Twenty eight of thirty STAR students gather for a photograph after being recognized during the annual Gwinnett County Student-Teacher Achievement Recognition luncheon at Sonesta Gwinnett Place in Duluth Friday. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
DULUTH — With admissions counselors clamoring to be their top choice, some of the brightest high school seniors across Gwinnett County were honored on Friday at an annual luncheon.
The only thing that may have been more impressive than the list of potential college destinations were their path of study for the 30 students from 27 high schools. Duke University, Columbia University, Yale University, Harvard University, Brown University, Notre Dame University were just some of the prestigious institutions students have been accepted to with plans to study areas such as neurobiology, mechanical engineering and biosciences.
And at least six plan to attend Georgia Tech.
They moved from other countries as toddlers or when they were in elementary school, such as Berkmar’s Mati Nemera (Africa), Meadowcreek’s Quang Vo (Vietnam) and Shiloh’s Rebeka Zahirovic (Bosnia).
The students were honored at the Sonesta Gwinnett Place hotel for having the highest SAT score at their school. The Student Teacher Achievement Recognition program was created to recognize Georgia’s outstanding high school seniors and the teachers who have been most instrumental in their academic development.
The top sectional honorees were Deion King from Buford, Willie Jin from the Gwinnett School of Math, Science and Technology, Apoorva Gangavelli from North Gwinnett and Michael Yu from Parkview.
King plans to attend Princeton University, while Jin plans to attend Harvard. Gangavelli and Yu are undecided about their college destinations.
Yu, who scored a perfect 2,400 on the SAT, called it an honor to be recognized in front of many great students.
He credited his mother for helping him succeed in school and earn high grades. But she gave him the credit.
“He’s a really good boy, and self-motivating,” his mother, Linda, said. “I didn’t really push that hard.”
Yu is the drum major of Parkview’s marching band, vice president of its school’s chapter of the National Honor Society and a member of the science bowl.
Yu’s earned acceptance letters from Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia, but has applied to Harvard, University of California at Berkeley, Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“Just trying to be the best I can,” Yu said. “I definitely consider my biggest competition to be myself. I can kind of see how I can make myself better than my peers, but trying to better myself and be better than who I was yesterday is increasingly harder.”
Billy Jones, a physics and chemistry teacher at Mountain View, is in his 40th year of teaching in Gwinnett, and was selected as a STAR teacher for the 25th time, most recently by Stephen Jenkins.
“He teaches on all levels, has something for every student, and really cares about his students,” Jenkins said.
Added Jones, “It’s just been a joy to have the ability to teach kids like this and know what wonderful things they can do, and keep up with them in college.”
Sponsored by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators Foundation, the STAR program honors Georgia’s outstanding high school seniors. The STAR program has recognized more than 23,000 high school seniors since 1958.