For people who don’t know me, they just know me like, ‘That’s the girl that’s going to Johns Hopkins’ — ‘That’s the girl who plays basketball’ — ‘She’s the one that got a perfect 36 [on the ACT].’ It’s kind of just one of those titles where, yes, I am that person — but that’s not all there is to me.”
Nor should it be.
It was early July of 2019 when senior Christine Corpuz sat in a coffee shop, working on her online history class that she had committed to taking over the summer. Taking a break between her beverage and the next step in the assignment, she decided to check if her ACT score has been posted.
She’d taken it a few weeks before.
And she was, to say the least, shocked at what she saw.
A perfect score.
A perfect 36.
A score only a tenth of a single percent of all test-takers achieve.
And Christine had done it.
The ACT. Acing it.
“I had never expected to get that high of a score. I expected it to be pretty high knowing what I was capable of, but I just thought it was really surprising and it really kind of caught me off guard if I’m being honest,” she says.
Christine now sits on her bed as she thinks back to those moments: the day, that evening, the days & weeks that would follow. Her almond shaped eyes crease and her cheeks stretch upwards, revealing her teeth and gums in a bashful smile. Her long brown & black hair is pulled in a messy bun behind her head but still hangs in small strands near her ears. Her voice is strong, comfortable, and confident and she finds no trouble saying what she wants to say after having been interviewed a few times before on the subject.
And Christine wasn’t the only one in shock. Her parents were in understandable disbelief as well, and the awe didn’t end there — spreading like wildfire as such exciting news was unheard of in this small community until now.
Since it had been the summertime when Christine had gotten her perfect score, it obviously wasn’t immediate news that was going to be shared with the school. Instead, she confided in her friends and traveling basketball team who were all just as excited (some shocked less than others, having known Christine’s academic prowess before) as she.
For a while it was a big deal and her teammates would talk about it as the season went on, but by the time school rolled around in August, two months had passed and for Christine, it was practically old news. She gave the official letter, that had confirmed her perfect ACT score, to her school counselor, not expecting much of it but was immediately met with jubilation. The entire office staff knew of it in no time and celebrated the knews generously. Even today, when passing by the digital sign in front of East, the words “Congratulations Christine Corpuz” flash through the electronic messages.
Eventually the principal got wind of all the excitement and passed it onto the school board, she tells. The dimness of her room is lit only by the open blinds of her window that display the now dreary, January weather. But the light does not hide the multiple recognition awards that hang on the wall to her right. It is among these colors of bronze and gold a special silver plaque sits on a table displaying her name and academic excellence, as recognized by SD 308’s Board of Education.
“It’s a pretty notable accomplishment, in my opinion,” she says. “But I don’t want it to be the one thing people know me for [because], while the title makes you feel good about yourself that’s not all there is [to me].”
Her face falls from her smile and she explains that she’s very proud of achieving what she did — she understands how rare this occurs and knows that many others work endlessly to be in her position — but wishes people would see her as more than a number; even though her ACT plaque takes notable attention in her room, it is definitely not the only one there.
“If I was recognized for something else, I would definitely say it would be for basketball,” Christine says. “That’s what’s just been such a big part of my life ever since I was a Freshman… before I was ‘That Girl With the Perfect Score,’ I was always ‘That Girl Who Was A Freshman on the Varsity Basketball Team [as] a Starter’ … that’s how I was kind of known around the school, like — I was a basketball player.”
The Court. Killing it.
She’s one of the best at East too, breaking the schools all time record for most game points scored in her high school career. This is emphasized by the basketball encased in glass to her left, signed with the date December 13, 2019, commemorating her 1,000 scored point.
She has been playing since she was an elementary schooler, alternating between traveling and school teams since middle school.
Christine loses some of her tension once she starts talking about basketball and finds comfort in reliving the time she has spent doing what she loves. Her voice gains energy as she talks about her busy schedule that will sometimes leave her occupied from the early morning to 10 o’clock on a school night. But she says that it is actually basketball season that she finds herself the least stressed because she gets to spend so much time doing what she loves with people she really clicks with.
Take junior Kailey Tyburski, for example. Christine and her have been close friends ever since they started playing basketball together, Kailey says with a nod of her head, her high ponytail bouncing slightly. They now spend their time killing it on East’s varsity basketball team and hanging out on the weekends, nearly inseparable from one another. Kailey has the same athletic appeal to her as does Christine, and just by looking at their similar wardrobe of comfortable sport clothes and pulled back hair, it seems as though they are both very serious about their lives as student athletes.
“She’s a really good teammate,” Tyburski says. “She’s always positive and is always helping everyone around her. [But, aside] from her being very smart and athletic, she’s a great friend. No matter the mood I’m in she’s able to put a smile on my face. Obviously she works really hard for her grades and to succeed in sports but she knows when to take time to just relax and have fun.”
Which is not the easiest thing to do — juggling the life of an athlete and an academic. Christine says that it has taken her all of her all up to senior year to finally find that balance in her life. It was a learning curve and there were times when she found herself overwhelmed with her workload, staying up late and working every free second she can, trying to maintain her high grades and attend all of her events.
