Clay Voytek, Presidential Scholar, Class of 2021
Johns Creek, GA
“Don’t go to college with a plan. Don’t go to college thinking you’re smart.”
This was the challenge Clay Voytek issued in his commencement speech to his peers in Johns Creek High School’s class of 2017. Clay’s admonition doesn’t reflect aimlessness, apathy, or rebellion. It was born out of an insatiable curiosity and a drive to search, interrogate, and pursue knowledge—indispensable traits in Clay’s planned course of study, journalism.
Hard work has never been an issue for the Georgia State University Class of ’21 Presidential Scholar. In addition to holding down a part-time job since he was 15 and, thus, allowed to by law, Clay excelled in his studies and earned the rank of Eagle Scout after eight years with Boy Scout Troop 629. All four years at Johns Creek High he also served on the staff of the school newspaper.
The groundwork for Clay’s commitment to The Chariot, his high school paper, was laid when his sister, Alex, a member of the paper’s staff, would bring copies home for her little brother. Even before entering high school, Clay had years of experience reading, analyzing, and critiquing The Chariot. He had to get special dispensation from the paper’s faculty advisor to be on its staff as a freshman. By the start of his senior year, he had three years of staff experience and was the new editor-in-chief.
And Clay decided to discontinue the newspaper.
Clay and his co-editor wanted to do something new, something better; they wanted to publish a school magazine. With the faculty advisor’s approval, Clay and the newspaper staff commenced figuring out how to do it. They tracked down a publisher who coached them through the technical specifications and then analyzed as many different magazines as they could get their hands on at Barnes & Noble, Clay’s after-school workplace. Clay wrote features and music reviews. He edited and assisted in the design and layout. Clay and his team produced two 32-page, full-color issues of the magazine during his senior year.
“The experience of starting something brand new allowed me to learn so much about what I’m capable of,” said Clay.
Clay plans to follow his own advice; he has no specific plans outside the classrooms at Georgia State. His interests are wide and varied, but mostly relate to culture—from Hollywood to French New Wave cinema, from cultural criticism to social justice issues. Whatever those interests are, Clay appreciates how receiving the Presidential Scholarship will afford him the freedom to pursue them.
“Financial independence has always been important to me; I’ve had a part-time job since I was legally allowed to. It’s a huge relief to know that going to college won’t be putting a financial strain on my family,” said Clay.
“When I got the call from Dean Berman telling me I got the Presidential Scholarship—which, coincidentally, I received on my birthday— my decision was made. It was already one of my top choices after the incredibly validating experience I had during the whole interview process. Getting the scholarship sealed the deal. Now I can’t imagine going anywhere else.”
Wherever Clay’s curiosity takes him, his thirst for understanding—himself, others, and our society and culture—will surely guide his investigation. The line immediately following his commencement speech challenge signals this path and serves as a challenge in its own right:
“You’re not smart if you’re not empathetic.”
To learn more about the Presidential Scholarship visit https://honors.gsu.edu/the-presidential-scholarship/.