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East Bay teen accepted by 122 colleges sets sights on singing career

Oakland teen accepted by 122 colleges sets sights on singing career
Oakland teen accepted by 122 colleges sets sights on singing career 04:04

OAKLAND -- It takes a large suitcase filled to the brim to contain all of the letters of acceptance Oakland's Helms Ategeka has received from colleges around the country.

"These are either acceptance letters or financial aid packages. Sometimes there's boxes like these that contain either T-shirts or accessories that the schools sent out," Helms said.

Beginning last fall, he sent out 150 applications to colleges. Before long, he started hearing back.

It became an avalanche of acceptance: Big universities, small colleges. From near and far, almost all he applied to wanted him.

"So far, I have been accepted into 122 schools and some schools are not out yet," Helms said.

Helms' father says new letters of acceptance are still coming into the mailbox almost every day.

"Every day has been a day of surprise and delight," said Chris Ategeka.

And it's not just acceptance letters -- scholarship offers and potential grants have also come in.

"Sometimes you get something like this that says yes," Helms said holding up a big envelope.

Helms was born in Uganda and lived there until just before high School. He has a 3.94 GPA, several extracurriculars and one true passion: singing.

Helms is a member of the Pacific Boychoir Academy in Oakland and wants to pursue music as a career.

His goal is to be a pop music star one day. But that created some internal pressure and a little bit of conflict at home. 

"Where we're from, those career paths are praised: be a doctor, be an engineer.  Be something stable that can offer you money," Helms said.

It wasn't easy convincing his parents. Chris is an engineer turned business entrepreneur who admits he wanted that for Helms too.

"I realized the things I'm projecting on him -- to be an engineer or an astronaut or doctor -- are not the things that he wants to do.  I had to get into this space of love the child you have, not the one you wish you had," Chris said.

To prove he was serious about his music career, Helms did his research. Every university he applied to has a strong music program and a notable faculty. Out of 122 that accepted him, Helms chose the school just down the street.

"Congratulations! UC Berkeley," Helms said reading his acceptance letter from the University of California.

Helms will be following his father's footsteps because Cal is Chris' alma mater. But Helms will be majoring in music.

"What other students can take away from all of this is to follow your passion," Helms said.

Helms will be off to Peru during the summer to tour with his vocal group. And says he will use his unusual determination to make it in music.

At age 18, Helms' song has just begun.

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