Troy DeFrancesco and Samuel Adler are friends. They’re on the Long Beach High School winter track team and the math team. They’re also in the National Honor Society together.
Now, Troy and Sam are the class of 2024 valedictorian and salutatorian.
DeFrancesco, 17, was a dedicated video game player in middle school. He would go to school, do what he needed to do — including his homework, at lunch — and then come home and play. Then, one week in his seventh-grade science class, he was told on a Tuesday that he had three days to study a long list of terms for a Friday quiz.
“Before that, I didn’t study for anything,” he said. “But for that, I realized I (was) going to actually have to study and learn them in order to be successful. Then I realized that in other subjects, if I would just put the additional effort in, then I’d be able to excel that much more.”
When DeFrancesco was growing up, his father, Joe, would tell him to put his best foot forward. So, after that, going into high school, he made sure he always put his maximum effort into anything he did — in and out of the classroom.
His freshman year, he took his hardest class yet, chemistry. The teacher was remote, which made the subject even more difficult. A lot of students complained, and clearly weren’t enjoying the learning experience. DeFrancesco decided that he needed to teach himself a lot of the material in order to do well.
“I realized that, just like in life, there’s two ways you could go,” he said. “You could complain, or you could just try and make the situation better. So, right there, freshman chem set me up with that work ethic.”
The next year, DeFrancesco signed up for an even more difficult class, AP chemistry. He was nervous about it for the entire summer. He had bad dreams about it. One of his neighbors, whom he surfs with, told him, “You’re young. Challenge yourself.”
The class, as expected, was demanding, requiring hours of studying in addition to the classroom work. But he knew that if he could get through it, he could earn an International Baccalaureate Diploma. And he has.
DeFrancesco has been as involved outside the classroom as he has been successful in it. He’s a member of the Math Team, Athletes Helping Athletes, DECA and the Jazz Band, and is president of the Key Club. He has also done a lot of community service, tutored students for the SAT exams and raised money for UNICEF. He plays volleyball and baseball, and was on the winter track and surfing teams.
He wouldn’t have accomplished any of it, he said, without the support of his friends and family — his father; his mother, Michele; and his older sister, Isabella.
“My dad — he always prioritizes having a good time,” Troy said. “In terms of academics, he said if I bring home A’s or bring home F’s, he’s still going to be there for me. He’s just there for me. Same with my mom — she’s super encouraging. She’s there for me every day.”
Of his sister, he said, “She inspired me to be a good student, because she was a good student. I thought it was really cool seeing her excel in and out the classroom. Then I figured that was what I wanted. I wanted to follow in her legacy.”
His classmates have also helped push him — perhaps none more than Adler.
“Congrats equally to my boy Sam,” DeFrancesco said. “We’ve both been pushing each other academically since freshman year. “He’s been a positive influence for me, and I hope he would say the same.”
Adler, 17, is a little different. He has always loved studying and learning. It has even been something of a pastime for him outside school.
“I won’t just do something like play basketball all the time — that’s not something I like to do,” he said. “But I will sit and do math problems for fun in my free time. I like studying a lot, and so it gets me to do it a lot.”
For Adler, learning is all about self-motivation. Sometimes, he said, when teachers give assignments, it can feel like a chore. But when he’s learning on his own time, he loves it.
His favorite subject is science, specifically chemistry. He loves it so much — and is so knowledgeable — that he took part in the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad last year. The Olympiad seriously tests students’ understanding of the subject. Adler scored in the top 150 of around 1,000 who took part across the country.
He was named a National Merit Semifinalist, and is the president of the Math Team. He is also a leader of the Soundwaves a cappella group and a member of the Class of 2024 Club, and performs in the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra, the Pep Band and the Jazz Ensemble. As well, he has competed in cross-country and winter and spring track.
He is also completing an IB Diploma, which he believes has thoroughly prepared him for the next step: college.
“In college, you’ll have maybe six hard classes, and you’re spending about one day a week on each of them, versus here, where you have six hard classes and three easy classes in only 42 minutes in a packed schedule for each of them,” he said. “It’s really teaching me a lot of time management, so when I get to college, it’s going to be easier. There’s a lot of stuff I have to juggle right now, and then once I get to college, I’m going to have a lot of time to do the studying I want.”
Both students are in the thick of the college application process. Adler’s top choices are Cornell, Yale and MIT. So far, DeFrancesco has applied to Northeastern, Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia, Hofstra and Delaware, where his sister went. He was planning to apply to MIT soon.
“Troy’s been the guy,” Adler said. “He’d be calling me on the phone some days, and we just talk for about an hour about something school-related. We really get each other thinking a lot.”