Christopher Xu vividly recalls his first performance at Carnegie Hall. He was nervous and about to play a piano solo — at just age 10.
“The first time was very intimidating, just walking on the stage and not being able to see anyone under me,” said Xu, of Jericho. “The entire spotlight was on me, and all I remember was my left leg uncontrollably shaking out of nervousness.” He started to play, and the muscle memory kicked in. “Once I got comfortable, and let loose, the music started coming.”
Xu, 17, among the youngest members of his graduating class (he entered first grade a year early), is described as calm as he contends with a rigorous curriculum, myriad commitments and personal strife.
Xu skips a lunch period to manage five Advanced Placement courses and college-level, multivariate calculus. He fences, plays several string instruments and conducts a youth orchestra in his spare time. His involvement in the New York International Youth Philharmonic has taken him to Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center.
“Some of the kids always look like they have a worried expression on their face,” said his guidance counselor, Candy Bodner. “They’re carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. They don’t look happy. Chris never seemed burdened.”
On his 14th birthday, Xu’s mother told him she had breast cancer. During her treatment, Xu did not burden his mother with the challenges some teenagers bring to their parents and didn’t “give me any additional workload,” said his mother, Kristen Yang.
His father lives in China full time, and the period dealing with his mother’s diagnosis “made it so I had to be independent at an early age,” Xu said.
On several occasions, Yang made omelets for her son and Bodner for their meetings before school to review his college essays and applications. He would come into school about an hour early for the sessions.
“I’m sure he was traumatized, but he shouldered it all so beautifully as a 14-year-old,” said Yang, who is now cancer-free.
Xu said that, for now, his career ambition is to work in finance, either in investment banking or sales and trading.
He is grateful to Bodner for her support and said he is eager to begin his freshman year of college.
“My high school experience was really influenced by the people around me,” he said.
HIGHER ED: Xu will attend Duke University in North Carolina and expects to major in economics and computer science.
FRESHMAN YEAR: Xu said he is looking forward to “genuinely meeting a bunch of new people. I’m kind of tired of being in a Jericho, Long Island bubble, and I’m looking forward to meeting people from different places other than Long Island.”
IF I RULED THE WORLD: “I would say one of my biggest pet peeves is when people are selfish . . . When I see people being selfish, and looking out for themselves, I get really annoyed, so I would probably change that.”