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Decisions, decisions, decisions

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Veronica Watters is an exception among graduates

Senior student on Pine Ridge deciding among Duke, Princeton and Yale

PINE RIDGE, S.D. - It;s what graduating high school students dream about: to be accepted to the school of their choice.

And as college acceptance standards grow increasingly tougher, the reality of being accepted by one's ''first choice'' is more and more difficult to reach. Red Cloud High School senior Veronica Watters has trumped the statistics, however, having recently been accepted by Ivy League schools Yale, Princeton and Duke.

With college acceptance rates averaging at 10 percent and only about 1 percent of students being American Indian, the choice among three top-tier schools is something Watters is not taking lightly.

''When I was a kid, I dreamed about attending college - of studying to be a doctor and taking care of others as my lifelong career. Now, that hope is turning into reality, and I couldn't be more thankful,'' she said.

Watters has been traveling to the institutions, learning more about what life would be like off the Pine Ridge reservation, a place that has empowered her to step into the larger world and institute standards and change in the areas of health and science.

Science is a family affair for Watters. She has an older sister, Kelly, who is a surgical technician and a 1992 graduate of Red Cloud.

''I have been influenced by my family to pursue this profession,'' she said, also crediting Red Cloud for honing her skills and knowledge in the areas of science and health education. ''The teachers and staff at Red Cloud have been a great influence to me, pushing me to limits I would never have guessed I could overcome,'' she said.

Gina Ferguson, director of student advancement at Red Cloud, said that at an early age, she noticed Watters' passion for the sciences and her positive outlook on life.

''This year's senior class is made up of many bright - and competitive - students,'' Ferguson said. ''Veronica has been an inspiration to her classmates and those that will come to this school after her.''

During Watters' tenure at Red Cloud, she has been a biomedical research intern at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, and has spent many summers in classes and workshops at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City. Active on campus in student organizations, she also takes time to volunteer with youth programs, including a pee wee basketball team.

''My education has taught me the values in which I am rooted in:

generosity and service to others,'' Watters said. ''The value of the greater good in life is what inspires me to become a doctor.''

The decision will be difficult, and will come down to a number of factors, including financial aid. But wherever she decides to attend, ''I look forward to the experience of learning new things and interacting with diverse cultures,'' she said.

Just the facts

Veronica Watters' choice of schools boasts some of the lowest acceptance rates in the country, according to U.S. News and World Reports:

"Yale University, Conn.: 7 percent

"Princeton University, N.J.: 10 percent

"Duke University, N.C.: 23 percent

Rankings of top national universities, from U.S. News and World Reports:

Princeton, N.J.

Harvard University, Mass.

Yale University, Conn.

Stanford University, Calif.

University of Pennsylvania

California Institute of Technology

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Duke University, N.C.