“I’m excited about going to Stanford,” said Pels, sporting the cardinal colors on a Stanford hooded sweatshirt. “I’d visited the campus a few times, and it just felt like it was where I was meant to go. Stanford is like California’s version of Hogwarts. There’s a great, tight-knit community, and the university offers a lot of good opportunities to its students.”
However, upon learning of his acceptance, he shared the good news with his family but didn’t tell any of his teachers or friends at school the next day. Despite the outstanding achievement, Pels is humble about his successes and doesn’t like to brag.
“It wasn’t a big deal for me to tell people,” Pels said. “I don’t care about the praise. I’ve done well on lots of tests. I know I am a good test taker, but I don’t do it to prove I’m smart. I just try my best to solve the problems presented to me. I’m not trying to prove anything. I try my best and it’s reflected in my scores.”
While Stanford must have been impressed with his resumé of activities, which include playing for Freedom’s swimming and water polo teams, serving as president of Freedom’s chapter of the National Honors Society and being an active member of the Interact Club, the university was also impressed with his test scores. Pels received a perfect score on the ACT and a near perfect SAT score, receiving a 2,370 out of 2,400.
Last semester Pels earned a 5.0 GPA, a feat that Principal Erik Faulkner hasn’t seen during his tenure at Freedom.
“Trevor is a tremendous student,” Faulkner said. “I couldn’t think of anyone better to represent what Freedom High School is all about. His success has been one of our proudest achievements.”
Pels received the honor of Student of the Quarter from the Liberty Union School District Board last fall, and in January, was nominated for the Presidential Scholars Program, one of the nation’s highest honors for high school students.
Pels said he never planned to be one of the top-ranked students at Freedom. When he entered as a freshman, he approached his high school career with the determination to do well, but he wasn’t too worried about grades. Of course, he wanted A’s and B’s, but he was satisfied with whatever grade he earned for trying his best.
His academic guidance counselor, Nancy Yarbrough, said it’s Pels self-motivation that has been the key to his success: “He’s a gifted student who has worked really hard through high school, and it’s all paying off. He knows that it takes a lot of work to get those grades, but he puts in the time. There are so many distractions these days with cell phones, Facebook and other gadgets, and all these things are tugging at students, but Trevor’s diligence and hard work has paid off, and now all these doors are opening up for him. We’re all so thrilled for him.”
Pels said he’s looking forward to going to Stanford, which provided him with a “substantial” scholarship, but he hasn’t settled on a major yet. Right now, he’s considering English, math or psychology.
“Writing is my thing,” Pels said. “I simply enjoy the act of writing. I like the creative expression aspect. An idea pops into my head and I run with it to see where it takes me.”
He’s written several novels, one of which he self-published through Lulu.com, and he wrote a one-act play, which was performed at Freedom last year.
Pels said one of his dreams is to become involved in the publishing business, as he takes a “strange enjoyment” in editing and he’s well versed in grammar and diction. While he’d like to publish his own novel for the masses one day, he’s not looking to become famous. “You can’t express yourself in a vacuum. Some work needs a larger audience, so I’d like to publish my own work some day, but I don’t necessarily want to become a famous author. I’m not into it for the fame. I just enjoy writing. If I were to become famous, I wouldn’t shun it, but it’s not what I’m after.”
Pels also enjoys math. He skipped a level of math in junior high and taught himself geometry in the eighth grade, as it wasn’t a course offered at his school. Since he was so far ahead, he complete AP Calculus in his junior year. But since Freedom offers no further upper-level math classes, he doesn’t take math this year. However, he plans to take the upper-level AP Calculus exam in the spring, preparing from a workbook.
While Pels might seem like an over-achiever, he said he doesn’t do it to increase his GPA. He takes the classes because he is genuinely interested in the topics and appreciates the added depth provided in the advanced placement courses.
“I don’t want to project an air of nerdiness, but doing math relaxes me,” Pels confessed. “When I’m doing a math problem, I just get into the zone and my mind is on the problem and nothing else. My brain goes on autopilot.” He said he carries a calculator in his backpack in case a problem presents itself.
And with his “pathological need to try everything,” Pels said he’s considering majoring in psychology because the field is “intensely interesting.” He said he plans to take a course in all his three subjects of interest during his first semester at Stanford to get a better idea of what field he wants to pursue in depth. He said he might minor in the other two if he can fit the additional classes into his schedule.
But before that time comes, Pels is concentrating on completing his final semester at Freedom. And as a valedictorian candidate, he’s already begun brainstorming ideas for his speech.
“Since I’ve done speech and debate, I like to plan things out,” Pels said. “All I know is that I want it to be (pauses) Trevor. I want it to show my personality. I don’t want it to be the typical ‘thanks for the memories/the future is filled with possibilities’ speech.” He said he hopes to include weird humor, references to pop music and, of course, hallmark sentimental reflections.
After spending most of his years in Oakley, Pels said he’s ready for a new adventure. He hopes to travel and secure an internship in Los Angeles or New York after graduating from Stanford. And while he’s got of list of things he’d like to try, he plans to eventually settle down in the Bay Area.
“I have a vague road map for my future, but no set plans,” Pels said. “I have a lot of things I want to do while I’m young, but when it comes time to settle down, I know I’ll come back to the Bay Area. I couldn’t imaging settling anywhere else.”