Zavier Chavez, the valedictorian at Chattanooga Center for Creative Arts, is percussionist with the CCA Jazz Band, Chamber Orchestra and Wind Ensemble.
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Zavier Chavez learned Latin percussion from his father, Jose Chavez, as well as David Hoffecker and Aaron Moore, his instructors at Chattanooga Center for Creative Arts. He plays conga drums with the CCA Jazz Band.

Zavier Chavez began dreaming of attending Harvard University when he was in ninth grade.

"I never thought it was feasible," said the 18-year-old valedictorian of Chattanooga Center for Creative Arts' class of 2019.

Other than the expense of attending an Ivy League school, his doubt was rooted in the fact Harvard has historically had a 5.2% acceptance rate among its applicants. That translates to just five admitted out of every 100 who apply. This year, according to an admissions report in The Harvard Crimson student newspaper, that acceptance rate was a record low 4.5 % for the incoming class of 2023.

But count Chavez among the 1,950 who were accepted from 43,330 who applied.

Chavez will attend Harvard this fall on a full ride. He is the recipient of an ROTC scholarship with stipend that will cover his tuition, board and books for four years — roughly $216,000.

The CCA graduate is one of more than 50 valedictorians from regional public and private high schools that the Times Free Press is featuring in its annual valedictorian salute, which begins today and continues through Sunday. Look for photos and profiles inside the A section today through Saturday, and a two-page look at all the valedictorians on Sunday in Life.

Chavez is the son of Jose and Kym Chavez and attended CCA for six years. He majored in instrumental studies with an emphasis on percussion at the performing arts magnet school.

Although CCA does not have a JROTC program, Chavez was the recipient of a Harvard ROTC scholarship because he plans a career in the U.S. Army. He researched the college admissions process and how he could go to college as well as serve his country.

"My mother was a captain in the Army. Patriotism has always been important to my family," he said.

The ROTC scholarship required a strong academic record, interview and passing a fitness test. To accomplish the latter, he began a fitness plan in his junior year that included 50 push-ups, 50 sit-ups and running a mile — all done in succession.

"My career plan is to go to law school. If I get picked up by the JAG Corps, it will pay my tuition to law school. I can envision myself having a lifetime career in the military," he said.

"If I go into the JAG program, I will practice military law. But if I choose to leave the military [after his service], then I would consider civil law. My heart is for the people," said the teen.

Chavez has also considered immigration law, motivated by his Hispanic heritage (his father is from Mexico).

"I have such a soft spot for Hispanic people, especially now when we are in need of immigration reform. People want to debate about it but this is people's lives we are dealing with. The U.S. should be a place where people are welcome. Everyone who lives here should work to live here, and for someone to not even be given the chance is wrong."

Chavez blazed a trail of academic honors and leadership achievements as he worked toward his college goal. Following is a partial list of his honors:

* Selected as a U.S. Presidential Scholar, a national honor that recognizes one graduating female and male in each state for educational excellence, leadership and community service.

* Member of the Superintendent's Student Advisory Council his junior year, secretary his senior year.

* Participant in CCA's Destination Imagination team, which won first place at the global finals in Kansas City, Missouri, last month.

* Served as senior class president, sophomore class vice president.

* National Honor Society vice president.

* Percussionist for the CCA jazz band, chamber orchestra and wind ensemble.

* Volunteered as a docent at Houston Museum of Decorative Arts.

* Volunteered for McKamey Animal Center, Chattanooga Zoo's Go Fest and Splash, an arts program founded by artist Charlie Newton for underprivileged children.

* Volunteered as a music and academic tutor for underclassmen at CCA.

"Zavier is so deliberate in all his actions," said Deborah Smith, CCA principal. "As a leader, he has had such a mature, well-rounded outlook. The kids respect him. He's very humble, and it's been such a joy to work with him."

Chavez said he is leaving CCA with a deep respect for the faculty who "pushed me to my fullest extent."

"The fact I got Presidential Scholar and a full ride to Harvard is not my success," he said. "That's my family's and everyone who has loved me and taught me along the way. That's their success as well. In the game of life, it's not all about me."

Contact Susan Pierce at or 423-757-6284.