ST. CHARLES – Michael Foley, who graduated May 29 as Aurora Central Catholic's valedictorian and as a semifinalist for the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program, has been interested in space for as long as he can remember.
In addition to dressing up as an astronaut for Halloween one year, the 17-year-old owned a telescope and grew up "imagining what was beyond our reality," he said.
As a freshman at Notre Dame next year, Foley said he intends to pursue studies in physics and math, but his bigger goals include earning a doctorate degree in astrophysics.
After that, he said, he would like to go into research or teach.
Foley also considered attending Northwestern University in Evanston, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, he said.
The teen said his college applications were boosted by his perfect ACT score he earned as a high school junior.
"I feel it opened quite a few doors for me," he said.
His perfect 36 likely contributed to another honor he received: being named as one of 565 semifinalists in the 2014 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program.
Established in 1964, the program recognizes up to 141 of the nation's most distinguished graduating high school seniors. SAT and ACT scores help identify students for the program.
Although Foley ultimately wasn't named a presidential scholar – the Illinois recipients were from Channahon and Danforth – his achievement was unmatched by any other Tri-Cities graduate.
"I believe I was the only semifinalist from Kane County" – he was – "and the only one in the state from a Catholic high school," Foley said.