The call from Lincoln High School’s principal’s office came unexpectedly, as they often do.
Cedrick Argueta’s friends joked that he might be in trouble. Cedrick didn’t think so.
He was right.
It turned out that Cedrick, the son of a Salvadoran maintenance worker and a Filipina nurse, had scored perfectly on his Advanced Placement Calculus exam. Of the 302,531 students to take the notoriously mind-crushing test, he was one of only 12 to earn every single point.
“It’s crazy,” Cedrick said. “Twelve people in the whole world to do this and I was one of them? It’s amazing.”
Since word of his feat has spread, the lanky 17-year-old senior – who described himself as a quiet, humble guy – has become something of a celebrity at Lincoln High, a school of about 1,200 students in the heavily Latino Lincoln Heights neighborhood.
At a school assembly, students shouted, “Ced-rick! Ced-rick!” when Principal Jose Torres announced his score. Friends started calling him “One of Twelve.”
And Torres said this week that he might as well become the teen’s booking agent, laughing as he held up a typed schedule of Cedrick’s media interviews.
“It’s mind-blowing,” said Torres, who has worked within LAUSD for 31 years. “It’s the first time I’ve had something of this magnitude. A lot of kids expected him to be the one.”
Cedrick and his classmates took the AP Calculus AB exam, a 3-hour and 15-minute test administered by the nonprofit College Board for possible college credit, in May.
Cedrick learned over the summer that he had scored a 5 – the top score – on the exam but had no idea he’d gotten every single question right until last week.
In a letter to Torres last week, the College Board called it a “remarkable achievement.”
As far as math whizzes go, Cedrick is unassuming. He likes to play basketball with his buddies, and his favorite reading of late was the Harry Potter series. Knowing he was going to do television interviews this week, he donned a blue LHS hoodie and sneakers.
Math has always just made sense to him, he said. He appreciates the creativity of it, the different methods you can take to solve a problem.
“There’s also some beauty in it being absolute,” Cedrick said. “There’s always a right answer.”
When asked about his perfect exam score, Cedrick just thanked everybody else in his life.
“It just sort of blew up,” he said. “It feels kind of good to be in the spotlight for a little bit, but I want to give credit to everybody else that helped me along the way.”
Cedrick is the son of Lilian and Marcos Argueta, both of whom came to the United States as young adults – she from the Philippines, he from El Salvador. Lilian, a licensed vocational nurse, works two jobs at nursing homes. Marcos is a maintenance worker at one of those nursing homes. He never went to high school.
Lilian Argueta, pausing during one of her shifts this week, said her son’s accomplishment is still sinking in. He texted her when he found out, and she told him it was great but, she said, she didn’t understand the magnitude until reporters started calling.
Argueta said that she always told Cedrick and his younger sister to finish their homework and to “read, read, read,” but that they knew she’d be proud of them whether or not they got straight A’s.
“I’m just thankful,” she said. “God gave me two perfect kids.”
To celebrate, the Arguetas took Cedrick to Roy’s, his favorite restaurant in Pasadena, where he ordered a big pork shank. He was still excited about the free souffle the waiters brought him after learning his score.
On Wednesday, Cedrick hung out in the classroom of his calculus teacher, Anthony Yom, which is decked out with signs that say “Mathlife” and a picture of Homer Simpson.
All 21 of Yom’s AP Calculus students who took the exam last year passed; 17 got the highest score of 5. It was the third year in a row that all of Yom’s kids passed the test.
Yom, 35, said he treats his students like a sports team. They’d stay after school, practicing problem solving for three or four extra hours, and they’d come on weekends. On test day, they wore matching blue T-shirts sporting their names, “like they’re wearing jerseys to the game,” Yom said.
“I think they don’t want to disappoint each other,” Yom said. “Talent can only take you so far. These kids put in so many hours.”
Yom said he knew most of his kids would score 5s, but even he was blown away by Cedrick’s perfect exam. The odds of such a thing, he said, are like winning the lottery.
As if that weren’t enough, Cedrick also earned perfect scores on the science and math sections of the ACT exam last year, he said. This year, he’s taking four more AP exams, including the Calculus BC segment. Friends are pushing him for a repeat perfect performance.
“There’s a lot of pressure,” he said, laughing.
Cedrick graduates in June and hopes to attend Caltech and become an engineer. For his family, a scholarship would be a godsend.
Cedrick’s got big plans. He wants to maybe “design something really cool.” He wants to have his name on something that’s known around the world.
But this summer, he just wants to hang out with his friends.