In the first 18 years of his life Haddam Killingworth High School senior Clayton Rountree has earned a multitude of awards, ranging from Eagle Scout to ranking number one in his upcoming graduation class, but perhaps none is more prestigious than being named a 2011 U.S. Presidential Scholar.
Rountree, the youngest child of Joyce and Chuck Rountree of Killingworth, was selected as one of 141 outstanding high school seniors across the country who have demonstrated outstanding academic achievement, artistic excellence, leadership, citizenship, service, and contribution to school and community. The U.S. Presidential Scholars will be honored for their accomplishments in Washington, D.C. next month.
Since 1983, each Presidential Scholar has invited his or her most inspiring and challenging teacher to accompany them, to receive a Teacher Recognition Award from the U.S. Department of Education and to participate in the recognition events. Rountree selected high school chemistry teacher James Daniels.
"I was excited to receive the news (and the honor), but at the same time, I kind of didn't want to deal with the attention," Rountree said of his recognition. "So far, I have kind of flown under the radar with it, only a few people have said anything to me thus far. But I was also very honored to receive such a special distinction, being one out of 120 students selected from across the country out of the graduating class, I'm sure that has to be the 99th percentile of students.
"The U.S. Presidential Scholars exemplify what dedication to achievement and setting high standards can symbolize for all youth," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. "The Department of Education congratulates these students on their artistic and academic accomplishments."
The 141 U.S. Presidential Scholars include one young man and one young woman from each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and from U.S. families living abroad, as well as 15 chosen at-large and 20 Presidential Scholars in the Arts.
"I knew I was representing Connecticut when I received the news, but it wasn't immediately that I realized that I was not one of the 15 at large bids, but rather the male representative from Connecticut, because the other two scholars from Connecticut are both female," Rountree added. "Considering the fact that Connecticut is known for having top-notch public schools, not to mention Xavier/Mercy, Choate, Notre Dame, Hopkins, and many other very prestigious private schools, filled with very intelligent youth, it is an honor to be selected to represent Connecticut."
Rountree will be attending the University of Southern California on a full academic scholarship to study industrial and systems engineering.
Rountree's credentials are remarkable: he's ranked number one in his upcoming graduating class; provided almost 500 hours of community service; four year member of the HKHS soccer team; four year member of the HKHS swim team; four year member of the HKHS tennis team; scored a perfect 36 on the ACT college entrance exams; earned a four-year academic scholarship to USC; attained Eagle Scout ranking; received CIAC scholar athlete award; recognized as an AP Scholar; received the Presidential Fitness Award; recognized as a CAPT Scholar; semi-finalist for the Big Y Governor's Scholarship and numerous other academic awards throughout his high school career.
Not only an outstanding student and athlete, Rountree also finds time to give back to the community as both an Eagle Scout and dedicated member of The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints, member of the high school human relations and international culture clubs as well as the Spanish and National Honor Societies, editor of the high school yearbook and member of the high school math league.
When asked what he felt was his greatest achievement to date, Rountree hesitated but said, "Now that is a tough question. I would have a hard time choosing one singular event. Earning my Eagle Scout Award is definitely one of the achievements I am most proud of, as is scoring a perfect 36 on the ACT exam."
Rountree selected Daniels to receive the teacher recognition award because "he is an outstanding teacher, probably the best in our school, I'd have to say. I thought that this would be the perfect ending to a great career for him." Daniels is retiring at the end of this school year after more than 35 years of teaching.
"Ask any Junior or Senior at HK who has had him, and about 95 percent will tell you that they loved him/his class," Rountree said of Daniels. "He does a tremendous job of taking a difficult subject (chemistry) and teaching it in a way that high school students can understand it. His use of stories and analogies to help apply concepts is very helpful, and he expects the best of his students, which motivates them to succeed."
Daniels is equally impressed with Rountree. "Clayton is very capable and hard-working which is an unbeatable combination. He has the drive and motivation to succeed and maximize his potential.
"He really wants to know why things are the way they are. He and I think similarly. He likes challenges and doesn't run away from them," Daniels added. "It's the job of our schools to challenge our students and place those challenges just within reach."
Of the honor for himself, Daniels noted, "I am in Clayton's reflected light."
“Clayton is a wonderfully well rounded young man who has challenged himself by enrolling in honors and AP courses throughout his four years at Haddam-Killingworth High School. To be named a Presidential Scholar is a tribute to the seriousness he attaches to his education as well as to the foundational guidance and support he has received from family over the years," noted HKHS Principal Charles Macunas.
For the past 47 years, the prestigious U.S. Presidential Scholars program has honored more than 6,000 of the nation's top-performing students. Of the three million students expected to graduate from high school this year, more than 3,000 candidates qualified on the basis of outstanding performance on the College Board SAT and ACT exams, or by nomination through the nationwide YoungArts™ competition conducted by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts. The U.S. Presidential Scholars Program was created in 1964 to honor academic achievement. It was expanded in 1979 to recognize students who demonstrate exceptional talent in the visual, literary and performing arts.