Clay, along with a few of his peers, began meeting regularly, building and tweaking robots and preparing for competitions with teams from other schools. “Eventually I became the de facto Captain and through that experience I really found myself,” Clay explains. “I had finally found something that I was really into, really interested in. I also learned how to be a leader--how to motivate others, and I also learned a lot about myself.”
Each year, the Shorecrest Robotics team works together to build a robot in response to a challenge. In Clay’s sophomore year, the Robotics Club’s second year in existence, teams were challenged to have their robots move game objects to designated areas around a 12 x 12 foot field to score points. The object of the challenge is to attain the highest score possible. That year, Clay and his teammates got a bid to the VEX Robotics’ National Competition by receiving a high-ranking score in a local competition. But that wasn’t an easy task. Their robot wasn’t doing quite as well as they had hoped, when they had one final chance to compete.
“In our category of competition, you can have two drivers on a robot,” he explains. “I was part of a two-man team where my partner was the wheels and I was the lift mechanism, and had to get the robot to move the game objects to a specific area. It was so intense: the clock was running down; we were stacking objects, and at the very end I was so jittery I almost dropped the game object, but I made it! And I looked at the clock, and watched as the timer clicked to zero seconds left! And that was just enough to get us to Nationals--I just about collapsed!”
While Clay spent a lot of his time at Shorecrest tinkering with robots--even on weekends and school breaks--he also served as a class representative on the school’s Honor Council, one of the most highly-regarded leadership positions at the school. Elected by his peers as a member of the Honor Council in his Freshman year, Clay served on the Council all four years he was in the Upper School. When an Upper School student has a major disciplinary issue, that student appears before the Honor Council, and the Council then makes a recommendation to the administration about how the situation should be handled. “The Honor Council is so important,” Clay explains, “because it gives the whole process a student perspective.”
Clay takes this position very seriously, “The most important thing when a student goes to Honor Council is for them to learn from their mistakes. We're not there to punish them, we’re there to help them learn.” Clay also points out that he’s learned a lot from the experience of serving on the Council. “I’ve learned that there’s almost always more to the story,” he explains. “You have to listen and keep your ears open.”
So what does Clay plan on doing next? In the fall, he will head to University of Central Florida (UCF) where he plans to study microbiology in The Burnett Honors College. He’s also thrilled because UCF has programs in robotics, engineering and nanotechnology--one of the only universities in the country to have all three of those concentrations in one place. “I loved that UCF had all three areas of study--and their dedicated nanoscience program is one of the only programs like it in the whole country!”
With a smile he adds, “UCF also has a koi pond which really sealed the deal.”