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Donna North High School’s 2015 valedictorian and Gates Millennium Scholarship recipient Gilberto Saenz Jr. has proven that he is a force to be reckoned with.

Now in his third year as a theatre major at Yale University, Saenz recently learned that he was accepted to the National Theatre Institute (NTI) at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center in Waterford, Connecticut June 15-29.

The program and its audition process is highly competitive. Students from as many as 136 colleges from across the globe apply each year but only 16 actors are accepted.

“I felt incredibly excited when I found out I was accepted to NTI. I had my callback at 9 a.m., the morning I found out I was admitted, and received my acceptance a few hours later. The turn-around was very fast — something that doesn’t always happen when auditioning for programs or summer stock. When I found out I was accepted, I knew NTI is what I needed to be doing this summer.”

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Saenz said the news is still sinking in. “The program admits a mix of students and professional actors, so to even be considered a competitor on a professional level is a huge honor. The program is unlike anything offered anywhere else. It is a test of skill, resilience, and an incredible opportunity to learn in a professional theatre environment.”

Notable alumni include Rachel Dratch (30 Rock, Saturday Night Live), Elizabeth Olsen (Avengers: Age of Ultron), Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother), John Krasinski (The Office), Austin Smith (Hamilton), and Rebecca Taichman (Director, Indecent).

The former DNHS graduate said he is honored to be representing Yale, Donna ISD and the DNHS Theatrical Company which he was a part of during high school.

“It is a humbling reminder that hard work pays off. I am so thankful to all the individuals who have invested in me and supported my passion for the Arts. It is an incredible feeling to call my family and Donna ISD administration to be able to tell them that I have been accepted to the program. That is exactly the kind of thing I wanted to be doing this summer.”

Saenz received a scholarship from NTI based on his audition but it is not enough to cover the cost of the program. So, he and his mother are in the process of raising money. “I received a generous scholarship from the Miranda Family Fund to go towards the cost, but the fee is so high due to the program’s prestige that I still have to raise a substantial amount of money.”

He offered words of advice for aspiring student actors like himself. “To all students wishing to pursue the Arts. Do it. Be fearless in your pursuits and work hard — there is room in the world for your talent.”