By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Special to the Bulletin | Published June 12, 2014
CLARKESVILLE—Brendan Dukes used to dream of a career in zoology. But then a close friend, who was the drum major in the high school band, developed leukemia. Brendan has refocused his career goals now to study molecular biology so that he will be equipped to conduct cancer research.
When his friend became ill with leukemia, “it was a devastating process, and I decided I wanted to go into that and make a contribution,” Brendan said.
“Since that happened, I’ve noted a lot of people around this area are suffering with it. It’s just a pretty big problem,” he said.
A 2014 graduate of Habersham Central High School, where he was class salutatorian, Brendan will attend Georgia Tech as a Zell Miller Scholarship recipient.
A member of St. Mark Church in Clarkesville, he said his parents, Nora and Ryan Dukes, are “super influential” in motivating him.
“They’ve always pushed me to go hard and work hard. When my drum major came down with leukemia that pushed me to work hard and get into a really good institution like Georgia Tech so I can try to make a difference,” he said.
Looking back, Brendan said that when he got to high school he decided to get more serious about academics and he discovered the power of goal setting.
“I realized I wanted to make something of myself. … I said I believe I can go higher and kept pushing,” he recalled.
Working his way back up to second in his class, after dropping to number three, “was a pretty big motivator for my senior year to work extra hard,” he said.
Krista Ivester, who taught his advanced placement biology class, said her student has the capacity to achieve what he sets out to do.
“Brendan … has a brilliant mind, kind soul, and a quirky, dry sense of humor that sets him apart. He is a cut above his peers in every category. I have no doubt that Brendan will achieve any goal that he pursues,” she said.
The teen also inherited a love of music from his mother, a music teacher, church liturgy director and instrumentalist, and his dad, Habersham’s band director. Brendan performed in the band throughout middle and high school, playing French horn and trumpet and serving as band captain as a senior. There he made good friends, drew support from his high-achieving band peers, and experienced the “awesome” gift of music. He hopes to continue in band at Tech.
“It was a very big part of my life,” he reflected. “It was great to spend more time with … and learn more about music from my own dad. The whole experience brought us closer.”
At church Brendan periodically plays for Mass and feels the special grace of using his gifts there.
“You get to sing for God through your instrument. That is just really cool, it’s another way to pray and worship,” he said.
At church he also lectors and participates in the youth group. He said that he tries to build his faith to become a stronger Christian witness at school.
“The Catholic faith has provided me with a desire to do the Lord’s will and make every person’s life better who I make contact with,” he said. “Most people in school don’t have a lot of faith. A lot are typically apathetic. That has kept me pushing myself hard to do well for everybody. It’s working hard for more than just schoolwork.”
He heads off to Georgia Tech “a little nervous” about starting anew but excited to explore his life calling and the vast field of molecular biology.
“There is so much more to learn, that is what really fascinates me. It’s still an open book with the research and discoveries to be made, and I want to be a part of that.”
These profiles recognize Catholic students who are 2014 valedictorians or salutatorians at area public high schools.