Jeff Long said his son’s accomplishments amaze him and did so again Thursday when the Harlem High School senior was named Youth of the Year by the Exchange Club.
“I got choked up a little to think someone else thinks as much of him as I do,” Long said of son Jared’s latest accomplishment.
Seven high school seniors who have excelled academically in the Augusta area competed for the title. The winner is determined by a point system that takes grade point average, extracurricular activities and an essay on “Parading the spirit of communication with passion and commitment.”
“All of these students have been able to do things other than take a test,” said Phillip Kent, an Exchange Club member who led the event.
The announcement came as a surprise to Jared and his family, who were not aware an overall winner would be named at the reception at First Baptist Church.
The teen’s high school counselor, Jonell Beckum, was the first on her feet, clapping after the announcement.
“Jared has been a fighter since Day 1,” she said.
Six years ago, in the sixth grade, Jared was diagnosed with a brain tumor and has had multiple surgeries and therapies over the years. Despite his condition, Beckum said Jared remained steadfast and determined not only to excel in academics but to remain involved in multiple extracurricular activities.
“Some days he’d be green in the classroom and he wouldn’t want to go home,” she said. “We’d have to make him.”
Jared, who is his class valedictorian, has a 4.0 GPA and was recently recognized for the four-year highest average in math, science, social studies and literature at his school. He also won the AP Scholar Award and was named to the National Society of High School Scholars.
In his junior year, he received the Georgia Certificate of Merit Award from the University of Georgia and named to the Governors Honor Program in chemistry. All four years he has been nominated to Who’s Who Among All American Scholars and for the first three years he received the U.S. Achievement Academy National Science/Math award.
“His mother and I weren’t that great of students so it’s been really exciting to see him excel like he is,” his father said.
Jared has volunteered at the McDuffie County Fire Department since he was 13, played clarinet in the school band, is involved in multiple clubs and in his church.
It might seem difficult to juggle so many commitments, but Jared has a system.
“If studying is looking a little light then I’ll lean into the other stuff and go more to the fire department,” Jared said. “If I have a lot of studying then I don’t do as much (of the other activities).”
Jared plans to attend Kennesaw State University in the fall and major in chemistry and forensics with the hope of becoming a fire investigator.
“I’ve wanted to be a firefighter since I was 5 years old,” he said.
Jared will go on to represent the Augusta Exchange Club at the regional and possibly the national level.
All students received a check, plaque and certificate.