Neither a semester of college nor a brief fling at fame have spoiled David Florey. The iconoclastic 18-year-old who eclipsed 400 other high school students and scored the highest at the U.S. Academic Decathlon last April is keeping a somewhat low profile as a freshman at UC Berkeley in the noble pursuit of knowledge.
Florey made an impact on the country when he and several classmates from John Marshall High School took first place at the decathlon. But Florey wasn’t your average golden boy wonder student. He maintained a C average for much of his high school career, was outspoken about teachers’ low pay, sported a small earring and had a disdain for wearing shoes.
An Instant Celebrity
Winning the decathlon made him an instant celebrity, albeit a reluctant one. News crews followed him and movie moguls beckoned him. Through it all Florey looked on his 15 minutes of fame with a bemused grin.
Hollywood, Florey has learned, is fickle. Some of the movie deals have fallen by the wayside, a couple of others may still be in the works, but he’s not really sure. He’s been recognized on campus a few times by other decathloners and some who read about him in the newspaper. Looking back on the media-exposed experience, he said, “I don’t think I made much of an impact on the world with that.”
He has just completed his first semester at Berkeley in the university’s Extension program, where students with low grades are sent for a semester before they are accepted into the regular degree program. His classes included calculus, cultural geography, rhetoric and an honors seminar on the individual in society that ties in music, philosophy and history.
Although in his senior year Florey pulled his grade point average up to an A-minus (“Grades are not life,” he said at the time, while admitting that the numbers were important for college) he still didn’t qualify for the mainstream university. Grades from the first semester aren’t in yet, but he’s sure he did well enough to qualify.
‘A Little Disappointed’
And he’s not out to set the Berkeley campus on fire, either, although he’s startled some of his more conservative classmates by chewing tree bark in class. “I’m a little disappointed in the (Extension) students,” he said while back in Los Angeles with his father (his parents are divorced) during the holiday break. “They don’t seem to have much of a thirst for knowledge. In one class the professor asked why everyone was in school, and a lot of people said they really didn’t like to read or write . . . A lot of people have very conservative attitudes. They didn’t seem like they were doing anything, just sort of observing. But I’m not pessimistic. If I dig deeper I’m sure I’ll find stuff more interesting.”
He has yet to explore more of the campus and meet more students; he’s kept up with many of his former high school classmates who also go to Berkeley, including his roommate, with whom he shares a one-bedroom apartment. “I’m looking for something to get involved in, but definitely not politics. Maybe some fervent activism. We’ll see how many people are interested in it.”
Florey hasn’t declared a major yet, but he would like to study abroad in Japan. “It’s not important to make a mark here,” he said. “There are 20,000 people and I don’t feel like I have to be the center of attention. I never did.”