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Prodigy, OK; Geek, No Way; It's All a Matter of Degrees

A 15-year-old from Grand Terrace will soon receive honors at Cal State San Bernardino and head off to UC Santa Barbara.

June 18, 2005|Stephanie Ramos | Times Staff Writer

Joriz de Guzman has sat behind the wheel of a car only a few times. He is, after all, 15 years old. He'll wait until November for a learner's permit and even longer for his driver's license.

This Sunday, he'll reach a different milestone: a diploma from Cal State San Bernardino.

Understandably, the Grand Terrace resident is psyched: "It's pretty big.... The last time I was in a graduation was in kindergarten."

By the time the state grants Joriz a driver's license, he will have bachelor's degrees in math and computer science and will have completed a full year of the doctorate program at UC Santa Barbara's computer science program.

An exceptional student even in grammar school, Joriz was allowed by his parents to take a placement exam for algebra at San Bernardino Valley College, a local community college. Before long, he was taking algebra classes there in the afternoon. But by November 2000, Joriz had had his fill of his morning classes in the seventh grade. "He came to us and said, 'Why do I have to go to junior high? Why can't I just go to college all day?' " his mother, Teff de Guzman, said.

Joriz took matters into his own hands, passing the high school equivalency exam that year and moving to Valley College full time.

His father, Edwin de Guzman, a respiratory therapist, had to trim his workweek to 20 hours to fulfill the college's requirement that Joriz be accompanied by an adult.

"It's not just school, but sports during the night and then bearing the temperatures [while waiting] in the parking lots," his mother said. "But it was worth it. [Joriz] is so dedicated, and we know that he is very happy."

After two years, he was ready for another challenge, moving to Cal State San Bernardino at the age of 12.

Arturo Concepcion, chairman of the computer science department at Cal State San Bernardino, quickly noticed that Joriz was talented. "He's really a child prodigy," he said.

"Not only is he good technologically, but he showed that he had very good leadership skills," Concepcion said of his experience as Joriz's professor.

Professors at UC Santa Barbara agreed. After an eight-week biology and computer science fellowship Joriz took part in last summer, officials of the graduate computer science program were so impressed that they encouraged him to work toward a doctorate.

"He's essentially a young man ready for graduate school," said Kevin Almeroth, vice chairman of the department and director of graduate admissions. "What we learned was that he's not only an exceptional student in terms of his age, but he's an exceptional student independent of his age."

Almeroth said he was impressed not only by Joriz's accomplishments, but by his well-balanced life: "He's really not anything you'd expect," Almeroth said.

Joriz is quick to say he's not a geek or bookworm.

"There's this misconception that I'm a nerd and I study all the time," he said. "I [study] when I have a test or when I'm on campus, but I do a lot of other things."

Joriz said he enjoys volunteering and that he tries to help others. He spent time as a tutor and a peer mentor at Cal State San Bernardino, his church, local grammar schools, and in East Los Angeles. This month, he will fly to the Philippines, the native land of Edwin and Teff de Guzman, at the invitation of Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, to appear on television touting the benefits of education.

During this "relaxing vacation," as Joriz calls it, he will record a CD, singing to benefit scholarships for Filipino children who can't afford an education -- his idea.

Despite the attention and accolades, Joriz remains modest.

At Cal State, very few people knew he was so young. "If people don't know, I try not to mention it," he said. He just likes to hang out with his friends.

"Mostly we go to the park and play basketball with other people," said longtime friend Charles Medina, a 15-year-old sophomore from Colton. "When he's over at my house, we just hang out and talk."

Medina doesn't think of Joriz as abnormal. "He's just an average kid.... Socially he's average, but mentally he's real smart. I look at him as my friend, not as someone who can tutor me and do my homework."

There's rarely an occasion when Joriz seems out of place, Medina said.

"Sometimes it seems like he's older than 15, but it's only because he uses all these words that, I'm like, 'What does that mean?' It's really helped my vocabulary though."

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