NEW ROCHELLE — NOT many students receive invitations to take qualifying exams for the United States Physics Team, an elite group of 24 young scientists chosen from 207 top scorers.
And not many who make the final cut pass up that prestigious opportunity.
For Matthew Fasman, 18, who graduates from New Rochelle High School as salutatorian of a 585-member class, the honor couldn’t compete with commitments he had made to the high school band and his track team.
"I have an obligation to my team, and I had my last high school concert," said Mr. Fasman, who declined a berth on the physics team. "I wanted to do those more."
That decision, said those who know Mr. Fasman, goes some way toward explaining why he is one of the more unusual people to emerge from Westchester’s class of 2004.
The county is hardly lacking in bright, successful students who are headed for the Ivy League and other elite universities. But some of them have unabashedly sought tutors to improve scholastic performance and selected their extracurricular and volunteer activities with an eye to how those pastimes would look on a college application. Mr. Fasman stands out because his achievements haven’t been buffed or bought.
"Matthew is probably the most extraordinary kid I’ve ever had the privilege of counseling," said Mike Tedesco, a guidance counselor at New Rochelle High. "He’s an extraordinary human being. He’s intellectually gifted, but he doesn’t flaunt it. There’s a genuine sense of humility and decency. He’s remained a kid -- someone who acts his age."
Mr. Fasman’s accomplishments are indeed impressive. He is a National Merit Scholar finalist; a National Advanced Placement scholar, with perfect fives on nine exams, all taken before his senior year; a Byrd scholar; an Intel semifinalist for his work in computer science (which he conducted with a Princeton professor); a winner of one of 1,308 national scholarships financed by Best Buy Children’s Foundation; and one of 12 finalists in the Wendy’s High School Heisman Award program for students talented in athletics and academics. He is also one of 141 finalists, selected from a field of 2,700, in the 2004 Presidential Scholars Program.
He has attained the rank of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts; volunteers with the New Rochelle Youth Court; heads the swim and track teams (he clocked the fastest relay time in 20 years); played water polo for the Empire State Team; and heads the youth group at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in New Rochelle. Oh, and last summer, he spent a few weeks as a Habitat for Humanity volunteer in Yonkers.
"I don’t like being bored," Mr. Fasman said.
Small chance of that, when he is also a member of the high school’s "Academic" team (the high school equivalent of College Bowl) and model United Nations, as well as vice president of the National Honor Society.
He is the older of two brothers who grew up in New Rochelle; his father is a dentist and his mother an actuary. He works as a lifeguard at Rye American Yacht Club and volunteers as a homework tutor in his church’s after-school program.
Not quite everything comes easily to him, however. Trumpet has been a challenge, even though he has remained with the band throughout high school.
"He’s practiced really hard," Robert Freeberg, director of bands for New Rochelle High, said in a telephone interview. "From Day 1, Matt knew band was not going to be about him as the star. The mathematical part of music he understood; the physical part he had to work at."
Similarly, Mr. Fasman said one reason for his heavy involvement in sports was that, as a fourth grader, he had been frustrated by the difficulties he experienced in a triathlon.
"I had asthma," he said. "I joined the Iona swim team."
He is headed to Harvard in September (he also got into M.I.T., Yale, Princeton, Emory, Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). He expects to study physics, math, economics and French, and would ultimately like to pursue an academic career.
"I’m thinking of being a college professor in physics or math," he said. "I have trouble working for money."
June 20, 2004