Like many high school seniors, Phoenix Ocean was worried she wouldn’t be able to take the ACT before applying to colleges. Ocean, a Duluth Denfeld High School senior, was scheduled to take the test last spring but her test was canceled due to the pandemic.
She was, however, finally able to take last fall.
“I wasn’t feeling quite sure about how it went because it was in such an unusual setting,” Ocean said.
Ocean took the ACT in the gymnasium with other students spread out 6 feet apart.
“I’ve never taken any sort of test in the gym before, besides a physical one,” she said.
But the different setting clearly didn’t hinder Ocean as she scored a 36, the highest possible score on the ACT.
“I got a letter in the mail that had my score and I almost couldn’t believe my eyes when I was reading it. I thought I must be reading it wrong,” Ocean said. “Then I read the letter all the way through and realized that it was a 36 and it was so shocking and so exciting.”
Ocean ran out of her room to tell her mother, Rachel Mock, the good news. Mock said she had never taken the ACT before so when Ocean notified her, she didn’t quite know how to react at first.
“I was like, ‘Is that good? What does that mean?’” Mock said, adding she then realized almost right away that “it’s remarkable and exceptional. Just totally amazing.”
Out of the 1.67 million students who took the ACT in 2020, only 5,579 students scored a 36. In Minnesota, only 169 students scored a 36 of the 56,705 students who took it.
“It’s been hard as a mom to see this senior year just be a long string of disappointments, so it just feels like such a relief to have something that we can just be 100% joyful about,” Mock said.
As for the future, Ocean said she hopes to attend her dream school, the University of Chicago. She said she’s not sure what she wants to study yet but is leaning toward something English related.
“I think it’s a beautiful city and I’ve been there a few times,” Ocean said. “Overall, everything I’ve heard about it has been super positive and all the literature I’ve gotten from them is very interesting.”
Mock said she’s really proud of her daughter.
“It’s beautiful to watch her pursue her own interests with such passion, drive, determination and grit,” she said. “She’s totally her own person and she’s always been really academically oriented and definitely embodies that Capricorn excellence that she was born with.”
Though Ocean has been distance learning since March when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, she has still managed to stay involved in her school as well as the school district as a whole.
For the past year, Ocean has served as the Denfeld student representative on the Duluth School Board and she has been one of the most vocal student representatives. Ocean has worked with her counterpart on the School Board, East High School senior Nabiha Imtiaz, on showing a united front with issues that are important to students.
They have both been vocal about school resource officers, distance learning issues and student mental health issues during distance learning.
“Phoenix is a brilliant creative and reflective leader that pushes those around her to make better decisions and more thoughtful solutions to complex issues,” Superintendent John Magas said.
Duluth School Board member and Denfeld graduate Alanna Oswald said Ocean has been very engaged and her ability to question system practices while asking for accountability is unlike most other student representatives she has worked with.
“She shines in the boardroom, and her success in the classroom and on the ACT reinforces that she has a future that can take her anywhere,” Oswald said. “I’m very proud of Phoenix and I’m sure the entire Denfeld community is excited to see what she accomplishes next in life.”
Ocean said her experience on the School Board has taught her a lot more than she expected.
“It’s taught me about how to do research and how to present ideas,” Ocean said. “It also taught me how to accept when my ideas are not necessarily accepted right away and how to deal with that and turn it around so I can keep moving forward.”
When asked if she would ever consider running for public office in the future, Ocean said she wasn’t sure.
“If I were to it would definitely be a long way down the road,” she said.