While he was preparing for his final exams at the end of grade 11, in 2016, Preston Van Tonder’s father passed away.
It obviously affected him greatly, but he realised the importance of the grade 11 exams as far as applying for university was concerned, and he remembered that his dad was always very proud of his academic achievements, so he decided to knuckle down and put in an extra effort. The result was a full house of As at the end of grade 11, and he took that same attitude into his matric year.
“It was a difficult time for me,” he says, “but I was extra motivated, in memory of my father, and it has paid off.”
That payoff was seven distinctions when the results were released early in January – he wrote eight subjects and narrowly missed out on an A in English.
Preston was recommended to Jeppe by the deputy principal, Mr Gould, when he was at Aston Manor Primary and was offered an academic scholarship to attend the school. That covered half of his fees, and the family made sacrifices to keep him at Jeppe. After his father passed away Investec agreed, via the Theo Jackson Scholarship Fund, to make up the shortfall and he paid those who had faith in him back, big time, with his achievements.
“I was a good soccer player in primary school and some of my soccer friends were also at Jeppe, but I had to choose, early on, and decided to concentrate on academics,” he says.
“I do have some regrets at having to sacrifice that part of school life, but it isn’t true that you have to play sport to fit in at a school. I always felt that I was a full part of Jeppe and I was acknowledged by my peers, and the school, for what I achieved.”
Preston says he is nervous, but excited about the next step that he now has to take. “I have always been good at seeing what lies down the road, however, and I am driven to do what it takes to get there.”
And his dream is no less than becoming a rocket scientist! As a child he dreamed of being an astronaut and when he realised there was not much chance of doing that, he opted for astro physics and aeronautics instead.
“I’m going to follow the advice of Elon Musk though, and do a general degree first, before specialising.”
So he is enrolled to do a BSc degree in applied maths at Pretoria University this year, hoping to specialise in space science afterwards. “My brother, Justin, is at Tuks doing IT and he is my inspiration and example. I want to impress him this year, and give my dad something he would have bragged about.”
After achieving what he already has, under difficult circumstances, there’s little doubt that he will be doing just that.