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News > Mill Hill Now > A Better Chance Bursary Campaign

A Better Chance Bursary Campaign

OM, Jonathan Bertulis-Fernandes (Priestley 2008-10) reflects on his time at the Foundation and the impact attending Mill Hill has had on his life...
Jonathan Bertulis-Fernandes
Jonathan Bertulis-Fernandes

- Describe Mill Hill in three words?

Life-changing, dynamic, friendly.

- What is your greatest memory of Mill Hill?

I have many great memories of my time at Mill Hill: whether that is hanging out with friends in House or on the quad during breaks and lunch times, playing rugby for the 3rd XV, or having the opportunity to study totally new subjects and areas. Being made Head of House will always be a particularly special memory for me, as will learning I was being offered a full scholarship/bursary (after what felt like a grueling set of interviews/entrance exams) that enabled me to attend in the first place. I remember being unbelievably excited when I found out that I would be able to attend Mill Hill and I could not wait for the term to begin!

- How did you/ your family hear about the McClure/ ABC Bursary Scheme?

Goggle search

- Can you tell us about your favourite teacher?

This is a hard one as the number of truly outstanding teachers I had at Mill Hill is really disproportionate to the relatively short time I was there for sixth form. If I had to pick one in terms of overall impact on me, however, it would have to be Steve Plummer. He was my housemaster in Priestley and also taught me classics. The very epitome of an avuncular figure, he was an unbelievably formative influence on me while I was at Mill Hill and as I look back on my late teens more broadly: both academically but also personally. I had never had the opportunity to study classics before and Steve taught me Latin in his spare time, spent hours talking with me outside of class and fostering my academic interests in classical literature and art, and also taught me Eton Fives. Steve also appointed me as Head of House, which gave me one of my first tastes of being in a leadership position. Above all, Steve was a real mentor and I owe him an enormous debt of gratitude, I am certain I would not have been able to do everything I did at Mill Hill and since leaving without his support. As with all life-changing teachers, I see the effects of Steve’s impacts on me every single day. I have stayed in contact with Steve since leaving and hope to be able to meet up with him in person once situations allow.

- What did you go on to do after leaving Mill Hill?

I finished at Mill Hill in 2010 and initially took a gap year (I actually worked part of this year in the Mill Hill admissions office) and then went on to study International Relations and Social Anthropology at the University of St Andrews, with a period of study abroad in Hong Kong and Copenhagen. In my final year at St Andrews, I was selected for the Robert T. Jones Memorial Trust Scholarship and spent the year after graduating at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. While I was in Atlanta, I interned for a U.S. Senator and in the research department at The Carter Center – the nonprofit founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. I was then offered a job at The Carter Center and worked for a few months before moving to New York City in 2018. Since being in New York, I have worked as Grant Writer at The Legal Aid Society, which is the oldest and largest social justice law firm in the U.S. We provide legal services and representation to vulnerable individuals while also conducting affirmative and law reform litigation – directly serving more than 300,000 people and impacting millions through our work each year. Since starting, I have worked on everything from securing funds to represent detained undocumented clients facing deportation by the Trump Administration to supporting efforts to ensure shelter access for New Yorkers experiencing homelessness. I have always been centrally focused on public service and effecting broader social change and my time working at Legal Aid has been revelatory for me in seeing the impact that effective advocacy can have for vulnerable and marginalized communities. In this vein, this autumn I begin studying for a Juris Doctor degree at Boston College Law School on a full-tuition Public Service Scholarship. While I have been in New York, in my spare time I have got very involved with outreach to unsheltered populations and individuals experiencing housing instability and I am interested in a future career as a civil rights attorney working with homeless populations.

- What life lessons did you learn at Mill Hill?

My time at Mill Hill was beyond impactful for me and it is truly impossible to quantify the impact that the school has had, and indeed continues to have, on me. I formed truly life-long relationships and am in regular contact with at least ten Old Millhillians who are among my closest friends to this day. While at Mill Hill I learnt the importance of self-reliance, expanding your comfort zone, but also of being appreciative of who you are and confident in the value of your input and perspectives. At the same time, I also learnt the importance of having a go and not allowing yourself to be limited in your thinking or approaches. On a personal level, I have had a stammer my entire life and my time at Mill Hill taught me that this should not be a constraint on my ambitions or future career plans.

- How has Mill Hill helped you to achieve your ambitions?

It is truly impossible to quantify the impact that the school has had, and indeed continues to have, on me. Mill Hill broadened my horizons in ways that were simply unimaginable to me before I started. Perhaps more simply: Mill Hill taught me that nothing was off limits to me. I had never studied classics before but was able to study Latin and Classical Civilisation for A Level and visit Greece for a week-long trip. I was encouraged to enter the pan-European CICERO classics competition and ended up being awarded first place in my upper sixth year. I took part in two exchanges with our partner school in Germany and was awarded one of eight places for UK sixth form students on a month-long scholarship trip around Germany by the German Government. All of these opportunities expanded my world view and challenged my previously held views regarding my potential and what was possible for me to achieve. This has been the foundation for everything I have been able to achieve since leaving Mill Hill and, I hope, will go on to achieve. That I - a Brit who grew up in London far removed from matters of American Jurisprudence - am now embarking on a career as a civil rights attorney is due in no small part to my time at Mill Hill.

- What do you think makes Mill Hill special?

I think for me it is the school’s central emphasis on creating truly well-rounded people. There is academic rigour but it is recognised and understood that this is only one component of being successful and a productive member of society. Looking back on my time at Mill Hill I see an overriding emphasis on decency, fairness, and friendship and there is a clear link between the broader ethos at the school and my work in public service now. Indeed, it was this focus on developing personal qualities that attracted me to studying at Mill Hill in the first instance. There is an emphasis on doing good, but individuals are supported in finding their own way to contribute. There is no real typical Mill Hill student and I think this is really a key strength of the school: students are supported to develop their own interests and excel in whatever diverse fields they choose. I also think it speaks volumes how many Old Millhillians, across an entire spectrum of school leaving dates, still maintain an active relationship with the school - I am a Life Guardian and attend Old Millhillian events over here in New York and the numbers of OMs who are still involved is always striking to me.

- What advice would you give to a prospective pupil of Mill Hill?

Go for it! Starting at Mill Hill was easily the best and most impactful decision I have ever made, and I have not looked back since. It set me off on the path to working where I am now, opened numerous doors along the way, and turned me into the person I am today. Make sure that you take advantage of all of the opportunities on offer but also really use the time to focus on laying the foundation for growing into the person you want to become. I made truly life-long friends and an overwhelming portion of my social network now is made up of people I met at school, take time to get to know and learn from others.

- What would you say to a prospective donor who is thinking about donating to bursaries?

As I said earlier, it is impossible for me to quantify the impact Mill Hill has had on my life. There is a clear line between the work I am now doing and all of the opportunities I have had along the way and my time at Mill Hill. I cannot emphasize enough the gratitude I feel to the donors who enabled me to have this opportunity and I think constantly about the ways I can return the support that has been given to me. Indeed, as someone who themselves plans to donate to Mill Hill’s bursary schemes once my career takes off, I am certain that donating to bursaries are among the best and most impactful ways of giving. Being able to study at Mill Hill truly changed my life and, for me, there is no bigger gift to be able to give someone.

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