This Sun-Star news story was one to make everyone in Merced feel proud: Derrick Ma, a junior at El Capitan High School, achieved a perfect score on the ACT exam.
How hard is that to achieve? Only two-tenths of 1 percent of those who take the ACT nationally earn the composite score of 36, like Derrick did. Last year nearly 2 million students in the U.S. took the exam. Just over 600 in California reached the 36-score plateau of 118,000 who tested.
“A perfect score on the ACT is really good to submit” to universities, Derrick told the Sun-Star’s Shawn Jansen in characteristic understatement.
The ACT and the SAT are the standardized tests most colleges and universities consider when looking at student applications. Derrick missed one question on the SAT and ended up with a score of 1,580 — not the perfect 1,600.
It is no stretch to say that Derrick is one of the top high school students in the nation, based on his test results. But he is not a one-dimensional bookworm.
Derrick begins each school day at 7 a.m. when he joins his teammates on the El Capitan academic decathlon team. Then it is a full day of classes that includes biotechnology, advanced placement physics, AP U.S. history, AP English and AP statistics, then Spanish. After school it is time for swim team; in the fall he competes on boys water polo.
Aquatics coach Rodd Parker said Derrick “knows how to prioritize his time.” That’s another understatement.
Derrick without question is highly intelligent. But he also knows how to work hard, given the ambitious class load and extra-curricular activities. In seventh grade, his friends jumped into eighth-grade math, Derrick said. “I didn’t want to be left behind, so I did too.”
He has been a straight-A student since middle school; his grade-point average is 4.71.
He will attend an summer program at a college to be determined; he’s already been accepted by Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. For his spring break this week Derrick planned to visit Harvard and MIT. That reflects his willingness to make wise choices and not taking the easy route of simply hanging out with friends when school is out.
Working hard, having determination and making good decisions are values respected throughout the central San Joaquin Valley. Derrick Ma is to be commended for personifying those qualities at such a young age.
In a compliment that makes perfect sense, Parker said of his young pupil: “I hope he’s my doctor one day if that is what he wants to do.”