Princeton-bound Hays High senior Andrew Duke continues to dream big
Hays High senior Andrew Duke likes to dream big.
From producing a musical during the COVID-19 pandemic and earning his Eagle Scout, to being accepted into two of the most prestigious universities in the country and now being named to the Kansas All-State Academic Team, Duke shoots for the stars.
“I feel like I have kind of taken lead from a lot of different people,” Duke said humbly when asked about his achievements.
Since his freshman year, Duke has served as an example of leadership and academic prowess to his peers, getting a jump start on advanced high school courses when he was in middle school at just 12 years old.
“Andrew quickly moved forward and has challenged himself by taking the most rigorous course work offered through USD 489," said Suellyn Stenger, Duke’s high school counselor. "By the spring of his junior year, Andrew began taking very challenging classes at Fort Hays State University.”
Despite his quick advancement at a young age, Duke elected not to graduate early and instead decided to go to high school all four years, in which time he found his passion for math. Throughout his high school career, Duke has been awarded many academic achievements, including being named one of the U.S. Presidential Scholars, getting a perfect score on the ACT, being named a National Merit Semifinalist and most recently being named to the Gannett Kansas 2021 All-State Academic Team.
“I actually hadn’t heard of it before, until I received word from [Hays High School principal Martin Straub] about it,” Duke said.
But besides numerous academic achievements, Duke also spends a significant part of his time on stage, as an actor.
“I’m one of the kinds of people that could go from one show to another for just about all school year long and be pretty happy with that,” he said. “I like music. I like movies and plays and these kinds of things. I like receiving the arts, and performing is also a way of receiving that sort of art in a way more direct way.”
Since his freshman year, he has acted in all eight musicals and plays Hays High has put on. His favorite roles were Beverly Carlton from a play called the “Man Who Came to Dinner," and Benny from the musical “Rent," which Hays High is currently in the middle of producing.
“He’s sort of a semi-antagonist,” he said. “It’s also a fun character to play because just figuring out the mindset of a person who outwardly is a very different kind of person than me who I wouldn’t necessarily like and trying to figure out how I can put myself into that mindset.”
Duke’s love of theater even extended into his Eagle Scout project, where during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic he directed and produced a production of “Twisted: The Untold Story of a Royal Vizier” for the community with his fellow classmates.
“It was a bit smaller than the usual Hays High musicals just because we didn’t have all of the official resources,” Duke said. “It was really fun to lead all of my friends and be able to do another show.”
The musical — a parody of the Disney animated classic “Aladdin” where classic villain Jafar stands as the protagonist — brought in roughly $5,000 to help fund music programs at Hays High.
“It was kind of a wackier musical,” Duke said, “and sometimes serious musicals can be fun, but I also definitely wanted this to be very much just an experience where everyone was just kind of having fun joking around with each other.”
But now with just a few weeks left of his senior year, Duke sets his sights to his future as a math major at Princeton University.
“It’s been my dream school for a couple of years now,” said Duke.
Duke said the choice was not an easy one — he was also accepted into Duke and Harvard — but besides the great math program Princeton has, it was also his ability to continue his love of performing that ultimately swayed him towards Princeton.
“With some colleges there’s kind of an atmosphere around their artistic programs where unless you’re a student majoring in that program and you’re really, really talented and that’s what you want to do with your life you’re really not going to be able to do a play or a musical or anything like that at that university,” he said. “But Princeton doesn’t really have that atmosphere. It’s a place that I would be able to go and even though I don’t plan to, as a career, go into music or theater, it’s something I could still be involved with.”
Duke hopes to eventually get his PhD in math and become a math professor, following in his grandfather’s footsteps, who was a math professor at Fort Hays University.
“He was the person who really introduced me to math,” he said, “and helped me realize it was the thing I cared about.”
Duke’s grandmother, Josephine Squires, who is a professor at Fort Hays, said she is so proud of her grandson.
“We're proud of Andrew for who he is,” Squires said. “Only part of that lies in his academic gifts, though, and much of the pride we feel is for the determined effort he demonstrates, and the creativity with which he approaches problems.”