Spencer Roper got a pleasant surprise last week when he was announced as Dawson County High School's STAR student for 2012.
"I wanted to get past 2,000 [points on the SAT], that was a goal, but the STAR recognition just sort of happened," Roper said. "It's awesome that I was able to beat out that many people.
"I knew there were others that definitely had scored just as high as me or higher."
According to the Professional Association of Georgia Educators Foundation, for the Student Teacher Achievement Recognition program, or STAR, high school students must have the highest score on a single test date for the three-part SAT taken through November of their senior year. In addition, they must be in the top 10 percent or top 10 students of their class based on grade-point average.
Nominees' SAT scores must be equal to or higher than the latest available national average on the math, critical reading and writing sections.
Roper, who scored 2,000 out of a possible 2,400 on the SAT, said the key to his success on the test was "nothing special."
"Going to class and paying attention, you'll get all the stuff on the SAT," he said. "I got some practice test books and did a few practice tests to prepare, but that's about it."
The STAR recipient gets to choose an instructor for the STAR Teacher award. Roper picked English teacher Michael Williams, who has taught at the high school for nine years.
"Mr. Williams is definitely the best teacher this school has to offer," Roper said. "I would recommend him to any student that comes to this school."
For Williams, it was the second year in a row he has been named STAR teacher.
"[The announcement] happened in the auditorium in front of all my peers and colleagues - who are all outstanding teachers, and all of whom deserve the award equally - so I was very honored and humbled at the same time, especially coming from a young man like Spencer," Williams said.
"He's an outstanding scholar who is at the top of his game academically. It was quite an honor. I did not expect it."
Last year, Williams was named STAR teacher by then-senior Grant Shope.
"When I won last year, it was very exciting to earn an award because as everyone knows in teaching it's usually a thankless profession, so to have someone come forward and select you as a STAR teacher, that's quite an honor," said Williams. "This year, I just did not expect it again."
Williams had an equally high appraisal of the school's STAR student.
"I had Spencer in class for two years," he said. "He was in my honors American [Literature] and then [Advanced Placement] Lit and those kids, Spencer included, posed a great challenge for me because they were all at the top of their game and very intelligent. "
Williams also said that his student was deserving of the award but that it did not go to Roper's head.
"In my mind, there's no such thing as arrogance when it comes to Spencer. One of the first things I noticed about Spencer, he is a consummate gentleman, he really is," he said. "He is one of the most humble human beings I've ever had the pleasure and the privilege and the honor to meet.
"When I look at his academic stature and when I look at who he is as a gentleman, it's just a total package - not to be too cliché."
After teaching English for 16 years, Williams said that if there was one thing he tried to teach his students above anything else, it was to stay involved in learning.
"English isn't always, in my opinion, the easiest subject to teach. At times it can be boring. At times it can be tedious," Williams said. "I try to make real-world connections and create interdisciplinary units that are appealing to the kids and try to draw in contemporary influences, be it art, science, or politics."
Roper cited that approach as a reason his teacher selection was "obvious."
"He definitely gets the most out of students of any other teacher," he said of Williams. "He always keeps you engaged in class. You're never bored. He's an awesome teacher. He definitely was a clear choice."
Williams said that, through having him in classes, he could see that Roper was "going places."
"I try to acknowledge that these kids have been raised with wonderful morals and wonderful ideals, especially in Spencer's case."
Following graduation, Roper's future plans are set. "After this, I've already been accepted into [the University of Georgia]. After I get there, I want to study pharmacy like my mom."