Beneath the purple hair adorning the top of Andrew Byrd's head lies a brilliant and disciplined mind.
The Lakeside High School senior was named this month as Columbia County's STAR student. It's a recognition he earned after achieving a perfect 2400 on the SAT.
Unlike many of his peers, Byrd never sought to boost his score on the benchmark exam by using preparation courses or study guides.
"I feel like I've been preparing for it my entire life by working hard in my classes to learn as much as I can," the 18-year-old said. "I've always been an avid reader and I've always paid attention in school. If you do that, then you don't need a prep course."
Byrd views grades in much the same way.
"Those are just letters on a piece of paper," he said. "I'm here to learn as much as I can, to understand as much as I can. Good grades are just a consequence of that."
John Cato, the Lakeside High physics instructor Byrd chose as STAR teacher, said his student's commitment to learning immediately impressed him.
"He has an extraordinarily disciplined mind," the 13-year teacher said of Byrd. "He doesn't want to just know what he needs to pass a test. He truly wants to understand."
And Cato's desire to pass on that understanding is why Byrd said he selected him for STAR teacher, the third time Cato has received that honor.
"He has a way of explaining the material without talking down to you or going over your head," Byrd said. "He has a good sense of humor that comes across in class and he doesn't speak to us like we're kids. He talks to us like the adults we are or are about to become."
Cato abandoned a military career to pursue an academic course.
A former cadet at West Point, Cato left the Army academy to attend Augusta State University and pursue a physics degree with the intention of becoming a teacher. He was prompted to change his career path after studying under a physics professor at West Point, who also was an astronaut.
Though Cato had tinkered with the notion of becoming a college professor, he opted to teach at the high school level.
"I think this is where you can make the most impact on young minds," he said.
History might repeat itself in that Byrd also intends to study physics, but likely at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Byrd has no desire to teach.
"What's great about a physics degree is that it's so flexible," he said. "I'm probably going to go to grad school, and with physics I can go into engineering, or even to law school."
Outside of academics, Byrd is on the Lakeside wrestling team, studies jiu jitsu and judo, and is active at the Church of the Holy Comforter.
"Academics come naturally to me, but athletics is something I have to work at," Byrd said. "I've always believed you should study smart, not hard, but athletics is something I've had to work hard at to excel in. I think that has given me some focus that has improved other areas of my life."
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