National Merit finalist defies stereotypes

March 23, 1999


photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer

SMITHSBURG - Don't call this National Merit Scholarship finalist an egghead.

He reads a lot of books, but don't call him a bookworm.

[cont. from front page]

He plays guitar in a rock band, but don't call him a metal head.

Chad Tucker doesn't like to be stereotyped.

"Aldous Huxley wrote that over-generalization leads to half truths and quarter truths," Tucker, 17, said.

"I don't really fit into any one category."

The Smithsburg High School senior is a libertarian, an objectivist and individualist, who doesn't believe in altruism, self-categorization, conformity, U.S. involvement in the Middle East or homecoming courts.


And he appears to be a really smart kid.

National Merit finalists represent less than one half of 1 percent of each state's high school graduating classes. The competition for the academic award is tough, and Tucker said the keys to success are class attentiveness and extensive reading.

"It's not a matter of how much you study, but how much you know," he said.

The 1999 academic competition, which is overseen by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, offers awards worth more than $28 million.

Though nearly 1.2 million students entered the 1999 Merit program, only 7,600 Merit Scholarships will be awarded this spring.

As high school juniors, most initial entrants vied for the program by taking the 1997 Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.

This test serves as an initial screen of program entrants.

In September, Tucker became one of some 15,500 high school seniors nationwide selected as semifinalists.

These semifinalists must fulfill certain requirements for advancement to finalist standing.

Competitors must have outstanding high school academic records, be recommended by their principals, and submit SAT scores that confirm their earlier qualifying test performance.

They must complete detailed applications, which include essays and records of participation and leadership in school and community activities.

Tucker filled the bill on all counts.

He maintains a 4.0 grade point average despite tackling the most challenging courses offered at Smithsburg High, including advanced placement English and chemistry, calculus and Latin IV.

Smithsburg High School Principal Jeffrey Stouffer said he wished more students had Tucker's academic initiative.

"Chad is a very intelligent young man with bright potential for the future," Stouffer said.

Tucker said he has taken the SAT three times. His highest score was 1,570 out of a possible 1,600 points. He tallied a perfect 800 on the verbal portion of the test.

Tucker attributed his high math mark to paying attention in class, and his outstanding verbal score to a reading technique he started after taking the PSAT.

Tucker said after he decided he needed to "read to learn," he used a piece of paper for a bookmark, kept a pen handy, and recorded words he didn't know.

He said his verbal score jumped 120 points.

Tucker said he didn't start reading classic texts and books by "the more literary modern authors" just to prepare for the SAT.

He loves to read, and counts George Orwell and Aldous Huxley among his favorite authors.

Tucker's mother, Janice Tucker, said her son began reading before his fourth birthday, and doesn't see it as work.

"Some people pick up a video game," she said. "Chad loves to read."

Reading has done more for Tucker than increase his vocabulary. Books have been the building blocks for his strong beliefs.

"Whenever my mind isn't occupied by anything else, I think about how I should feel about one thing or another," he said.

His libertarian views prompted Tucker to write an anti-government involvement editorial for his school newspaper.

"I don't need the government to protect me from myself," he said.

Another editorial blasted homecoming courts for not including the people who really deserve to be nominated, Tucker said.

"You don't need a crown to prove your self-worth," he said.

Tucker said people shouldn't try to change who they are to conform to others' ideals.

"I'm not willing to compromise who I am just to be friends with all the popular people," he said.

Though he has volunteered with the American Red Cross and knocked on doors to collect canned food for the needy, Tucker said he is not altruistic.

He adopted his objectivist stance after absorbing books by author Ayn Rand.

"I'm not really big on altruism," Tucker said. "Everyone needs to act in their own self-interest."

He wrote a scholarship essay that argued against asking for community involvement on award applications.

"Academic achievement should be an end in itself," Tucker said. "It should be the only criteria for scholarship."

Tucker said he has applied for more than a dozen other scholarships. He wants to pursue chemical engineering in college, and hopes to attend either the University of Maryland or Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

Both schools have strong engineering programs, he said. And he "wanted somewhere where I could learn comfortably."

The Herald-Mail Articles