School wasn't always a piece of cake for Beaufort High School senior Adam Lipsitz.
"I remember being in kindergarten or first grade and being offered chocolate cake as a reward for having the best grades, and ice cream for having the second-best. I got ice cream, and I really wanted that chocolate cake," Lipsitz said, half joking, when asked what has driven the National Merit Scholar and valedictorian to excel.
Lipsitz and fellow senior Michael Cook are among 8,000 high school seniors nationwide who will receive $2,500 National Merit Scholarships for college. They were chosen from a pool of about 15,000 finalists, representing less than 1 percent of the nation's seniors. Students qualify through their scores on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test and are judged on academics, leadership, an essay and a recommendation from their school, according to a news release.
For Cook, the school's salutatorian, academics and books became a means to fill a social void caused by a sudden move from suburban Charleston to rural Spartanburg and an outlet to stretch his imagination. He acts in school drama productions, runs track, plays soccer and serves in JROTC.
Known as the "Tech Man," Lipsitz has been active in the school's engineering and robotics clubs. He helped build and program a robot with an escalating arm capable of picking up small spheres and cans and depositing them into containers; it placed second last year in a regional competition.
Lipsitz also serves as president of the school's chapter of the National Honors Society and is a member of the school's French Honors Society and Interact Club, which works closely with the Rotary Club of the Lowcountry to volunteer in the community and raise money for local charities.
Both do all of this while juggling a heavy course load that includes four to five Advanced Placement classes and maintaining a grade point average above 5.0.
"It can be daunting. It can be hard sometimes to get up in the morning and stay enthusiastic throughout the day, but we do our best," Lipsitz said.
Both are academically gifted, said principal Corey Murphy, and together they make one "super brain." Cook is the right brain -- creative and intuitive. And Lipsitz is the left brain -- analytical and logical.
"They are both extremely talented young men (and) undoubtedly will be successful at the next level," Murphy said. "... They both can walk that tightrope between balancing friends, social and extracurriculars, with demanding academic pursuits. I think that's what's going to make them supermen."
Cook, who received a JROTC medal for academic excellence and was named a Beaufort County School District Senior Scholar, plans to attend the University of South Carolina Honors College, with nursing as his probable career path. He intends to volunteer this summer at Beaufort Memorial Hospital.
Lipsitz, a Heritage Classic Foundation Scholar and a school district Senior Scholar, plans to attend Clemson University to study engineering.
"I'm just thankful because it's helping me pay for school," Cook said of being named a National Merit Scholar.
Added Lipsitz: "It's also very humbling to know that out of such a large pool of people that I'm one of the lucky ones to receive a scholarship. Taking away even just a little bit of the financial burden for college will help."
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.