After missing almost six months of schooling last year, SACS matriculant Andrew Tucker still managed to be the overall top achiever of 2015.
Tucker was diagnosed with a rare auto-immune disorder called Guillain–BarrĂ© syndrome at the beginning of January 2015, making his year a very tough one, he said.
"That put me out of action for the entire first term of school and also a little bit of the second term.
"Those are the terms where most of the work is taught, so I had a lot of work to catch up [on]. So it was an incredibly tough year, both physically and emotionally for me."
Tucker and 20 other learners were hosted and honoured by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga in Midrand, north of Johannesburg.
Tucker said having a positive mindset and perseverance was what drove him to achieve the high results in his final exams.
"I basically did a lot of the catching up on my own. My dad went to school, took one of my friend's books and photocopied literally every page out of it and I went and worked through every single page that I missed," Tucker said.
He praised his classmates and the support system at his school and home for helping him through the trying time.
"Once I came back in the second term I was still quite weak physically, so I could only come into school for an hour or two at a time.
"So I came in for certain lessons and tried to catch up slowly but surely."
By the time final exams arrived, he had almost fully recovered, he said.
"I would say I was almost 99% of the way recovered by the time I wrote my finals. When I wrote my June exams, I was still suffering from fatigue and also a lot of muscle twitches, amongst other things. That was quite a challenge."
There were times when he doubted he would complete his studies, and was already beginning to entertain thoughts of returning to do his matric year in 2016, he said.
"I'm just very grateful to be here, to have been able to complete my matric in 2015... So the whole thing was a humbling experience and I think it turned me into a stronger person."
Tucker plans on studying medicine at the University of Cape Town this year.