John Armstrong found a silver lining in the embarrassing process of having to walk onstage in an auditorium filled with proud relatives and receive an award.
"At least I didn't have to make a speech," said the 13-year-old math whiz from Columbia, a seventh-grader at Harper's Choice Middle School.
He was one of approximately 460 seventh-graders from Maryland and Washington who were honored over the weekend at Johns Hopkins University for earning the kind of Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores that some college-bound high school seniors would die for.
In the company of outstanding students, John stands out. His math score on the SAT, 730 out of a possible 800, placed him among 14 Maryland and Washington seventh-graders who received national awards in this year's talent search by the university Center for Talented Youth.
National awards went to students who scored 630 of a possible 800 on the verbal portion or 700 of a possible 800 on the math portion of the college admissions test.
John is no slouch on the verbal portion of the test, either. He earned a 580, high enough to place his combined score among the top three students in Maryland.
John spent Saturday morning before the Hopkins ceremony the way he has spent most Saturday mornings during this school year, digging into algebra, geometry and higher mathematics in a special program for mathematically gifted students sponsored by Howard County public schools.
At 13, he is already a veteran of the Hopkins program. He took a summer reading class between second and third grades, French at the end of third grade, then signed up for after-school programs in math during fourth and fifth grades.
His test scores earned him a scholarship to this year's summer program, but John said he's not yet sure what course he will take. He had been thinking about fast-paced physics, his father said.
John shrugged off the question of whether students at his school put down their bright classmates as nerds or dweebs. "I don't bother about it," he said.
"A lot of kids experience that," said Kamal Bhatia of Baltimore, whose son, Ajay, 13, a student at the Gilman School, received one of the mathematics awards that went to seventh-graders who scored at or above the mean for high school seniors on the math portion of the SAT, 500. Similar awards went to seventh-graders who scored 430 or better, the mean for high school seniors on the verbal portion of the SAT.
Even some of Ajay's closest friends ask him, "Where is your life?" as if school isn't life, Mr. Bhatia said. He said the fact that Ajay is surrounded by a family that values studiousness helps provide balance.
At St. Anselm's Abbey School in Washington, being academically talented isn't a social disaster, said Elliot Cha, 12, of Lanham. Still, he approached the talent search reluctantly.
"It [the SAT] took up a Saturday morning, and I really didn't want to go," he said. His parents pressed him, and Elliot said he was glad in the end that he qualified for a certificate, but he doesn't want to participate in summer courses sponsored by Hopkins.
The annual talent search stemmed from an effort more than 20 years ago by Hopkins psychology Professor Julian C. Stanley to find seventh- and eighth-graders who could breeze through college math and science tests.