This article originally appeared in The Beacon Fall 2015 issue.
When Andrew Mollerus ’12 speaks, one is immediately struck by his congenial and modest eloquence. He downplays his meteoric academic success, his accomplishments and awards in math and the sciences, and his distinguished career as a competitive sailor who has raced competitively in more than 15 countries.
It is hard to believe that this remarkably gifted young man with so many triumphs once struggled both academically and personally. By the time Andrew was in second grade at Rye Country Day School, he was frustrated that he wasn’t keeping up with his classmates. “I was the one kid in class who couldn’t read and didn’t want to learn how,” he says.
In recollecting how difficult it was to complete assignments, Andrew remembers one day when he was doing homework in the back of the car. “I took the homework and threw it at the front windshield.”
Shortly thereafter, his family sought out The Windward School.
“I recall very clearly the day Andrew met with the psychologist who conducted the first testing. He thought it unlikely that Andrew would ever attend college. Clearly, Windward and Andrew thought otherwise,” writes Mrs. Mollerus, Andrew’s mother, in a recent note to Head of School, Dr. Russell.
As a third grader, Andrew came to the Lower School where Windward’s classroom size and instructional style immediately addressed his learning differences. “The teaching was far beyond anything I had ever seen. You get to the School, and you can see results within a month, which was just incredible,” Andrew recalls.
Soon, he was volunteering to answer questions in class and reading voraciously. His self-confidence soared, and he embraced his newly discovered reading skills, going through “maybe 100 books” within six months.
“The summer before I came to Windward, I also took my first sailing class. Once I started at Windward, both my sailing and my studies improved. I don’t really know why, but they fed off of each other. While the skill sets are different, there’s an overlap with respect to being highly attentive and highly organized. It was really refreshing to start being decent at something.”
Andrew remained at Windward for three years and competed in his first national sailing championship the summer before returning to Rye Country Day School in sixth grade.
When he reached high school, his course load included honors English, physics, and other math and science classes. He was recognized with numerous academic awards, including the Rensselaer Award from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which honors those high school students who excel in math and science. At the conclusion of Andrew’s sophomore year, he was invited to join his school’s physics team, which went on to win the United States Association for Young Physicists Tournament at the Institute for Science Education in Oak Ridge, TN. He was a founding member of SCOPE, a program that offers after-school tutoring to underserved children in the local area. The self-proclaimed “dyslexic scholar” went on to receive the George Washington University Medal for Excellence in Math and Science, presented to the junior with the highest average in mathematics. All the while, Andrew applied the same focus and drive in the classroom as he did at the helm of a sailboat.
“To really push hard at anything, whether it’s school or athletics, you need to be ready to commit and give it your all,” he says. “I was able to directly see the results from applying these skills at Windward. The School allowed me to enter every future endeavor I encountered knowing that if you put in the time and work hard, you will be successful and see the results and rewards. I was lucky to get to Windward as early as I did. It’s a place that can turn your life around.”
Andrew’s steadfast determination paid off. Upon graduation from Rye Country Day School in 2012, he was accepted to Harvard University, where he is now a senior. Last spring he was elected to the Junior 24, one of 24 juniors at Harvard honored with admission to Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest undergraduate honors society in the United States. To be eligible for the Phi Beta Kappa 24, a student must have one of the 48 highest GPAs in their class. This record of outstanding scholarly achievement must show both depth of study and breadth of intellectual interest. From those 48 juniors, the election committee then chooses the 24 who most fit their criteria.
Along with excelling in his studies and being a select member of the Junior 24, Andrew continues to make a major commitment of his time and energies to sailing. September through November, and February through June, he competes for the Harvard Sailing Team. His rigorous sailing schedule includes three 3-hour long practices during the week and from 9 a.m.- 5 p.m. on weekends. He takes December off, and in January begins training in Florida. From June through August, Andrew and his brother Matthew race in the 49er Class in Europe or California where they practice with hopes of qualifying for the Olympics one day.
“Harvard is like Windward,” Andrew says. “There are a lot of people pushing very hard at what they do. The focus that many apply to their studies at Harvard epitomizes the qualities that Windward imbues.”
“Every piece of the Windward education is very purposeful and carefully designed. The teaching staff is remarkably driven, dedicated and capable,” he continues. “Unknowingly, students absorb a lot of that energy.”
“Windward also fosters a community of students. And though they may be too young to totally understand their learning differences, they embrace the fact that education is really important. From the day you step in there, you know that everything you do helps you overcome your challenges.”
In the past, Andrew has praised Windward for providing “… the best systematic, executed education I’ve seen at any level.” When asked if he still believed this, he responded, “I absolutely still think that’s true.”
“One thing that was emphasized at Windward, and that I apply every day, is ‘Learn how you learn.’ You consistently have to evaluate the process of learning so that you can best tackle a problem. If you get really good at teaching yourself how to learn, you will get far.”
In her note to Dr. Russell, Mrs. Mollerus writes, “Over the years we have had moments to renew our gratitude for Andrew’s time at Windward – successful report cards, high school graduation and college admission all come to mind. The School gave him the skills he needed to work to the best of his ability in any setting, and we are deeply grateful that Andrew had the opportunity to attend Windward. All of us are thankful that the School set Andrew on a very successful path.”
Andrew continues to raise the bar high. He sets his sights on being an economist either in industry, in academia, or in the government. He also hopes to go to the Olympics and win a medal for the United States.
When asked by The Beacon if he had any inspiring words he would like to share with current Windward students who have learning differences, Andrew responds, “Dive in and commit to what is laid before you. Confront what challenges you. You definitely have the ability. It just takes faith and hard work to get you there.”