The Girl. Going for gold.
Gennie Corpuz, Christine’s mother, gazes with intention, thinking about her daughter. Her eyes are soft and her manner is welcoming. Her hair is something reminiscent of a 90’s take on a short black bob that frames her delicate face. She is short and inherently gentile as she speaks in English that is peppered with an accent and occasional broken grammar.
“Sometimes I get concerned that because she’s an overachiever, [she’s] not satisfied, sometimes, with what she does,” Gennie explains. “I encourage her to do the best that [she] can [and tell her that] it’s okay to make mistakes. But, you know, she’s a self-starter and always wants to do her best [and] there are times when [her father and I] tell her ‘It’s okay, just relax,’ but her mind is always going.”
She talks about Christine’s never-ending drive, something she and her husband have always supported. Christine always has things to do, and it is when she doesn’t, Gennie jokes, that she is most out of her element.
Gennie sits on a sleek wooden rocking chair in a room decorated with beautiful East Asian paintings, statues, and other various decorations. The space is a small portion of the atmosphere the entire house carries, being accentuated with elegant items that highlight the Corpuz families deep cultural and religious relationship with their Filipino heritage.
“Coming from an Asian family, more specifically a Filipino culture, education is very much stressed,” Gennie adds. “So we didn’t have to tell her [that] she has the responsibility of getting a good education. [She already knows to] challenge herself, taking advanced placement and honors classes.”
Christine supports this with her own words saying that one of the most important things she has been taught is that, no matter the circumstances, hard work can get you where you want to be. These are the values that she has grown up with that have allowed her to propel herself forward in all she has done and continue to keep going when times get rough.
“As Filipinos, because [my parents] immigrated here and they had to work hard to get where they are now, it’s kind of instilled in me [that] your work ethic is probably the most important thing that you can control about your life, and with a good work ethic you can get really far,” Christine says.
Across from the rocking chair where Gennie sits, an electric piano is covered by the same wooden finish. It reveals the typical yet gorgeous 81 keys as Christine lifts the cover off and rests her fingers on the same starting notes she has practiced to remember, saying she has forgotten to read sheet music and plays from pure muscle memory these days. She plays the first notes and commands a silence of the small room that quickly becomes rich and hypnotizing. Someone with such a demanding life and a never-ending will to keep pushing forward suddenly transforms into a soft-hearted high school girl with nothing but desires and passion for her endeavors and the people around her.
Only good things were said about her by another one of her friends, senior Ashwin Ramesh. His fairly thick glasses set on his nose and a heavy sweatshirt covers his petite frame. He sits with his hands in his lap, leaned forward, and speaks rapidly about his best friend, his voice energized and exciteful. He talks about how kind and caring she is as a person, explaining that he had gotten a nose job recently and that Christine had given him a congratulatory gift. He says that what makes her such a good friend is the fact that she always thinks about others and makes them feel cared for — which most people don’t realize since they only seem to focus on things such as her ACT score or basketball.
“Not everybody knows her like I do, which is cool. Some people will know her now, [because of her ACT score,] and forget about her [later], but [her and I will] still be friends when she’s in college and I’ll still have that relationship with her,” Ashwin says.
Friends love her.
“She’s just really nice to be around,” Kailey says, smiling slightly and glancing off to her right. “She’s one of those people [whose] energy you feed off of. She’s really funny [and] she’s always there for you. [She’s] basically anything you would want in a friend.”
Family praise her.
“We’re very blessed and lucky to have a daughter like her,” Gennie says, motioning her hand in a forward giving motion for emphasis. “She’s very, very focused, goal oriented, dynamic, and just very well. She puts all [of her] efforts into what she does … and [is] very passionate.”
The name that everyone knows, Christine Corpuz, seems to mean more than just grades and sports now. Hearing about her recalls the face of a serene Filipino girl, gently playing the piano in smooth and practiced motions, putting smiles on her family and friends faces whenever they are asked about her.
The future. Facing the unknown.
“I think this has been a pretty big year for me,” Christine says, now in her “Sunday best” after coming back from church and sitting on her bed, her eyes peering through glasses that have been unseen until now. Her hair hangs down in thick, damp strands over her shoulders from her morning shower, and her hands sit neatly folded in her lap. She maintains eye contact, with her eyes occasionally darting around the room between thoughts, as she explains that it all started that summer day when she got her perfect score and continued on as she broke record after record in basketball. Going out with a bang and down in school history, Christine feels the eventful year recede behind her into the future.
Christine has already committed to attending Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, an 11-hour drive from her family in Oswego. She plans on studying the biomedical field and continuing to play school basketball, carrying on with her two most loved interests. While this new chapter has so much to look forward to, it is also being approached with somewhat hesitant feelings, having to let go of the home she has lived in for most of her life and the family she has always been a door down from.
But Christine says that she wishes to keep in mind her values — religious, cultural, and otherwise driving — and the many people that so lovingly support her as she continues to achieve above and beyond the ordinary.
Olivia Cluchey is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl