It’s easy to call Matthew DiStefano a renaissance man.
DiStefano, 18, is the valedictorian of the Oceanside High School class of 2016. His interests range from world politics to physics to sculpture, and he has a weighted GPA of 105.515.
“I actually didn’t really expect to be a valedictorian,” he said. “So I sort of didn’t really think about it as being a possibility. So when I found out, I was kind of shocked but I’m happy about it. I don’t like being the center of attention all too much. So in that way I’m sort of reserved about it, I guess. But it’s definitely exciting, my parents were very happy.”
He will attend Cornell University next fall as a mechanical engineering major, maybe getting his masters in aerospace engineering and with a history minor. He hopes to use engineering for humanitarian or diplomatic efforts. “It’s a good balance of what I’m looking for,” DiStefano said of Cornell. “Because while I do like physics and math as a challenge, I think I’m sort of naturally inclined towards history and other humanities courses. So I really wanted to go to a school that had a good mix of the two.”
His older brother, Mark, is about to graduate from Cornell with a degree in English.
DiStefano has researched cancer at Mount Sinai Medical Center, written stories about current events for the school paper and tutored at the Hispanic Brotherhood of Rockville Centre — in addition to six Advanced Placement classes in his senior year.
But he’s spent the most time — all four years of high school — in the World Interest Club. He’s won awards on the club’s Model UN team, including “Outstanding Large Delegation” at a conference at Cornell University.
“I think almost growing up in the club in a sense and becoming an officer is a big shift and it teaches you a lot about responsibility,” DiStefano said. “Sometimes the bad side of responsibility and how tedious it can be in a way. But it sort of sets me up to see what maybe managing people in real life is going to be like, working on project teams as engineer, and so forth.”
His interest in global politics started thanks to his middle school science teacher, Robert Pittman. DiStefano hated eating in the cafeteria, so he would eat lunch in Pittman’s room.
“He was very much a friend in that awkward time of middle school,” DiStefano said. “He very much helped steer me in the right direction. We used to talk politics all the time. That’s how I got interested in international relations, because he used to always beat me in debates and I thought, ‘Wow, I need to get more informed.’ So I started reading the news.”
Outside of school, he likes to travel and later make sculptures of the buildings he sees, especially cathedrals. “I love planning travel,” he said. “My friends and I are going to Europe this summer. I’m so excited. It’s sort of a hobby in itself, planning the trip. But it’s very exciting because I love to learn about other countries. I’m sort of a Europhile. I’m mildly obsessed with Europe.”