ELLSWORTH, Kan. (KSNW) — Students across the nation are graduating this weekend, and one rural Kansas teen says his small town helped him get into his dream school, Harvard.

A small percentage of applicants get accepted to Harvard, and Chase Bourbon of Ellsworth Junior Senior High School is one of them.

“It definitely hasn’t been a solo pathway. Everyone has added in and helped out,” Bourbon said.

Bourbon says growing up in a small town played a huge role in that.

“Coming from a small town, you really get to know everyone,” Bourbon said. “People have quite a few connections to quite a large group of people. I know lawyers and doctors. You get to get around and meet people and Ellsworth.” 

He says he has had great teachers growing up.

“Every year during school, my teachers have been extremely supportive,” Bourbon said. “It’s small classes, so you get to know your teachers very well. You get a very personal connection with your classmates, with everyone in the school, really.”

He says the support has been endless.

“You go to a football game in Ellsworth, and it’s like, the entire towns here,” Bourbon said. “Or you got to Cowtown days downtown, and we’ve got everyone lined in the streets, and that’s beautiful to see.”

When opportunities weren’t there, he and others created them.

“When you don’t have as many opportunities, you’ve got to work harder and persevere and find the opportunities that you can. A small town is great.”

Another benefit he has found is the ease of accessibility.

“Anyone can come in and sign up, and we don’t have wait lines and stuff because we’re a small school, so you get benefits quicker,” Bourbon said.

Bourbon also got a head start on his career at 16 years old, taking classes and getting a job.

“I was able to take my CMA class through the school, so the school let me progress in my workplace as well as my education,” Bourbon said.

He and other students are also given the opportunity to be involved with the county and city, serving on the county economic development board, the hospital board and nonprofits.

Stacie Schmidt is the executive director of Ellsworth County Economic Development and has known Bourbon his entire life.

“He brings a voice to us that really helps benefit us in the community so that we’re listening to what our future leaders, entrepreneurs, business owners, workforce pipeline want for our community,” Schmidt said.

She says Bourbon has always been an exceptional young man.

“I saw him develop into a young man who has an amazing potential,” Schmidt said. “And it’s really exciting for us to see that we can develop our brightest students and send them out to do amazing things.”

She says she’s not surprised Chase was accepted into Harvard.

“Chase is a brilliant young man,” Schmidt said. “I see so much potential for him, and I’m excited about what he’s going to do for the future. Rural communities provide the same opportunities as metro, big cities do and oftentimes even more.”

Nancy Schmitt has been a mentor for Chase since he was in 6th grade. In over 20 years of working with gifted programs in rural Kansas, she has never had a student get accepted to Harvard.

Schmitt says Bourbon is positive and looks at the life glass half full.

“Opportunity is definitely bound to knock on his door because of how he looks at the world,” Schmitt said.”

She says what is great about rural education is that everyone knows one another.

“They’re always willing to help,” Schmitt said. “You don’t have to stand in line for anything. You’re not just a number. They know who you are. They know where you came from.”

Chase plans to go the pre-med route at Harvard with the goal of becoming a trauma surgeon.