Vickroy: Making the most of his academic gifts
Donna Vickroy firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-5982 May 16, 2012 8:36PM
Eisenhower High School senior Germain Martinez, who scored a 34 on his ACT exam, holds his admission certificate to MIT near a painting of Einstein at Eisenhower High School in Blue Island, Illinois, Monday, May 7, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 18, 2012 8:06AM
When officials at Nathan Hale Elementary School told him in first grade that he was being admitted to the gifted program, frankly, Germain Martinez was worried.
“I thought that meant I had to bring gifts to the teacher,” he said. “I didn’t know how I was going to be able to do that.”
He laughs about it now, but you could say Germain, who earned a 34 on the ACT and recently learned he’d received a free ride to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been gifting his teachers all along.
The soon-to-be Eisenhower High School graduate is the kind of student educators love: He works hard, loves to learn and is genuinely kind. Some even call him humble.
“His positive attitude and superior work ethic are unparalleled to those of his peers,” Eisenhower band director Justin Antos said. “I have always seen Germain assist those who are in need of help, take initiative to better himself academically and artistically and accomplish the most challenging of tasks.”
Indeed, the Alsip teen’s portfolio is packed with accomplishments: Mathletes, band, scholastic bowl, National Honor Society, math honors club, chess club, speech team. He is an Illinois State Scholar and recently auditioned into the Illinois Music Educators Association District 1 Honor Band, surpassing nearly 2,000 other musicians.
“I work really hard,” he said. “It’s your initiative and your devotion that gets you through.”
He admits that kids who grow up in wealthier school districts may have an advantage, but many, he said, don’t cash in on that.
“So much depends on your drive and how much you want something. I know kids from better schools who don’t work very hard,” he said. “I set a standard for myself and followed it through, even with all the distractions that come with growing up.”
Germain, the oldest of seven, figures it was around third grade when he realized he was blessed with above-average intelligence.
“People started saying, ‘Germain, you’re pretty smart,’ ” he recalled.
That was also around the time his family got their first computer. Before that, Germain said he passed many hours reading encyclopedias because his parents, Jose Luis and Flora Martinez, both of whom immigrated from Aguas Calientes, Mexico, couldn’t afford such expensive technology.
“That first computer was really old, someone gave it to us. It had Windows ’98,” Germain said. “I spent hours learning how it worked, taking it apart. My parents said I broke it.”
The average ACT score at Eisenhower varies between 17 and 18, school officials say. But Germain shrugs off the fact that he doubled that.
“Back in third grade I decided I wanted to go to college one day,” he said. “As I got older I thought it would be good if I could get a scholarship.”
Though at first he thought he wanted to go to Harvard, he later decided MIT was the perfect fit for him.
“Everybody there is so committed to what they do. I feel I will fit right in,” he said.
Is he worried about transitioning to a world in which he is just another brainiac?
“I’m actually happy to not be a big fish. I will be able to challenge myself and focus on other things than being at the top,” he said.
He also won’t have the pressure of having to pay for the academic challenge. His scholarship covers tuition, room and board, books, even airfare there and back.
“I wouldn’t be able to afford it otherwise,” he said.
Germain plans to pursue electrical engineering.
“I love math,” he said. “Math is basically all concepts. You just have to figure out how one concept relates to another.”
Michelle Alfano, Spanish teacher at Eisenhower, said, “Germain is an amazing student in many ways. What I like is that despite his superior genius, he is still respectful, humble and has a noble heart.”
Though he’s eager to get started on his future, the 18-year-old admits to feeling waves of nostalgia regarding his Blue Island high school.
He credits so many educators, including math teacher Linda Gruchot and physics teacher Stan Natonek, with helping him keep focused.
“Good teachers help you stay focused, even when you don’t feel like it,” he said.
He seems to understand that being gifted is one thing; turning that gift into something the world can appreciate or benefit from is the ultimate way of returning the favor.