S.C. Catholic student earns Presidential Scholar award

SPARTANBURG — He played curmudgeonly Mr. Potter in one of his five high school theater performances, but now it looks as if he may have the lead role in his own reality show of  “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Daniel L. DeMars has no reason to be a curmudgeon these days.
The senior at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Greenville was named a Presidential Scholar on May 1 by a special 29-member commission set up by President George W. Bush. The accolade, prestigious and highly selective, was announced by U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.
“The 2008 Presidential Scholars shine a bright hope on the future of our country,” Spellings said. “Their commitment to excellence and contributions to society reflect the character and innovation necessary to keep America both competitive economically and collaborative in overcoming challenges within our global community.”
DeMars’ commitment to excellence includes his recent enrollment at the University of Notre Dame with a dual major in physics and philosophy. People who know him were not surprised at his choice of physics. He is, after all, known as a math wonk who received a perfect score on the Advanced Placement calculus exam last year as a junior.
But what’s the deal with choosing philosophy, also?
“I think philosophy is related to physics. There are claims that cannot be made logically by physics alone, so philosophy will add to my understanding,” he said.
His understanding doesn’t need too many additions. In March 2007, DeMars scored perfect 800s in both the math and critical reading sections of the SAT. He made a perfect score on both the AP exams he took last year. He carried four AP classes this year, but scores are not available yet.
His Catholic faith is as much a part of Daniel DeMars as math and science, and Catholic high school was important to him, he said. He is active in the youth arm of Communion and Liberation, an international ecclesial movement whose members commit to living their “personal and professional lives in the service of Christ and the Gospel.” In fact, one reason he chose the Fighting Irish was because they have a large CL chapter on campus, which is adjacent to South Bend, Ind.  
He and his family are members of St. Paul the Apostle in Spartanburg.  
Daniel is the eldest child and only son of Bill and Therese DeMars. His mother homeschools all five children through middle school. His father is the chair of the government department at Wofford College, and was a Presidential Scholar himself some years ago.
The president picks two academic scholars from each state, one boy and one girl, and from among Americans living abroad and in the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The female South Carolina winner this year is Kathryn N. Solkowski of Fort Dorchester High School in Summerville. Another state winner, a Presidential Scholar in the Arts, is Mary J. Murphy of the Governor’s School in Arts and Humanities in Greenville.
George Carr, DeMars’ math teacher,  will be recognized in the capital city along with his student, whom he calls industrious as well as smart.
“His intensity to learn more about whatever I am teaching is infectious and drives me … to the next level,” Carr said.  
In addition to his drama work and academic excellence, DeMars is an Eagle Scout, and a member of the National Honor Society and other school clubs and academic teams.  
The government will pay all expenses for the scholars to visit Washington, D.C., from June 21–24. They will receive medallions at the White House and “have access to important national and international figures,” according to a U.S. Department of Education press release. They also will visit museums and monuments, attend recitals and receptions and perform some community service while there.  
The Presidential Scholar award places DeMars among the top 139 of the 3 million graduating seniors in the nation this year.