ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
He wears a T-shirt with the word “Jenius” written in bold letters across the front and the magic number “36” on the back.
John Larson, a senior at Canton-Galva High School, earned the title of genius when he scored a perfect 36 on his American College Testing assessment test in late October.
The joke is that the word genius should be spelled with the letter “G”-not a “J.” But Larson’s perfect-score accomplishment on the ACT is anything but a joke.
“My parents have always pushed me to do my best,” Larson said. “Pretty much everything I do, I just try my best.”
About 11,000 Kansas students and 425,000 students from the United States completed the ACT college-entrance exam on Oct. 25. Of those students from Kansas, only three garnered a 36-the highest possible composite score. And across the nation, only 41 achieved that distinction.
One of those was Larson.
“He’s a phenomenal student with a great attitude,” said CGHS counselor Melanie Deterding.
“I was excited for him. And he’s getting all these award opportunities and all these scholarship opportunities. It’s exciting to see a student excel.”
The ACT consists of tests in English, mathematics, reading and science. Each test is scored on a scale of 1-36, and a student’s composite score is the average of the four test scores. The average composite score for the national high school graduating class of 2003 was 20.8.
As an independent, non-profit group, the ACT organization was founded to help “individuals attain their educational and career goals through assessment programs with solid-research foundations,” according to the Web Site www.act.org.
Larson has taken the ACT before and scored in the 30s. At the end of his junior year, he received a 32 composite score on the achievement test.
“The same day I took it was the same day as the prom,” Larson said about a busy day involving prom decorating by the junior class.
“That wasn’t a very good idea. I didn’t feel very good about that-I thought I could do better. So I went ahead and took it again.”
Living on the family farm north of Galva, Larson is the son of Philip and Rose Larson. In addition to farming, Philip is a chemist at the National Cooperative Refinery Association in McPherson. Rose is a speech pathologist in the McPherson and Canton-Galva school districts.
The Larson family includes John and his older brother, Joe, younger sisters Kate and Kris and two dogs.
Since kindergarten, Larson has been a part of the Canton-Galva school system. His current grade-point average is a 4.0, and his favorite subject is math.
“Math has always come easy to me, and I’ve always had fun doing it,” Larson said. About two weeks before taking the ACT, Larson took the Scholastic Aptitude Test and garnered a perfect score on the math section.
“That got me in the mood for” taking the ACT, Larson said. To get ready for the test, he reviewed a pamphlet-Preparing for the ACT Assessment-available in Deterding’s office.
“I looked that over the night before for about five minutes,” Larson said with a shy smile. “I didn’t really prepare too much.”
The test site was at McPherson College, and it took about four hours to complete.
It’s not surprising that Larson considers himself a good test taker.
“With the ACT, there’s a certain amount of time you have to do each problem, and (it’s important to try to get) everything done within that time,” Larson said.
“With a lot of math problems, there’s a long way to do it and a short way to do it. On the ACT problems, you have to be able to see the short cut so you can get it done in the (allotted) amount of time.”
The outstanding senior’s activity list includes memberships in Future Business Leaders of America, National Honor Society and Students Against Destructive Decisions.
He is in thespian activities at school, participates in Quiz Bowl, is a member of student council and is a Drug Abuse Resistance Education role model. In the fall, he was the captain and center on the CGHS football team and in the spring, he plans to participate in throwing events in track, such as shot put, discus and javelin.
One of his favorite extra-curricular activities is 4-H, Larson said. He is the 4-H Junior Leaders county-wide president, has been a member of the 4-H group for 12 years and considers his 4-H projects as his hobbies.
“I do electric and rocketry (projects),” Larson said. “I make model rockets for the McPherson County 4-H Fair.”
ACT test results are released early to the school counselor, and an excited Deterding decided to play a good-natured practical joke on Larson.
“I got the scores and had to wait for him to get out of class,” Deterding said. “I caught him in the hall and asked him if he thought he did very well.”
The tone of Deterding’s voice and her questions made Larson think he didn’t receive a good composite score.
“I looked at him and said, ‘Did you have these (scores) sent to Notre Dame?'” Deterding said about one of the schools he is considering upon graduation.
“He said, ‘Yes,'” she said. “And I said, ‘Well, it’s a good thing you did.’ Then, I showed him. He was very excited.”
One of the first things Larson did was to tell his parents. Mom Rose, who just happened to be at the school that day, responded with proud tears. And he called his father to tell him the good news, too. He was happy, Larson said.
“I was just kind of in shock for awhile,” he said. “I thought I did pretty good, but I didn’t expect to get a perfect. It really took a while for it to sink in-I was happy.”
Looking ahead to a college career, Larson has applied to Kansas State University, Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Notre Dame in Illinois and the Colorado School of Mines.
He’s been accepted to Notre Dame, Colorado School of Mines and K-State.
“K-State has pretty much given me a full-ride,” Larson said about scholarship offerings. “I haven’t gotten information back from the other schools, but I just submitted some of that not too long ago.”
By the first of February, Larson was inclining toward Carnegie Mellon University, a higher-learning institution emphasizing biotechnology and life sciences, information and security technology, environmental science and practices, and fine arts and humanities.
Interested in the computer-science field of study, Larson is considering a career in artificial intelligence.
“Artificial Intelligence is like trying to make computers smarter,” Larson said.
Introduced to the concept of AI while attending a summer-workshop study program at Duke University, the desire to make it a career was firmly planted. “It’s not making total robots-it’s designing computers,” he said.
The major influences in his life have been his parents and his teachers, Larson said.
“My parents have always pushed me to try hard in school-to always get As in class and stay involved,” he said. “And my teachers have always helped me to do well. They’ve encouraged me.”
After graduation, Larson plans to spend part of the summer in Washington, D.C., when his 4-H group has an opportunity to tour the historic area. “The other half (of the program) is workshops on leadership and citizenship,” Larson said.
And the remainder of the summer will be working on the family farm before going to his eventual university of choice in the fall.
“It’s important to get a good job,” Larson said. “And with what I want to do, it’s important to have a good education.”
The test results came in after the first of the new year, but the CGHS “jenius” was still receiving pats on the back in February.
“I’ve had people all the time come up to me and say, ‘That’s a really good job you did,'” Larson said. “Students, teachers, even if I go to church, somebody will say, ‘John, great job.'”