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The Renaissance Man of Hillcrest High School

By Lucie Nelka |

Daniel Pak won’t be spending this summer slinging burgers or mowing neighborhood lawns for a little extra cash. No, the eighteen-year-old star of Hill-crest High School’s graduating class has better things to do-like working in the computer programming department at Recognition Equipment in Irving. (He was also asked to lend his considerable brainpower to a microbiology research team at the University of Nebraska, but opted to stay in town.)

You may remember parties and poolside loafing the summer before you went away to college, but Daniel Pak isn’t your average high school graduate. In the past two years alone, Pak has been crowned valedictorian of a class of 235, chosen as a semifi-nalist from a pool of 9,000 top students in the Presidential Scholars Program, and honored with a $1,000 check from the NBA and the Mavericks organization for his essay on the importance of a college education. But he didn’t stop there. He scored a perfect 1,600 on the SAT (only 1 percent of the 1 million students who take the college entrance exam nationwide score above 1.500, and only nine earned the perfect grade last year), and he aced the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, making him the first student in the history of the Dallas Independent School District to answer all 115 questions correctly.

And Pak’s talents are not limited to academics. He was also a violinist in the all-state orchestra (even though he quit violin lessons when he was in the ninth grade), was district doubles champion in tennis (even though he taught himself how to play), and was staff cartoonist for the school newspaper. And, when he wasn’t playing an instrument, hitting a ball, or drawing, he read novels-100, to be exact, in his senior year.

Pak says he owes his success first to his father. “My father has driven me the most. I could never really let him down because the second I would start failing behind, I’d get an earful of his lashing tongue. I was always expected to be a success.” Then there is Hillcrest, and in particular history teacher Bernard Snowden, whom he lists as his hero. “He didn’t believe in memory work or busy work,” Pak says. “He taught me to reason things out-to learn for the thrill of learning.” Last, he credits himself. By the age of four, he had already taught himself to read; by the time he left grade school, he had finished off most of the children’s classics. Beginning in the ninth grade, Pak religiously reviewed vocabulary lists. His father insisted that he learn a foreign language, and now he is in his third year of studying Latin. And Pak initiated his own studies to round off his school curriculum.

Despite all that he’s accomplished, Pak thinks he could have done better. “There is so much room for improvement and sometimes I think I’m too carefree, that I let things slide.”

Pak didn’t procrastinate when applying to his four dream colleges: Johns Hopkins University. Stanford. MIT, and Harvard, And, naturally, he was accepted to all four, making his dream come true right on schedule. He chose Harvard, where he’ll be a Harvard College National Scholar, the highest distinction awarded to an incoming freshman by the school. Pak will pursue a degree in either pre-med (he’d like to specialize in neurology), engineering, or a combination of both, possibly biomedical engineering. He has set typically high standards for his next four years-eight, including medical school: “I’d like to find a cure for some complex neurological disease. Neurology seems to be at the forefront in medical research, and I’d like to be there.”