At one month old, Luke Sorensen was abandoned in front of a police station in his birth country of China. Now, at 17 years old, Marana High School’s 2018 valedictorian is preparing for his first semester at Harvard.
No one knows why Sorenson was abandoned, but it is likely because he was born with a cleft lip and palate. Though, after a preliminary surgery while he was still a baby, the cleft was fixed. For the first three years of his life, Sorensen lived in an orphanage in Xi’an, China.
“I don’t remember much from those days,” Sorensen said. “Most of what I know is from what others have told me.”
One of the biggest things others have told him about from that time was the day he left to live in Tucson with his new parents: July 7, 2003.
“My parents told me I wasn’t one to look back and linger on the past,” Sorensen said. “When I was adopted, I just turned around, waved goodbye and headed off with my new family.”
Luke was adopted by Deborah and Mark Sorensen, an American family with four children.
“The adoption process is so long,” Deborah said. “You have to satisfy three governments: Arizona, the US and China. By the time you’re done with all the paperwork it looks like you have a thesis statement. But we had this little boy waiting for us, so we couldn’t get it done fast enough.”
In total, Luke’s parents adopted six children, all from China. Two of them are even from the same orphanage as Luke.
“We didn’t set out to do all this,” Deborah said. “At first we only set out to adopt Luke. But once I had been to an orphanage, it changed everything for me.”
The transition was a bit difficult. Sorensen took speech therapy classes due to his cleft lip and palate. But he excelled in school subjects, including English.
“I grew up mostly as a normal kid,” he said. “Although it was kind of odd growing up with Caucasian parents with me being Chinese. But my brothers and sisters balanced that out.”
Although Sorensen showed academic promise, he says that wasn’t really something imposed by his family.
“What I really like about my parents is that they don’t push us all to be very academic,” he said. “Some of my siblings are more artistic. They let us pursue what we like.”
His parents said they always knew he would do something spectacular.
“He is so bright,” Deborah said. “He soars to the front of everything he does.”
During his time at Marana High School, Sorensen competed in varsity swimming, academic decathlon and essay contests.
“I knew that I wanted to go to a good school,” he said. “I’ve always had the mindset to make the most of whatever I have.”
So he buckled down, did his schoolwork and applied himself. But even as valedictorian, he didn’t think he would get into Harvard. And even if he was accepted, paying for the Ivy-League university was another burden entirely.
“I just focused myself on every piece of the process,” he said. “It kind of happened gradually. I knew that if Harvard accepted me, they would find a way to let me go.”
The annual costs for tuition, room and board at Harvard University can cost upwards of $70,000, a daunting number for a family with ten kids. But Sorensen entered national essay and testing contests, and came out as a National Merit winner. His awards and scholarships included a $60,000 Harvard Faculty Scholarship and a $2,500 National Merit Scholarship.
“The financial aid is what’s allowing me to go at all,” Sorensen said. “They did everything they could to get me in.”
Deborah said when they found out Harvard accepted Luke, he was stunned, as was everyone else. And even now, it still seems a bit unreal.
“A lot of people were pretty amazed when I was accepted,” he said. “Some of them kind of expected it from me, but some were incredulous because Harvard is almost mystical.”
Sorensen is leaving this August to study software engineering, and as is his style, taking advantage of any and all offers presented to him.
“There will just be so many opportunities,” he said. “I especially want to get involved in research. I’ll just focus on taking it all in, and being as aware as I can be, so I can make the most of everything.”