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A drive to excel cruises to Davis

Matt Brown expects the experience of going to college to be similar to the experience he had on a rainy morning last December while driving his older brother’s classic 1964 Chevrolet Nova.

Heading south on Highway 49, feeling confident and in control, the future Forest Lake Christian valedictorian lost control, crossed the center lines and collided with a semi. While Matt was physically unharmed, the accident destroyed his brother’s car and crushed his belief in his own indestructibility.

“I ripped (my brother’s) car in two,” he said. “I had to spend half of my life savings buying him a new one.”



After the dramatic crash – and having to replace it using his hard-earned money working at Auburn Valley Country Club, Matt believes college will serve as a wake-up call in his largely sheltered and thus far unchallenged life.

Since preschool, Matt walked the halls of this small Christian school supported by the same faces and values he found at home. All five of his siblings attended Forest Lake, including his half-sister and even his father.




“I liked every day (at Forest Lake). I knew almost everybody there,” he said. “I would walk through the halls and everyone would pat me on the back. There was a lot of support.”

That support served him well. In Matt’s entire high school career, he never earned less than an A in any class. Not even an A-.

“Matt always went above and beyond what was expected of every assignment,” said Matt’s English teacher, Mrs. Franchion Haffly.

“He even turned assignments in early,” she added.

While 4.0’s are impressive almost anywhere, Forest Lake is considerably smaller than most high schools and may not carry as many high-performing students as some of the larger high schools.

But Matt sought out the hardest possible schedule, taking four years of foreign language and science – instead of the required two. He would have taken four years of math had he not finished the highest level of math class offered – Precalculus – as a junior.

School isn’t the only thing in life Matt takes seriously. He is also concerned about social policy and issues of morality. Last January, for example, Matt was one of 60 students that took a trip to the state capital to protest against abortion.

During his senior year, Matt wrote a 12-page paper called, “The Shape of My Life,” in which he expressed his commitment to core values such as integrity and purity, his Senior Bible teacher Steve Kellar said.

Matt said his high academic standards were his own making. While his parents insisted that school work precede all other activities, they were not the kind of parents who demanded straight A’s.

“My parents only demanded that I try my best,” he explained. “A lot of parents get on kids to get good grades and it’s kind of depressing.”

Matt’s own competitive nature and discontent with anything less than his best performance motivated him to achieve academic excellence and is likely to help him succeed in life. In college, he plans to study computer science and engineering and aspires to become a “successful computer programmer,” he said.

“It’s an obsessive compulsive thing, I guess. But, I’m also very competitive,” he explained.

Competitive, indeed.

Also graduating with a 4.0 grade point average and sharing the title of Forest Lake Valedictorian is Matt’s best friend, Lanaea Beam.

Classmates since 10th grade, Matt explained the two had a “friendly competition,” that kept him striving to out-score her on every test.

Without Lanaea to keep him motivated, Matt has doubts that he’ll achieve the same academic success at the University of California at Davis, the school he will be attending in the fall.

“It’s definitely going to be more of a challenge to keep my grades up,” he said.

Matt is likely to face more than academic challenges at UC Davis. In stark contrast to the 300-student private high school, the 30,000-student UC Davis is not only public and secular but also considered one of the state’s more liberal institutions.

Despite these seemingly daunting differences, Matt said he is not afraid of his near future. He plans to face college with the same humility that made him do the right thing and buy his brother a new car after the crash.

“I’m excited and anxious because it is something new for a change, a challenge,” he said.

Matt also sees enrollment at UC Davis as an opportunity for him to test the values that have been reinforced every day for the past 16 years by the like-minded students and faculty at Forest Lake Christian.

“At (Forest Lake) it was easy to stand up for what you believe in because pretty much everyone there believes in the same thing,” he said.

For Matt, college is a wake up call he is anxious to answer.


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