Growing up in a small town had an effect on Gordon Nail Jr.
If he ever thought about doing something bad with friends, his mother found out about it before he ever left the house. His sister, Jayde, taught him life lessons on the drive to school. And growing up in a place where everybody knew everybody, he learned how to connect with people and talk to strangers like family.
He said that by high school, friendly competition among teens in Swainsboro, Ga., population 7,000, molded him into a varsity tennis player, a Beta Club member and a dedicated student earning 38 college credit-hours before ever getting his diploma.
For his academic accomplishments and confident demeanor, the Swainsboro High School senior was awarded The Augusta Chronicle’s Best & Brightest 2012 title Thursday from a pool of 20 accomplished seniors.
“I never dreamt I would get it,” Nail said. “I was wondering why I was here after hearing everybody else’s stories.”
After graduation, Nail will attend the Georgia Institute of Technology to study industrial engineering with a certificate in pre-law. He hopes to become a patent attorney after getting the idea from the USA Network TV show Suits.
“My mom says I love to argue,” Nail said. “It’s also a public service. It’s helping people.”
Among the 20 Best & Brightest finalists were varsity lettermen, National Merit finalists, science bowl champions, congressional interns, 4-H members, nursing home volunteers and Alzheimer’s walk coordinators.
A panel of three judges chose the winner based on academics, community service, leadership and an interview.
At the Best & Brightest dinner banquet, Chronicle President Dana Atkins told the 70 guests how much the featured students were about to accomplish in their college and career paths.
He praised the parents for getting their children so far and advocating for their futures.
Best & Brightest judge Ellis Johnson said that it’s difficult to choose one winner out of so many accomplished students but that Nail had a vibe that stuck out.
“He’s done so many things for his community, he’s achieved far beyond his years,” Johnson said. “And he had poise. We look for students to be well-composed, just impress us without being shy or nervous, without sweaty hands. That was him.”
In the end, Nail gave all the credit to his small town.