Rising to the Top

This past fall, you could almost hear the collective exhale as millions of high school seniors across the country closed the book on their college admissions tests—the ACT and SAT.

But the gasp may have been a bit louder at the home of 17-year-old Blue Valley North High School senior Clayton Shuttleworth. Despite suffering a brain injury and other severe wounds in a skiing accident, he scored what only a handful of students achieve when taking those college entrance exams—a perfect score.


Defying the Odds

Perfect scores on either test that assess academic readiness for college are few and far between. One news source reports 588 and 382 out of 1.5 million students scoring perfect ACT and SAT scores, respectively, in 2010. Clayton, who took both as a personal challenge, scored the highest possible SAT score—2400.

“I really worked hard for it, but was definitely still shocked when I read the results,” Clayton says. “I had to check it a few more times just to make sure that I wasn’t mistaken. It definitely allows me to approach the college application process with a lot more confidence, because it has shown me that hard work will really pay off.”


Triumph over Tragedy

The hard work actually began in January of 2008 when, on a family ski trip, Clayton lost control on a slope and crashed into a tree. Life-flighted to the hospital, he was unconscious for days, laying in intensive care with a lacerated liver, punctured lung, broken ribs and bleeding on his brain.

Although released nearly two weeks later, the teen’s future was uncertain.

“The medical staff told us it was very likely that Clayton would be different when he recovered, but they could not say how he would be different,” recalls his father, Keith Shuttleworth. “I remember thinking about what would happen if Clayton did not recover and was unable to return to a ‘normal’ life. I knew that I would love him just the same, and encourage him to do all that he can do.”

His recovery was slow but steady. First, Clayton had to regain strength for everyday tasks like brushing his teeth. And comprehension of simple concepts was often elusive.

“Recovering from the accident was a very sobering experience,” Clayton says. “It put everything into perspective. I believe I now am a much happier person, learn much more enthusiastically, and eagerly seek out any opportunity to gain knowledge.”


Commitment to Excellence

Today, Clayton’s Blue Valley North teachers say he is a model student, focusing on a mathematics degree and active in theater, chorus, writing, piano and cross-country. His perfect SAT score, though a major accomplishment, was not surprising.

“Clayton is open-minded, generous, funny, diligent, intellectually curious and a delight to teach,” says AP Language teacher Susan Whitfield. “Clayton teaches us to persevere when giving up would be easier, and to set personal goals that others might not believe are attainable.”

Michele Buche teaches gifted education for 9th through 12th graders. “Clayton follows through with the details, does the homework even when it isn’t turned in for a grade, and seeks to know more and understand thoroughly about a new idea,” she says.

However, Buche notes, challenging high school curriculum including college level math, English, social studies, and science courses provides a solid foundation for high college test score achievement.

Keith Shuttleworth agrees.

“My wife Robin and I are obviously very proud of what Clayton has achieved, and are very fortunate to have him in such a strong school district with teachers and counselors that truly care about their students.”

Despite the severity of the accident, Clayton seems to take it all in stride.

“Sometimes something happens, and it’s awful, and you can’t do anything to change it,” he says. “But the fact is that it happened. Once you get past the idea that you can’t change the past, it’s easier to seek out the good in even the worst experiences and use it to motivate you.”