MUHS’s Nico Brayton wins prestigious scholarship

MIDDLEBURY — Nico Brayton is a top-notch pianist; he’s played the instrument for 11 years. The Middlebury Union High School junior was picked as the Vermont representative for the Music Teachers National Association competition for solo piano last year.
But what he was most recently able to orchestrate — through top-notch grades, community service and perseverance — was arguably the sweetest music he’s ever produced.
Brayton, 16, has been named one of only four national recipients of a 2019 Coolidge Scholarship that will give him a full ride to the college or university of his choice, once he graduates from MUHS in 2020. It will also allow him to occasionally travel to network with other young scholars and academicians during his four undergraduate years.
“I’m really excited,” he said of the scholarship award and the impact it will have on his education and future career plans.
Among other things, it will allow him to apply to a variety of top-notch schools — including Harvard, Yale and Brown — without having to worry about incurring a boatload of student loans to pay off.
And the scholarship also comes as a blessing to his younger sister, Nell.
“I’m most happy about the fact that she will have no (college) debt,” he said, noting his college savings can now be rolled into her fund.
“It’s a real lottery ticket.”
Nico and Nell’s parents are Dan Brayton and Antonia Losano, both Middlebury College educators. It was Dan Brayton — a big fan of Calvin Coolidge — who encouraged his son to apply for the scholarship that bears the name of the U.S. president and native Vermonter.
The Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation, dedicated to preserving the legacy and promoting the values of America’s 29th commander in chief, awards the annual scholarship. John Coolidge, the president’s son, established the foundation in 1960 in concert with a group of fellow Coolidge enthusiasts. The foundation is based at the president’s birthplace in Plymouth Notch, Vermont.
Students apply for the Coolidge Scholarship during their junior year of high school. Finalists are flown in for a weekend at the Coolidge Historic Site in Plymouth Notch, where they interview with a Coolidge Scholars Finalist Jury, currently headed by former Vermont Gov. James Douglas of Middlebury.
Since Coolidge was a dedicated student, the scholarship jury places great weight on applicants’ school grades. Secondary emphasis is placed on demonstrated interest in public policy, an appreciation for the values Coolidge championed, as well as humility and service to others.
Nico Brayton (pictured, left) fit the bill on pretty much all counts, the 10-person jury found.
He’s an AP Scholar currently carrying a 4.11 grade point average. Brayton helped lead the MUHS Scholars Bowl team to the Vermont semifinals in 2018 and 2019, while placing second in the state as an individual. He’s passionate about math and has competed in several national math competitions. He was part of an MUHS team that spent 14 hours straight charting the spread and impact of substance abuse as part of the 2019 Mathworks Math Modeling Challenge.
Brayton is president of the MUHS Student Council, was recently accepted into the National Honors Society, and captained the boys’ varsity cross country team this year.
He regularly shares his love of music with others, having performed recitals for the homeless and concerts for the elderly. Brayton volunteers at local community suppers and at local nursing homes.
After giving his time and talents so freely to others, he is now receiving a richly deserved reward.
Karma is indeed his muse.
But let’s also remember his reward was earned — not only through his impressive resumé, but also through the Coolidge Foundation’s rigorous application process. Applicants were required, among other things, to read a Coolidge autobiography and submit three essays. Each hopeful was asked to write about his or her academic interests; their impressions of Coolidge, based on his autobiography; and how Coolidge might address the current national debt.
Brayton was asked to talk about his essays during a roughly 30-minute interview before the scholarship jury.
“Coolidge was a fiscal conservative, so he was all about thinning the government,” said Brayton. “One thing I wrote about is that before Coolidge, there was (President) Warren G. Harding, who had a lot of scandals and there was a lot of corruption and a lot of people in government who didn’t have to be there, taking up salaries and benefits and running up the budget deficits.”
Coolidge, he noted, was able to erase some of his predecessor’s mistakes and thus help chart a more austere spending path, with lower federal taxes. He believes the president would try the same approach if he were alive and currently the county’s chief executive.
“Today, I see a (federal) government that’s kind of riddled with scandal and corruption, and I think if Coolidge was the next president, he could cut down on some of our largest programs and also get rid of a lot of government employees,” Brayton said.
Brayton’s parents have seen what more people don’t see — how hard their son has worked to earn the scholarship.
“There’s a myth about kids like Nico that says everything comes easily, which could not be further from the truth,” Dan Brayton and Antonia Losano said in a joint comment. “Nico works harder than anyone we know. He can’t stop studying and never could. He loves to do math for hours on end.”
They also produced a long list of teachers and counselors and MUHS who have helped their son, credited his earlier education at Aurora and North Branch schools “unlocking his love of learning like nothing else could. (North Branch lead teacher) Tal Birdsey was Nico’s intellectual mentor at a crucial stage. Rose Messner and Erik Warren also made challenging math and science a lot of fun.
And, of course, they credited piano teacher Cynthia Huard for her immeasurable influence on Nico.
The next five years will be very eventful ones for Brayton. He’ll begin his senior year at MUHS this fall, looking to maintain his lofty GPA, community contributions, and piano proficiency. Then will come a brand new challenge: college. And all the while, he will be invited to Coolidge Foundation functions, including several orientation days at Plymouth Notch this summer.
As a foundation scholar, Brayton will  get to know Coolidge and his world, and help the organization oversee its renowned debate programs. He and his fellow scholars will be invited to return to Plymouth Notch for a week during summers while in college.
Brayton is currently working on a project to redesign the road network near MUHS, using his mathematical abilities to reduce traffic congestion. He’s also training to be a mentor to members of next year’s incoming MUHS freshman class.
While he once had aspirations of becoming a concert pianist, Brayton is now targeting a career as a math educator. He is also interested in public policy and looks forward to taking some political science courses in the future.
Brayton is anxious to meet his fellow 2019 Coolidge scholars, who include students from Demarest, N.J.; Irvine, Calif.; and Danvers, Mass.
“The conversations I can now have with these people will be amazing,” he said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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