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Aspen High senior shows skills in international biz competition

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – Spending a few minutes talking with Matteo Garofalo, it quickly becomes evident that this is no ordinary youth.

The 18-year-old Aspen High School senior speaks bluntly and is pretty quick with a quip. Responding to a question about his plans for the future, he said he once considered a career in government and politics but is now leaning toward the private sector.

“If you would have asked me a year ago, I would have said ‘congressman.’ If you had asked me six months ago I would have said ‘lobbyist.’ Ask me now, and I say I want to be the CEO who hires the lobbyist to control the congressman,” Garofalo said.



The hubris came in handy from April 28 to May 2 during the DECA International Career Development Conference in Salt Lake City, where more than 12,000 students from the U.S. and Canada competed in 45 different business and marketing events. Garofalo was the lone student from Aspen High to make it to the prestigious conference. He got there by placing in the top 10 percent in recent competitions at the local and state level.

In Utah, Garofalo competed among 160 students in the category of “Principles of Business Management and Administration.” He advanced to the finals and ended up with a trophy for third place.



“While it is hard to say for sure, I think it is the second-highest placement ever for an Aspen High School student at a school-sanctioned competition at the national-international level,” AHS business and management instructor Dave Conarroe said in an email to The Aspen Times.

“The only higher finisher I can recall was John Fox, who won the (Vocational Industrial Clubs of America) competition in auto mechanics as an AHS student back in the late ’70s or early ’80s,” Conarroe said. (Fox is a former chairman of the board of the Rocky Mountain Institute and has been involved in leadership roles with various energy-related companies over the years.)

Garofalo, a member of the Aspen High debate team, said he was relaxed at the Salt Lake City event and that he didn’t put a lot of pressure on himself to do well. He found the experience to be extremely valuable and enjoyed meeting students from across the country.

“You meet kids who are intelligent, who like the things that you like,” he said. “In Aspen, you’re stuck in this little bubble of 500 or so kids at one school, whereas other schools have thousands of kids. It gives you an opportunity to meet new and different people – and girls, too. I find that you always meet the best girls on those trips. Not only are they beautiful, but they care a lot more about politics and the world than they do about Justin Bieber.”

Garofalo said his recipe for winning over the judges was pretty simple.

“I look great in a suit, and that always helps,” he said. “But other than that, it’s being well-spoken and knowing what you’re talking about. And finally, it’s just a level of honesty and openness, and being willing to talk about what you feel is true.”

Garofalo has a keen interest in politics, but said that overall he doesn’t lean toward any extreme. “I’ve looked into the issues and I’ve seen what makes sense and what benefits the most people,” he said. “I don’t base my decisions on what society says or what my parents or other people say. For me, it’s all about doing what’s logical, which I think is something that’s really lacking in modern politics.”

The main attraction of politics, he said, is “the power. The fact that you’re in a position where you influence, where you change people’s lives. And moreover, it’s such an intricate game of how you maneuver around your constituents and those who provide you money. For all of human history, politics, the leading of other people, has been the most complex and difficult game on earth.”

Garofalo said he makes time for activities other than academic pursuits. Like most Aspen-area youths, he spends time on the mountains, and hikes and bikes. He said he has learned a lot about discipline through Soo Bahk Do, a Korean martial art. He wouldn’t describe himself as athletic, though.

“By Colorado standards I’m not all that fit. If you want to talk about Dallas or New York standards, I’m doing great,” he said.

Garofalo plans to attend American University in Washington, D.C., this fall on an academic scholarship.

asalvail@aspentimes.com


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