He also gained acceptance into Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the California Institute of Technology, and the University of Chicago.
The high-school senior had stellar standardized-test scores — a 35 on the ACT — and a demonstrated interest in the sciences, attending a selective program at MIT during the summer of his junior year.
For his Common Application admissions essay, Altenburg, who also competes in cross country, track, and swimming, chose to write about the thoughts that race through his head on a distance run.
He graciously shared his essay with Business Insider. It's reprinted verbatim below.
My favorite time to run is at night.
This particular run in early August brought a break to the humid, muggy weather I left on the East Coast. I used my body as a human psychrometer, knowing that the cold feeling of evaporating sweat signaled much needed dry air.
I cross over the bridge into Minnesota. Out of my three sports, cross country is definitely my worst — but I continue to be hooked on it. Unlike swimming and track, my motivation to run is heavily intrinsic. I live for the long runs I take on by myself. While they rarely happen during our season, we were assigned a long run to complete over our first weekend of cross country. In reality, I was supposed to go six miles, but felt eight gave me more time to explore the home I had just returned to. My mind begins to wander as I once again find my rhythm.
My train of thought while running is similar to the way one thinks in the minutes before sleep — except one has more control over how these thoughts progress and what tangents they move off of. While special relativity would be the "proper" thing to think about, especially at MITES, I revive the violin repertoire I had turned away from for so long and begin playing it in my head. I'm now at the edge of town in between the cornfields. The streaming floodlights on the open road give me a sense of lonely curiosity, reminiscent of the opening lines of Wieniawski's first violin concerto. I come up with adaptations of the melody in my head, experimenting with an atonality similar to Stravinsky's.
I turn south onto a highway heading towards downtown. The dark night sky is broken by the oncoming light pollution. While I've longed for a road trip across the country, the neon lights from Sunset Lanes will have to do for Las Vegas. Turning west, I see a man and perk up as I try to look more menacing than I really am. But I relinquish. I realize that I did such an act simply because of the color of his skin. I kick myself for reverting to passive racism — something I spent much of the summer trying to overcome.
The bridge over Main Avenue leads me back into North Dakota and downtown Fargo. My city is on the eve of its annual pride week — the largest in North Dakota. Beyond the rainbow flags lining downtown, I see the Catholic cathedral I attend every Sunday outside of the summer. The juxtaposition brings back memories of trying to come to terms with my own beliefs. The conservatism on my mom's side of the family often clashes with the more liberal views of my dad's family. Fargo is known for its "nice" attitude, but the discussion of controversial issues is often set aside in favor of maintaining peace. On the surface this can be good, but it makes change a long and cumbersome process, and has caused me to become very independent in finding my own belief system — something especially difficult when these beliefs may have to do with your future identity.
The remaining part of my run is short and uneventful. The fact that the traffic lights have switched to blinking yellow and red means that I have been out later than usual. When I get home, I find that my run took somewhere around an hour — I honestly don't care about time during my distance runs. Longs runs are often seen as a runner battling the distance rather than time. But for me, long runs are a journey — both physically and mentally. Each time I run a route, I understand my surroundings and city more and more, and couldn't be more excited and sad to know that I'm leaving this place in a year's time.
"If you look at the acceptance rates of these schools, it's just so difficult to get into even one," he said. "So I would have been happy at any one of them."
The 17-year-old plans to become a neurosurgeon after he finishes college and medical school, eventually going into public policy. To this end, Agbafe said he was looking for a school with strong government, economics, and science programs.
Agbafe has graciously shared his Common Application essay with us, which we've reprinted in full below:
Why I Refuse to be Silent
"Wow I thought black people are supposed to be scary." This honest and uncensored statement that a little girl recanted as I recited my biographical speech on Florence Nightingale clothed in the white sheets that represented Ms. Nightingale's pure heart tore down my dignity and self-esteem to shreds like a machete chopping off the foundation of a plant. Nevertheless, these words instilled a spark in me to relentlessly stand up for others that are unjustly judged.
Many years later, I was prompted to act when my friend grumbled about how the Day of Silence for LGBTQ individuals that I and some members of the diversity club initiated was garbage. At first I ignored him, but then as I overheard him tell his likeminded friend that he would "never have a college roommate who was gay," that very spark in me was lit and I felt morally obligated to challenge this prejudiced line of thinking.
I began to ask him if he would really refuse to have a roommate who was gay. As our conversation escalated, his face turned red, my heart beat faster, and our voices grew louder. My friend felt that one couldn't be a devout Catholic like myself and yet support gay marriage. I countered by attacking his Biblical argument that gay marriage is a moral abomination with my belief that Christianity should be about love and acceptance of others. After a drawn-out argument in which I constantly refuted my friends points, I remembered that inner beat-down I had suffered many years ago that had really triggered my confrontational stance. This was about a whole lot more than a logical or ethical argument, this was about an attack on my human rights.
I don't know what it feels like to be gay, bisexual, or transgender, but I do know what it is like to have a facade of inferiority hang over me because I look "scary." I know how worthless it is to pat the victim on the back or assure him in times of privacy that "it doesn't matter what she thinks." This applies even in the most intimate of settings as I find my friend is not the only one I must confront on such issues but also my own personal heroes. "But granny regardless of what the bible says isn't the struggle for gay rights just like the struggle for racial equality?" I know that it may seem wrong to challenge those that have unconditionally loved and taken care of you, but I must do so in order to ensure that others can feel this same love from all people.
I speak up because when one sees an injustice and just shrugs one's shoulder it is just like promoting it. We live in a society of interdependence in which we must be allies for each other in all social spheres for the continual progress of society as a whole. If one analyzes any prolonged societal injustice against any social group in history, one will see that a critical component in its persistence was the silent approval of the unaffected. I will admit that it can be very confusing at times to stand up for others, especially when it involves challenging ideal systems I've always considered absolute or people I look up to. But in order to reap the vast benefits of the great diversity around us we must take to heart the sorrows of our fellow human-being and make them our own.