Chelsea High School (CHS) Senior Milica Ivanis has had a spring filled with surprises.
First, she got the surprise of her life earlier this spring when she found out she had been accepted to the Ivy League gem Yale University – which caught her completely off guard.
Second, this past Tuesday she got a second big surprise when she learned from CHS Principal Joe Mullaney that she had finished at the top of her class in what was a very tight finish.
“I had no idea I would be valedictorian,” she said on Tuesday shortly after learning the news. “I wasn’t expecting it because I thought I was third or fourth in the class. There are so many smart kids in my class.
“It’s just like getting into Yale; that was the biggest surprise of my life,” she continued. “I didn’t expect it at all. Yale was my reach of all reaches. I applied to four Ivy League schools and had been wait listed for three of them. When it was time to open up my letter from Yale, I wasn’t expecting much. I waited a half-hour before I opened it up. When I saw that I had been accepted, I couldn’t believe it.”
Though it might have been a surprise for Ivanis, it’s a movie that her family has seen before.
That’s because in 2011, Jelena Ivanis – Milica’s older sister – was also the valedictorian at CHS and also went to an Ivy League school. However, she landed at Harvard University, which is the arch rival of Yale.
That hasn’t been lost on the valedictorian sisters.
“We’ve talked about that,” said Ivanis, 18. “It’s funny. I told her we’re going to be big rivals during football season.”
Ivanis is the daughter of Milenko, who works at the Cambridge Marriott, and Dragica, who works at Chelsea City Hall in the DPW. The family – which also includes Berkowitz School second-grader Mira Ivanis – came to America from Croatia when Milica was only 3.
They had fled from Serbia, where they were living, following the Yugoslavian Civil War – a conflict that devastated the family.
However, new hope was found in Chelsea and Ivanis said her family has embraced the City and its schools.
“In my college essay I wrote about how my home and my village in Croatia had been completely destroyed during the Yugoslavian Civil War,” she said, not wanting to elaborate too much on those tough times. “It’s been very hard coming here because it’s just us. We don’t have a big family in the area. My parents have sacrificed a lot for us and we realize that.”
Ivanis began her academic career at the Silber Early Learning Center (ELC) and went to elementary school at the Berkowitz School. She attended middle school at the Clark Avenue School and finished up at CHS.
She played volleyball all four years and is currently a volleyball coach at the Brown Middle School. She is in the National Honor Society, serving as president this year. She has also been a peer mentor for two years at CHS.
Throughout her career, Ivanis said she felt that Chelsea schools have provided her an excellent education. She points to the fact that she has been able to take seven Advanced Placement (AP) classes at CHS, including such difficult courses as Sophomore AP Biology and AP Chemistry.
“I think that Chelsea is an excellent school, not only for the diversity, but also because it’s a place where students have the support to thrive,” she said. “If students are focused and don’t get distracted by things, they can take whatever life throws at them and make it work.”
Ivanis singled out teachers Michael McCarthy (English), Ana Romero (Spanish), Ilana Ascher (history) and Irene Mahoney as particularly motivating her.
Now, as she gets ready for Sunday’s graduation exercises, her attention has turned to what she might say during her Valedictory Speech.
“I remember my sister’s speech,” she said. “I sat next to my father and it was an ode to my father, and it made both of us cry. It was a special moment. I’m not sure what I’ll say yet.”