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Farragut High School calculus teacher counted among the best

FHS teacher John Beckett (far right) met first lady Laura Bush (center) when he accompanied Zach Marquand (far left) to Washington, D.C. “This picture is going in our Christmas cards,” Beckett said, as a way of commemorating the honor.- Photo Submitted
A Farragut High School graduate and his math teacher were recognized by first lady Laura Bush during a presentation of the annual Presidential Scholar awards in Washington, D.C., during a June ceremony.

John Beckett, a Farragut High School calculus teacher, accompanied FHS graduate and Presidential Scholar award recipient Zach Marquand to the capital for an official recognition of their accomplishments.

At the end of the 2002-2003 school year, Marquand was selected as one of two state recipients for the Presidential Scholar award. The distinction honors outstanding achievement in academics and the arts.

Two of the 20 Presidential Scholar for the Arts award winners were from Tennessee as well.

“Tennessee was well represented,” Beckett said.

Marquand was the fifth recipient to come out of FHS since the program’s inception in 1964.

“Zach had a perfect SAT score,” Beckett explained, “but so did another semi-finalist from Farragut. I really think what put him over the edge was his Eagle Scout project, which was so community-minded.”

For his Eagle Scout project, Marquand spearheaded the refurbishing of donated computers and the training of individuals to use them at a rural Appalachian mission center.

“Unlike some of the scholars, Zach is a very well-rounded individual,” Beckett said.

Marquand was equally lavish in his praise of Beckett, whom he listed as his teacher of influence on his Presidential Scholar submission forms.

“His enthusiasm and energy for competition are amazing and infect the whole class,” Marquand recalled. “Mr. Beckett has taught me that striving to learn is like training to compete. After all, I will be competing for the rest of my life and the better trained I am, the more successful I will be.”

When Marquand asked Beckett to accompany him to the nation’s capital, Beckett was worried he wouldn’t get to go.

“I debated whether I could afford to go,” he said.

When FHS principal Ed Hedgepeth heard of Beckett’s dilemma, he told Beckett the school would take care of the cost.

“Without that help I probably would not have gone,” Beckett said. “Although it did cost me a new suit. I hadn’t had a new suit in over a decade.”

While the trip to Washington, D.C., was not a first for Beckett or Marquand, it was the first opportunity for both to meet first lady Laura Bush. She was the keynote speaker at the teacher recognition dinner, which touted the accomplishments of the student scholars and the effects their accompanying teachers had on them.

Beckett said he was impressed with the first lady’s composure. He described her as very elegant, and a polished speaker.

“She was in her element among teachers and students, and it showed,” he said.

In addition to the teacher recognition dinner, students kept busy during the days touring the White House, which was not open to the public at that time, and attending briefings at the Department of State.

Meanwhile, Beckett met with U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and Rep. John J. Duncan Jr.

“Lamar was very cordial during our five minute meeting,” Beckett said, “but Duncan spent an entire half-hour with us. He showed he cared and made me feel special as a person in his district.”

Beckett hopes to accompany an FHS student to next summer’s Presidential Scholar ceremony, as well.

“We have at least three seniors this year who have perfect scores already,” he said, referring to the state’s standardized test scores, which are used as an invitation to apply for the award.

Beckett said he could offer some valuable advice to the Presidential Scholar hopefuls after learning of the accomplishments of last years’ winners.

“Students who made it all have fabulous grades and write good essays, but what kicks them over the edge is community service and leadership.”

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