DOBBS FERRY, N.Y. – When Facebook makes its highly anticipated IPO Friday, 28-year-old Dobbs Ferry native Mark Zuckerberg will become one of the richest men on the planet.
Long before Facebook, tagged photos and timelines, Zuckerberg was just another student in the Ardsley School District. He ran cross country, was on the fencing team, played Mario Kart and obsessed about Star Wars, teachers and family friends say.
The young Zuckerberg they remember is far from the calculating, socially awkward jerk that many have come to expect after his portrayal in “The Social Network,” the movie version of Facebook’s story.
What Ardsley Middle School science teacher Chris Walsh saw was a well-adjusted kid who got along with every social group and was well-liked by his classmates. Walsh said what he remembers about Zuckerberg is his sense of humor and hearty laugh.
“He had a deep laugh for a small kid,” Walsh said. “He would stick his chest out and have this deep laugh. He must have been a happy kid then.”
Martha Snegroff, Zuckerberg’s fifth-grade English and sixth-grade science teacher, recalled a young man who was assertive and opinionated, even at a young age.
“He was pretty self-confident,” she said. “When he had an opinion, he stuck to his opinion.”
The idea Zuckerberg was head and shoulders above his classmates academically wasn’t the case, Walsh said.
“He was certainly a smart kid, but I don’t think he was at the top of the class,” he said.
Temple Beth Abraham Rabbi David Holtz led the Tarrytown synagogue the Zuckerberg family attended and watched the young Zuckerberg grow up.
Holtz looked on during Zuckerberg’s "Star Wars"-themed bar mitzvah and later during a trip to Israel with the 15-year-old Zuckerberg. Holtz said what he remembers was a thoughtful and insightful teen.
“I found that he thought very deeply about pretty much anything he was asked about,” Holtz said. “He didn’t speak unless he had something to say.”
Zuckerberg was not available to comment for this story, Facebook spokeswoman Victoria Cassady said Monday.
In a 2011 radio interview with Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner, Zuckerberg’s father, Edward, a Dobbs Ferry dentist, described his son as a good student who was quiet and humble. Teachers said they would add motivated and determined to the list.
“I think he had strong ideas and once he set his mind to something he went after it. If he had goals, he usually achieved those goals,” Snegroff said.
Those goals usually revolved around math and computers, teachers said.
While still in middle school, Zuckerberg already was trying his hand at programming and was taking graduate-level computer courses at nearby Mercy College.
When he was in the eighth grade, Zuckerberg showed Walsh a computer program he created. Using the science room's lone computer, Zuckerberg created a wire frame display of rocks and crystals that rotated, giving viewers a 360-degree view of the crystal on the screen.
“It was an impressive feat in 1998,” Walsh said.
Even though many have said they recognized his abilities early on, Zuckerberg’s teachers said there was no way to predict that he would one day stand to earn $24 billion, which published reports have estimated to be the value his share of Facebook.
“I was pretty sure he would be successful, but anyone who tells you they are not surprised would be lying to you,” Holtz said.
Now, many in the community look back in awe, proud to have added in even a small way to the education of the Internet's biggest celebrity.
"It's exciting to know someone that was so successful," said Snegroff, the English and science teacher.
Zuckerberg left Dobbs Ferry after his sophomore year at Ardsley High School and enrolled at the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. In a 2004 interview with Harvard’s student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, Zuckerberg said he left Westchester in search of a school that better fit his needs.
“[Ardsley] didn’t have a lot of computer courses or a lot of the higher math courses,” Zuckerberg said.
From Phillips Exeter, Zuckerberg headed off to Harvard and later to Palo Alto, Calif. where he still lives, working as CEO of Facebook.
After the company's IPO Friday, Dobbs Ferry's most famous native will also likely become its richest.
Check back for Part II of the Zuckerberg family story.
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