive end result, but I would definitely like to say that it did not come easy,” Gauthier continued. “Nothing on this grand of a scale comes easy. Everything that has led to this moment was hard.”

Gauthier, who will be attending the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences next fall and wants to become a veterinarian, said he was attracted to Cornell because of its close-knit student body and the founding ideology of Ezra Cornell.

“That’s the type of environment I want,” he said. “I saw the family-like aspect of it. That’s something that I hold near and dear to my heart.”

Gauthier said the same culture pervades his high school, TM Landry College Prep in Breaux Bridge, and that the school traditionally records students reading their decision letters for the first time and posts the acceptance videos on Facebook.

“The entire student body comes around, and good, bad or ugly we’re there,” he said. “That family aspect is a key foundation within the school. [If] I’d gotten denied, they would’ve been there.”

Gauthier said he was raised in a low-income family and his mother worked long hours to give him the opportunity to make a name for himself. She also pushed him to work hard in school, telling him to keep his head in his books and prioritize classes over sports.

“If I didn’t want [a good grade] for myself, I damn sure wanted it for my mom,” Gauthier said. “If I don’t succeed, then I’m letting her down. … That’s what’s always fueled my drive: to get my family in a better situation.”

Gauthier said people in his small southern Louisiana city often recognize his last name as the same as that of his biological father, who lived in the same area and has not been involved in Brendon’s life.

“It always bothered me, because they didn’t know how much he didn’t do,” Gauthier said. “That’s one of the things that made me cry for the video going viral. People will know my name. I’ll have my own impression.”

He hopes other students will see the video and be inspired to work hard toward achieving their goals, no matter their backgrounds.

“Throughout my life, coming from where I’m from, I didn’t have a lot of collegiate role models,” Gauthier said. “I want my video to motivate that next kid, even if he’s not African-American. I want that video to inspire him to say, ‘education can take me to where I want to go.’”

Gauthier, in addition to spending much of his time focused on academics, also plays football and basketball, runs track and tutors students on Saturdays with his high school peers.

In the months leading up to decision day, he also made sure to watch the Cornell live view every day. He visited the school in August and said it was “breathtaking,” but added that he’s looking forward to seeing the snow in person next winter.

Already decked out in Cornell gear in the viral video, Gauthier said he had one more request to his mother the day after he was accepted.

“I said, ‘Mom, I need to get my Cornell license plate.’”