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Beaufort Academy senior Luke Hetherington is the type of student who keeps teachers going when they're having trouble with a tough class.
"He's brilliant," said one of his teachers, Ian Sprague. "He's by far the strongest student that I've ever taught."
Sprague, a teacher for nine years, taught Hetherington in literature, creative writing and drama classes at Beaufort Academy. At times, Sprague said it's hard to believe Hetherington is still in high school.
"He's just one of those amazing kinds of individuals that you meet and say, 'There is a lot I could learn from this kid.'"
Hetherington, 18, is one of about 2,800 students across the nation to win a 2010 National Merit Scholarship financed by colleges and universities. About 50 of the winners announced last week are from South Carolina. Additional winners will be announced in July.
Hetherington plans to attend Furman University and pursue a double major in philosophy and biology. He hopes to become a paleontologist and study avian flight and its evolution through history.
His interests, inside and outside the classroom, are diverse. He had the lead role in Beaufort Academy's play this year and helped the school's swim team win a state championship. His favorite subjects are English and science.
"Neither one is really constrained," Hetherington said. "There are always different variables and different ways to look at things and go about solving problems."
His swim coach, Bethany Byrne, said she looked forward to the bus rides to swim meets for the chance to sit and talk with Hetherington. He's modest and reserved but also has a sense of humor and interesting ideas to share, she said.
"He's someone who will probably change the world," Byrne said.
In his free time, Hetherington said he loves camping, hiking and kayaking, sometimes in the mountains of North Carolina. He took a 12-day outdoors trip to Arizona and Utah with Sprague and about 10 other students this year.
Hetherington could identify snakes, bugs and other wildlife for his peers and always looked out his fellow students, Sprague said.
"I know if anything had happened to me, I could rely on Luke both to take care of me and keep the trip going safely," he said.
Although Hetherington said he enjoyed high school, he's ready to move on to something new. He looks forward to finding new hobbies, and might take up fencing at Furman this fall.
"I'm just looking forward to it as a new experience," he said. "Hopefully I'll get to meet new people and try new things."