Ethel “Ellie” Hylton
Ethel “Ellie” Hylton. (Photo by Nataliya Nedzhvetskaya)

Ethel “Ellie” Hylton has always been a high achiever. Perhaps it runs in the family. As the niece of news anchor Soledad O’Brien, Hylton’s personal achievement in graduating from Harvard College with the highest GPA in her class might not come as a surprise.

“My aunt has been a friend and an inspiration since I was a little girl,” Hylton told theGrio. “I’ve enjoyed watching her career, and I admire all the success she’s had by taking risks and following her passion. It’s always fun getting together with her and the rest of my extended family!”

Hylton, who graduated this year with a degree in sociology, was honored with the Sophia Freund Prize, which is given to the Harvard student with the highest grade point average graduating summa cum laude. She was also inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa Society last fall.

Hylton credits the support of her parents (who also graduated from Harvard magna cum laude in 1982) with much of her ability to attain success.

Credits parents with her success

“I feel like I owe everything to my parents,” Hylton said. “They have been the most supportive people in my life. They always have supported me academically and [in] my extra-curricular activities. My parents never really pushed me in any particular direction. I never felt pressured to achieve because of my parents.

“They barely ever mentioned Harvard when I was growing up. My family is supportive, but not pushy,” she reiterated. “They want me to do my best, but they will never tell me that I have to achieve a certain standard.”

Even without external pressure, Hylton has achieved greatly. In addition to ranking number one in her graduating Harvard class, she already has plans to start work as an associate for a public policy research company, which is an extension of her interest in social issues.

Getting ready for policy research

Hylton stated that this position is a “natural transition for me as [it] is an extension of the research that I have done in undergrad.” For two years, Hylton was a fellow of the Mellon Mays Program, which prepares minority students who have a strong interest in pursuing a PhD.

“This program led me into a job doing policy research, which is really exciting for me,” Hylton said.

Hylton is not only smart, but is also a good athlete who ran track during her first two years of college. Her time on the track team was, “definitely a good experience,” she said. “Looking back on those first two years, it was great being on a team because I met great new friends really fast.”

Balancing academics and extracurriculars

Plus, her student-athlete status made her a master at time management. “In terms of balancing the schedule, it was a natural transition from high school because I played sports then,” Hylton said. “Coming into college, I knew that I would take my classes early in the morning and make sure I [used] my free time [wisely].”