May 18—Editor's note: This is the fifth in a longstanding annual series in the MDJ spotlighting the county's best and brightest as they graduate high school.
NORTH COBB — Michael Cordak says when he looks back on his high school career, he's grateful for the rigorous schedule he stuck to and the work-before-play attitude that has him reaping the benefits of his investment.
"I'm just kind of internally motivated. I have high aspirations for my life," he said. " I know I want to be successful, and I know what I've got to do to get there, and I know I've got to take action to get those things done. So I guess that's what motivates me."
The North Cobb Christian School senior is expected to graduate with a near 4.4 GPA and is bound for the Georgia Institute of Technology in the fall, where he'll study business administration with a concentration in finance.
Every morning at 5:30 a.m., Cordak wakes up and heads to the gym. Afterward, he heads home for a shower and then it's off to school. Extracurriculars come after that, followed by a quick nap to recharge. Then a meal and studying lasts until he heads to bed at around midnight. The schedule, he said, allows him to keep weekends free for his highly valued social time.
While in high school, Cordak took the science, technology, engineering and math school track, played varsity tennis all four years, participated in the robotics club, was a member of National Honor Society and served as an Eagle Ambassador, giving tours of and promoting the school as a representative.
Cordak also said the suicide of a close friend during his sophomore year, what he called "the biggest challenge I've had to overcome," put his life into perspective.
"Dealing with loss that early in life was something I had to cope with and understand, and that's definitely helped me grow," he said. "That's taught me a lot of things."
And it was in his role as recreational officer for his school's student government association that Cordak organized a men's volleyball tournament for the school — a fact that those around him say later created a moment for him displaying his character.
Cordak was slated to be on his own team for the tournament, as well as coordinate the event when the day came.
And when it did, Cordak had a problem — the volleyball tournament fell on the same day as his regional tennis tournament in Athens, and the commute would take far too long to make it back to Cobb in time.
"I didn't want to not play and let my other teammates and my whole committee down," Cordak said.
So, he and those around him got creative.
After the idea was brought up by Cordak's tennis coach, who knew the student was working on his private pilot's license, Cordak's mother and flight instructor pitched in to make it work.
Cordak flew his father's single-engine, five-seater plane to Athens in the morning before the tennis tournament, using that time as a flight lesson, and his instructor agreed to have lunch in the city when they arrived. Meanwhile, Cordak's mother, Ingrid Cordak, had left earlier in the day to drive down and pick her son up from the airport when he landed.
Michael Cordak landed in Athens, attended his tennis tournament, and hopped back in the plane to head back to Cobb, cutting his overall commute by around two hours and arriving just in time to make it to the volleyball tournament.
The North Cobb Christian senior said he recognizes taking a plane just to make that work would probably be a little fancy for some people's taste, but, he said, he just wanted to make sure he could finish out the commitments he'd already made. And now, he added, he's about a month from receiving his pilot's license.
That story perfectly illustrates Cordak's commitment to getting everything done and not letting anyone around him down, said Sarah Cook, who taught the student in his freshman and senior English classes,.
"It's one of the things that you think, 'Who would do that? How is that even possible?" Cook said. "He's a good one."
Michael Cordak is a hard worker who puts in the time and effort to improve on his weaknesses and wants to learn and grow from his mistakes, she said — he's not just worried about his grades. The fact that he prefers STEM subjects but has also shown strong writing capabilities shows that versatility and strive to improve.
"He's one of those few people ... who you think, 'He could really be successful in whatever he decided to do,'" she said. "I think it's just really exciting to see that in a 17- or 18-year-old."
For her part, Ingrid Cordak says she couldn't be more proud of her son.
"He's just self-motivated," she said. "He's made it very easy for me."
Ingrid Cordak said both Michael Cordak and his older sister, a student at University of Georgia, took their dedication to academics upon themselves, because they knew what they wanted.
"How could you not be proud of somebody who you've seen work so hard and be so self-motivated and set the bar high for themselves?" she said. "We fully expect him to accomplish his goals. ... He has so far, and I have no doubt he will continue."
After graduation from college, Michael Cordak said he hopes to get a position at a Fortune 500 company. After five or so years of work, he said he wants to take over his father's finance and investment planning business. He hopes to take what he'll learn from the technology side to the business, making investments, trading and market analysis easier with artificial intelligence and algorithms.
Follow Thomas Hartwell on Twitter at twitter.com/MDJThomas.