While many of Andrew Buckner's classmates at Cross Creek High School spent the past few days on a senior trip in Orlando, Fla., he stayed home.
It's not that the 18-year-old couldn't go or didn't want to. In fact, he had put down a deposit earlier in the school year with every intention to go.
There was one problem. The trip began Thursday, meaning that anyone going would be counted absent from school for two days.
That was a nonstarter for Buckner, who has had perfect attendance since kindergarten and is set to graduate in just two weeks.
Not only that: He has never been tardy and has never fallen asleep in class -- not once.
"People call me 'teacher's pet,' " Buckner said. "I didn't like it at first, but I came to find out it's not a bad thing. When you start thinking about it, it means you are well-liked. If you get good grades and don't miss a day, in the long run it makes everything easier."
Buckner is not the stereotypical nerd with the pocket protector and glasses. He is closer to the jock, having played on the offensive and defensive line on the Razborbacks varsity football team for the past three seasons.
He keeps his grades up, too, averaging A's and B's, though he expects to get the reduced HOPE Scholarship when he goes to Augusta State University this fall. The Legislature this year cut the payout to 90 percent of tuition, with no fees covered, for students attending in-state colleges who have at least a 3.0 grade-point average. The only students who get the full ride starting in the 2011-12 school year are those with at least a 3.7 GPA.
Buckner has had a lot of support -- family members, friends and teachers -- who have urged him over the years to stay in school, do his homework and keep his eye on the "real world" beyond high school. But he has a special inspiration, his uncle Dave, even though he never knew him.
That's because Dave died in 1992 after being struck by lightning -- the same year Buckner was born. Before that, Buckner's uncle also had perfect attendance from kindergarten through 12th grade and had gone on to join the Navy.
"I found out about my uncle in fifth grade," he said. "That's when I started getting awards for perfect attendance, and I decided I wanted to be like him."
Buckner is in the Navy Junior ROTC at Cross Creek. He doesn't plan to join the military, but he does hope to move on from ASU after a year or two to finish his undergraduate studies at Georgia Southern University, then go on and get a law degree.
One of the most common reasons for missing school is sickness. Don't think that Buckner hasn't had those days, but he says his worst days almost always occurred during winter, spring or summer break.
He also faced the same plight other kids face when they reach middle school: peer pressure to conform to the crowd that doesn't consider school that important, the temptation to give into distractions, even people he knew choosing to drop out of school.
His family's high value on education, however, and some timely motivation from teachers, kept him focused, he says.
Another inspiration for Buckner is his grandfather, who died last year. One of the final times Buckner saw him, his grandfather told him: "You've got to get your education."
"When I heard that, I about wanted to cry," Buckner said. "His words remind me to keep going, to be somebody others can look up to."
Buckner also credits Principal Jason Moore and several teachers and coaches with encouraging students to stay focused in school.
"Mr. Moore wants everyone to be in a club. I'm in five or six," Buckner said, including Junior ROTC, football, weightlifting and FBLA. "I always try to keep busy so I'm not in the wrong crowd."
Of course, many students don't have perfect attendance and still graduate and go on to college and have successful careers. Leah Logan, 18, is also about to graduate at Cross Creek. She has one absence this year, but that still places her in the top attendance category (five or fewer missed days of school), according to the state.
Logan said she hopes to go to Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Ga., but she has been accepted to other schools. She credited her mother, Carmen Logan, who is an Army captain and has been in the service for 18 years, with keeping her focused on school and life afterward.
Graduating from high school "shows my determination, that I strive in this world," Leah Logan said. "My mom kept me determined."
She, too, has seen some friends choose not to finish school, but she said she does not want to end up in a "dead-end job," something she is convinced would happen if she didn't graduate and go to college.
"You've just got to keep going," Logan said of children in middle school who might be tempted to give up. "You've got to keep your head up and stay focused. If you want to be something in life, you've got to go for the prize. Get a purpose for yourself now for the world to come."