Troy White may be the Hobbs High School Class of 2020’s valedictorian, but he used to be, what he called, a horrible student.
Growing up in Albuquerque, he was pretty decent in elementary. Then came middle school. Three school years, three different schools. He almost got kicked out of the first. His teachers “genuinely despised” him and the third dealt so much with online learning, there was hardly an issue.
“In the sixth grade I nearly failed every single class I took,” said White, who added he mostly slept through sixth-grade math. “It took me an incredible effort to continue to try and fail them. I worked quite hard to do that. In seventh and eighth grade, I had very little motivation. I would occasionally get good grades, but for the most part, the thought of being valedictorian was never in my mind. The idea of passing high school was a much higher concern.”
His educational struggles started before his fifth-grade year. It was just he and his mom back then, and then it wasn’t. Three weeks after they celebrated his 10th birthday and a month before the start of his fifth-grade year, White’s mom passed away from breast cancer.
“In retrospect, my mother’s death, is probably the defining event of my life up until this point,” he said. “It really has shaped almost everything. My mother was the primary source of my academic motivation. She was the person I interacted with the most. So losing her was basically a complete change in the way that I lived. Her death happened rapidly because it was an aggressive form of breast cancer, which for the most part undetectable by a scan. So by the time they knew it was there, there was nothing they could do.”
Troy went to live with his dad, Kevin, who was also in grief. His wife, not Troy’s mom, had recently passed away as well. They were both in vulnerable states.
“I had to change elementary schools. That in itself was a dramatic shift,” White said. “All of my previous childhood friends, I didn’t contact them again. The (new) school was very different in the way it was structured, but I still performed fairly well as a student, but in middle school the change was just so poor on me. I was so depressed and I didn’t even know it. That combined with just disliking the way classes were set up, I could barely function.”
Kevin White’s job relocated father and son to Hobbs just in time to start freshman school.
Troy White entered Mike Mills’ AP Human Geography class and it flipped the switch.
“Up until that point I had never been in a class where I felt like I was on the front of understanding things. Where I was getting the best test scores, and a class that I truly enjoyed,” White said. “After I took that class, I thought I was going to be a human geographer. I loved the content and I loved studying it … before that I thought school was basically like prison. And Mr. Mills really helped me to become a better student and also enjoy school. That helped propel me in my endeavors in my other AP classes. I really do accredit a very large portion of my high school success to him and I don’t think it’s an overstatement. He is a great man and the way in which he specifically helped me, and I can’t repay that.”
During that school year he found out his class ranking out of more than 650 students was third. By the time he started his sophomore year, White was the top-ranked student in his class. A ranking he never lost. He never concerned himself with competing with other students. In his eyes, the student who he always battled was in the mirror.
“I was always concerned with beating my grade point average from the previous semester,” White said. “That in effect, because I was ranked one, was how I was able to keep my ranking.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, White’s last complete semester was Fall 2019. He finished with grades of four 100s and three 99s, in six AP classes and an honors class.
“My goal was to achieve complete academic excellence,” he said. “I guess that’s pretty close.”
All of his academic success led him to the “happiest moment” so far in his life, when he received the video message that he won the JF Maddox Foundation scholarship. The scholarship will pay for first four years of his college career.
“I don’t think I have been happier in my life outside of that moment in which fully realized I had earned it,” he said. “It meant so much for me because when I was looking at colleges, I kept thinking what’s going to produce the best environment for me to learn, live and produce? All of the discoveries I would like to make. It’s an incredible gift that will propel my dreams after high school.”
Those dreams include attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison to study, of all things, math. White said the university is ranked 15thin the world for mathematics.
“I would like to become a mathematician, because of something I discovered in high school,” he said. “I have always been interested in mathematics, but because of my middle school career, I wasn’t very good at it. I reached the position that not only could I enjoy math conceptually, but also I could do it very well. My end goal in mind is to eventually get a graduate degree and continue to do post-graduate research in the field of mathematics. Because I find so much enjoyment just discovering new concepts and trying to learn more math in a way I don’t get out of any other field.”
Will moving to a new locale give White the opportunity to have lightening strike twice? Nah. He knows what he’s walking into.
“Everything I have done in high school, the closer I’ve gotten to the difficult college class level, as I go on, I am more engaged,” White said. “I study harder and in a college setting, I have such a diverse list of classes to choose from that I going to love and have such enjoyment from befitting. It may not be a drastic change, but I feel like I am going to continue to marginally increase on all the things I have learned in high school. I think it is going to work out very well.”
As for being the HHS Class of 2020 valedictorian, it’s a pretty good way to go out.
“It’s pretty amazing,” he said. “This is the highest honor you can get for academics at the high school level. It’s great to know that my hard work and my cumulative effort paid off in such a way. It’s pretty cool.”