Youngest local grad’s global mindset stems from constant travel growing up |

Youngest local grad’s global mindset stems from constant travel growing up

Bella O'Reilly is the youngest graduate from Steamboat Springs High School in the class of 2021. She graduated in December at age 16. (Courtesy photo)

Bella O’Reilly has traveled to 47 different countries and lived in four. She started preschool while living in the Bahamas, and at 4 years old, O’Reilly returned to the United States having already completed kindergarten.

Since then, she has generally been the youngest student in her class, graduating from Steamboat Springs High School last December at the age of 16. O’Reilly will walk at graduation with her class this weekend as one of the youngest-ever graduates from the school.

“I didn’t ever feel like I was less mature than other kids there; however, sometimes, when people hear your age, they get a little freaked out,” O’Reilly said.

It wasn’t always the plan to graduate early, but after the onset of the pandemic last spring, O’Reilly took some summer classes and loaded her fall schedule.

“I didn’t plan it out very well, but I just crammed it all in in the last year so I could leave in December,” O’Reilly said.

This spring, O’Reilly looked for a learning abroad program that included Spanish immersion learning and a community service focus. After the first program she signed up for in South America was canceled due to COVID-19, she found one that focused on Central America, which was still being offered.

Steamboat Springs High School graduate Bella O'Reilly on a 5,000 meter incline hike in Guatemala this spring, part of a study abroad program that balanced fun activities with community service. (Courtesy)

O’Reilly’s desire to travel has been fueled by her upbringing, which saw her family moving frequently.

“We’ve been traveling my entire life,” O’Reilly said. “It came down to my dad doesn’t like the snow that much.”

Through these moves, she said she realized how much more is out there, and she wanted to see more. For O’Reilly, it is about the people she meets through her travels.

On an internship in India, she worked with a woman named Rashmi who was the head of the department. Hearing her story and learning what Rashmi had to do to support her family made O’Reilly want to meet more people and hear their stories.

“That shocked me, that conversation with her about the realities for people outside of the U.S and the actual struggle that I don’t actually have to deal with,” O’Reilly said. “I wanted to meet a lot of people that just had these crazy cool stories.”

Steamboat has always been the base for the O’Reilly family, but they have also lived in the Bahamas, British Virgin Islands and Australia, where O’Reilly’s dad is originally from.

Traveling this much during school isn’t always easy. She took online classes while living in Australia and had to fly back to take AP tests. Her mother Stephanie said education has always been a priority while the family moved around, and they always made sure the places they lived had an international school.

By taking classes at Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs through the high school, O’Reilly said she is already about a year and a half into college credits, as well, putting her further ahead of those her age.

At an internship she had last fall with Sam Jones, president of All Season Financial Advisors, O’Reilly stood out as a student who went above and beyond. Jones said the program is a combination of internship and financial literacy course.

“She is just on it. It is pretty rare that I run into a 16-year-old that has that kind of maturity and drive,” Jones said.

Other than age, what stood out to Jones was how O’Reilly always had a global world view, always asking questions about how to manage assets from out of the country and how to make various things work while living outside the country. Jones said he is confident O’Reilly will not be working for someone, rather finding a career as an entrepreneur.

After finishing her unusual high school career, O’Reilly didn’t want to go to a traditional business school and study accounting. She found a hands-on focused program with Texas Christian University studying international business.

“I really believe that political borders are kind of irrelevant right now, and that the emphasis on a market in one country is unrealistic and unsuccessful,” O’Reilly said. “I really want to study how different markets interact with each other.”

Ultimately, she would like to start a business based around social investing, which is investing only in companies that have strong social values around the environment or social issues.

“You can feel good about where your money is going,” O’Reilly said. “So hopefully, I can make a lot of money and still be a good person.”

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