Aquinas High School senior Joshua Cooper is the type of student who does extra homework problems just for fun and who dreams of one day exploring Mars for NASA.
That dedication to learning and potential for the future earned him the title of 2014 Richmond County STAR Student on Monday. His chemistry teacher, Kevin Trammell, was honored as the district’s STAR Teacher for his role in Cooper’s success.
“I’ve always liked learning, but my parents always told me ‘Education is the best thing we could give you,’” Joshua said of his parents, both professors at Georgia Regents University. “They really set an example for me.”
Joshua will attend Stanford University to study biochemistry in the fall, and with a combined SAT score of 2310, achieved one of the highest marks in the area.
The STAR students and teachers from 11 area high schools were honored at the event’s annual banquet at the Kiwanis Club before the county winner was announced. STAR students are chosen for their individual schools by having the highest score on any single test date of the three-part SAT and being in the top 10 percentile of their class.
The winner earns the county title by having the highest SAT score of the group and then goes on to compete for regionwide honors in the 12 STAR regions of Georgia.
The finalists this year included students with offers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Emory University and the University of Georgia. They have plans to become architects, chemists and psychologists.
“How can anybody be despondent about our future with folks like this?” said John Bell, chair of the STAR Student Committee.
In her keynote speech, Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Carla McMillian, the first Asian Pacific American appointed to that role, told the students to work hard and use their positions of leadership to help others.
McMillian said that when her grandparents immigrated from China to open a grocery in Augusta in 1920, they instilled a love for country and service mind-set in their children.
As her family worked to learn English and build a life, McMillian said, members of the community and First Baptist Church supported English language and Sunday school classes for them.
That foundation helped McMillian go on to Duke University and work as a partner for national law firm Sutherland Asbill and Brennan LLP before being appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal as an appeals court judge in 2013.
She urged the students to use their potential for the same kind of mentorship.
“Volunteer at your local soup kitchen or homeless shelter, read to elementary-age school children, be a Big Brother or Big Sister,” said McMillian, the 1991 STAR Student for Westminster Schools of Augusta. “Be knowledgeable and active in your communities. Maybe run for political office. Do your part. Being a leader is not just about yourself.”