It was never the recognition or applause that pushed Daniel Pippen to spend his high school career volunteering and working for academic honors.
His goal wasn’t to be better than anyone else or earn bragging rights.
So, after he was named The Augusta Chronicle’s Best and Brightest 2013 winner, the realization that his four years of hard work at North Augusta High School had not gone unnoticed was overwhelming.
“Out of all the finalists, for them to choose me, I just couldn’t believe it,” said Pippen, 18. “I’m always a happy guy, but this had me floored.”
Pippen and 20 other finalists were honored Thursday for being some of the highest-achieving high school seniors in the Augusta area at the 11th annual Best and Brightest Awards banquet. The 21 finalists were selected from almost 100 applications, and three judges narrowed the pool to five.
Judges scored each student on volunteer work, academic achievements, leadership and a five-minute interview.
Andrew Hendrix, the admissions director for the University of South Carolina Aiken, said all the finalists have something that makes them unique, but judges are looking for that special spark.
“It’s not easy for us, and they all bring something to the table,” Hendrix said. “But Daniel, he’s just a great all-around person.”
Pippen, who won $1,000 along with the title, said supportive parents and brothers helped him stay active in varsity football and track, Beta Club, Interact Club, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, homeless outreach and dozens of other activities while keeping up with his Advanced Placement classes.
He will attend the University of Michigan to study chemical engineering, a field he’s been interested in since he began reciting mathematical operations as a toddler.
Other seniors nominated were varsity athletes, musicians, Eagle Scouts, soup kitchen volunteers, soon-to-be law school students and future military members.
The 2012 Best and Brightest winner, Gordon Nail Jr., a Swainsboro High graduate who now attends Georgia Tech, shared some words of wisdom with the seniors.
By the end of his freshman year of college, Nail said, he realized it is natural and expected to run into a mental wall, even for those whose success is second nature. Still, all the struggles that students find at the beginning of their college experience will only set them up to learn and grow, he said.
“You’re going to astound yourself with what you can do,” Nail said.
Pippen said he is ready for that challenge: Bring on the hard work, the new experiences and the Michigan snow.
“I’m just excited,” he said. “You just have to have a path to follow and set your mind to it, and it will all come together.”