In the course of becoming valedictorian this year at the boys division of Valley Torah High School in Valley Village, Michael Farnoosh faced many difficult tests, but the toughest came outside the classroom.
Diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 4, he had to undergo chemotherapy and was hospitalized 15 times before being declared cancer-free in 2001.
“At some point, I was going every day for shots, treatment and check-ups,” Farnoosh said.
Still, the 17-year-old from the Pico-Robertson neighborhood never let his health get in the way of a stellar academic career. He leaves his school at the top of his 24-member class with a grade-point average above 4.0. He has been accepted to the University of California, San Diego.
Farnoosh said his early difficulties didn’t just give him a greater appreciation for the love of those around him — family who made sacrifices and community members who donated blood — but they helped him in other ways, too.
“For most of at least three years, four years, of my childhood, I was around adults a lot — doctors, and not with my friends — so I think I matured a little bit more,” he said. “I think that helped me.”
Administrators at the Orthodox school noticed.
“I think he’s used that as a motivational factor in his life to really push himself and pursue excellence,” said Randy Rutschman, principal of secular studies. “Maybe he’s realized at a younger age than most people that we’re all mortal, and he’s really made the best use of the time that he has.”
Rutschman said Farnoosh has done more than just excel in his academics. The young man’s character and desire have made him a great role model and leader when it comes to Judaic practice, too.
“He’s the kid who, when it’s time to daven, he’s down there davening. When it’s time to do anything — and do it right, and do it properly — he’s one of the first ones there,” he said. “He leads others. … He kind of sets the tone, and kids follow him.”
Rabbi Dovid Felt, principal of the boys division, praised Farnoosh’s focus and his willingness to reach out to others.
“If a student needs some help, he’s there and he’s ready to do that,” he said.
In addition to the time Farnoosh spends studying at Valley Torah, he also takes classes at the Kabbalah Centre on South Robertson Boulevard.
Farnoosh, whose parents were born in Iran, can best be described in one word, according to Rutschman: mensch.
“He kind of uplifts the school,” he said.