Incoming UC student proves that the past does not define you

Marcus Elliott was surprised on Decision Day, but he surprised everyone else too

In April 2022, Marcus Elliott walked into an auditorium to participate in the Junior Achievement regional Stock Market Challenge, a finance competition where area high school students make decisions based on a stock market simulation.

Elliott, an Oyler School senior at the time, thought the competition might be interesting, so he joined a team on a whim. On the day of the competition, however, the rest of his team didn’t show. Instead of going home, he asked if he could compete solo. 

Within 30 minutes Elliott was at the top of the leader board and at the end of the hour he had won the competition, beating out 60 other teams. Weeks later, in May, he led a team that took sixth place, out of 5,000 teams, in the national competition. 

Marcus Elliott standing outside with the UC band and UC officials. Elliott is holding a certificate with his Marian Spencer Scholarship.

Marcus Elliott (center) wearing his Oyler honors regalia on May 20, 2022 at UC's Fifth Third Arena. Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Creative + Brand

While Elliott’s stock market savvy is impressive, what’s even more impressive is that in only four short years he went from being dubbed by a peer as the kid “least likely to succeed” to becoming Oyler’s valedictorian and the recipient of one of the University of Cincinnati’s Marian Spencer Scholarships, which provides four years of full tuition, room and board and a travel abroad experience in Tanzania along with other opportunities. 

Elliott was one of 10 Cincinnati Public School (CPS) students awarded the scholarship, which was established in 2021 to support high achieving CPS seniors.

Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, not even when you doubt yourself.

Marcus Elliott Oyler Class of 2022 valedictorian and incoming UC freshman

Marcus Elliott standing outside with the UC band and UC officials. Elliott is holding a certificate with his Marian Spencer Scholarship.

The UC band and officials surprised Marcus Elliott (center) on Decision Day, Jan. 24, 2022. Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Creative + Brand

“Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, not even when you doubt yourself, if you really want something, work for it and give it your all and eventually you will obtain that very thing you thought was unobtainable, I promise,” Elliott told an audience of Oyler graduates in his valedictorian speech on May 20, at UC’s Fifth Third Arena.

In the speech he shared words of encouragement, but also offered up a glimpse of his difficult past: D’s and F’s throughout middle school, 22 suspensions in eighth grade; and, regrettably, how he watched his mother, Amanda Taylor, cry because his grades and track record were so terrible that he might not even get into high school. “I was so lost and naïve,” he says of the times he spent hours alone in his room or getting into mischief and looking at school as “just a place I had to go.” 

Mother, Amanda Taylor, hugging her son, Marcus Elliott, in a doorway

Amanda Taylor hugging Marcus upon his learning he was awarded a UC Marian Spencer Scholarship. Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Creative + Brand

However, upon seeing his mother’s distress and then learning he’d been accepted to Oyler, he says “I think that was the moment.” He knew things needed to turn around; he had already understood how his mother and her experiences as an addiction survivor proved that anything is possible. “I have to give myself credit, but I didn’t do all this by myself. My mother is the strongest person I know.” 

“I look at him now and think, ‘Wow, the changes he made are remarkable,’” Taylor says of her son’s accomplishments. But she had to make remarkable changes herself to earn custody of Marcus and his older sister, Angie Elliott, in 2018 just as Marcus finished middle school. 

Now a care coordinator at an addiction treatment center, his mother says she made it her goal, first and foremost, to create a family environment where her children could thrive. “We all started to bond,” over board games and family dinners, she says.

Marcus Elliott and family seated at a restaurant table

Life was rocky in the beginning, but family means everything to Marcus Elliott shown here with his mother, Amanda Taylor,(front, left) and sisters Angie and Kayla Elliott. Photo/provided by Elliott.

Marcus also came to admire his older sister’s drive and determination: Angie Elliott, a third-year UC student majoring in social work, was Oyler’s valedictorian of 2019 and the recipient of a UC Gen-1 scholarship. When she talks about her brother’s accomplishments, the feeling of admiration is mutual. “I’ve never had someone younger than I am who I’ve looked up to, but I do him. He’s come such a long way.”

The 180-degree turnaround was astounding, and “Marcus was laser focused his entire time in high school,” says Brian Talbert, one of Oyler’s college coordinators. Talbert was present when Elliott was surprised at his home in Price Hill — by UC leadership and the UC band — with the scholarship package in January 2022. Talbert says he will never forget Elliott’s ecstatic reaction: “They picked the perfect person. It was the best day of his life.”

Marcus Elliott in his cap and gown graduating from Oyler

Marcus Elliott, a happy Oyler grad on May 20, 2022. Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Creative + Brand

As for Elliott, he is still basking in his recent successes. He will enter UC in the fall with an exploratory major, but after the Stock Market Challenge, he said: “I might be thinking about something in finance.”

Read more about all of the 2022 Marian Spencer Scholars.

Featured image at top of Marcus Elliott by Andrew Higley/UC Creative + Brand

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