WE'VE ALL read depressing newspaper stories about underachieving local high school students. This, I'm happy to say, isn't that kind of column.
No, I've set aside this space to give a well-deserved thumbs-up to Cameron Clarke, a senior at Germantown Academy who scored a perfect 2400 on the SAT.
That's right. A perfect score.
That hardly ever happens.
Although more than 1.66 million students took the SAT in 2012, only 360 test takers nationwide achieved a spotless 2400, according to SAT officials.
It was Cameron's second try. The first time, he received a fist-pumping 2190 - better than 98.5 percent of all test-takers. But deep down inside, he knew he could do better.
He was notified of his perfect 2400 last spring, and I didn't want the calendar year to end without giving this young, unassuming scholar a well-deserved shout-out.
So, excuse me while I get up from my desk and do my cabbage patch dance. After all, we reward outstanding high school athletes with pages of newsprint, giant trophies and all kinds of accolades. Even before they join the pros or enroll in college, male student athletes get treated like heroes. It's high time that academic superstars, who use their intellects as deftly as their classmates use their bodies, get the star treatment, too.
No shortcuts here
"I put in a lot of work," 18-year-old Cameron told me when I visited his house in Mount Airy. "I took a prep class with some of my friends, and I did a lot of practice tests from a book.
"But that only prepares you so much," he explained. "The difference between getting, like, a 2400 and a couple of points lower is just focus.
"You can screw up or mess up on the smallest of things," he said. "And I just feel like on that particular day, I was focused and I got kind of lucky, I guess, that I didn't make any mistakes."
You've got that right. Especially since Cameron had at first answered some questions in the wrong spaces. "So, in the last five minutes of the test, I had to go back and erase like 36 bubbles," he said, still sounding relieved that he caught his error.
Brainiac in training
Cameron has been a student at Germantown Academy since preschool, and his parents had an inkling early on that their son was gifted. On an IQ test at age 4, he scored a 151, which is way, way up there.
His mother, Mary Jones, teaches Spanish at Father Judge High School. His dad, Peter Clarke, owns the Reef Restaurant and Lounge at Third and South streets.
They did everything they could to nurture that gift - even if they do sometimes come down hard on him for staying up into the wee hours night after night studying.
Cameron is musically accomplished, too. A principal cellist for the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, he performed last summer at the prestigious Aspen Music Festival in Colorado.
A four-page resume that he handed me when I met him lists his other interests: He writes for his school paper, participates in a math club, tutors other students, is a senator in his school's student government and has run cross country. He was a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist. His dream school for college would be Princeton.
"He and his friends are very driven, so I think they feed off of one another," his mom told me. Now, that's the kind of peer pressure I'm happy to endorse.
Another Cameron fan
Alfonzo Porter is a former high school principal and the author of More Like Barack, Less Like Tupac: Eradicating the Academic Achievement Gap by Countering Three Decades of the Hip Hop Hoax. He was thrilled when I told him about Cameron's perfect SAT score.
"I have seen far too much talent wasted. Our young genius black children, particularly boys, too often wind up in the cemetery and jail," Porter later wrote me in an email. "Hearing about perfect SAT scores is unfortunately the exception."
"My question is, Why are we not making them household names?" Porter continued.
"Surely, if we can follow LeBron James from the age of 13, Michael Vick from the age of 14, etc., we can do the same for these young, inspirational academic superstars."