A Presidential Honor

Five NASH seniors were recently named candidates for one of the highest academic honors in the nation.


Scripps Media

Phoebe Liu, Staff Writer

In a school where competition is as plentiful as staircases, it’s not easy for students to earn distinctions that truly set them apart from their classmates.  But last week, with the U.S. Department of Education’s announcement of its 2020 Presidential Scholar candidates, five NASH students did just that.

NASH seniors David Ban, Eshani Chauk, Jiangfeng Chu, Grace Lee, and Daphne Nie received the news that they were named candidates for what is commonly regarded as the highest academic honor for American high school students.

“I was incredibly surprised when David [Ban] texted me and said ‘congrats’ and was greeted with this achievement,” Daphne Nie said. “I’m in the process of writing essays and unfortunately my procrastination is catching up with me.”

Typically, scholarship and academic recognition applications take just a few days or weeks of preparation, but for the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program the process is significantly more involved.  Candidates are required to submit materials like essays, self-assessments, school reports, and transcripts among evaluations of their academic achievement, personal characteristics, leadership, service, and extracurriculars to be chosen to continue in the program.

For David Ban, the time-intensive process of applying has not been as taxing as it might seem.

“I’ve written one of my most creative essays for the application,” Ban said.

For Eshani Chauk, the entire process has been gratifying.

“I was pretty happy when I found out I qualified as a candidate, considering how selective this program is,” Chauk said. “I like that I’m recognized for all the hard work I put into studying for the SAT. Right now, I’m writing essays for the application that will determine the semifinalists. Hopefully I qualify for the next round.”

The U.S. Presidential Scholars Program was established in 1964 by the Executive Order of the President to recognize some of the Nation’s top achieving graduating seniors and is sponsored by the US Department of Education. The program does not include any monetary prizes, but does provide the rare opportunity for national recognition and a multi-day, all-expenses-paid stay in the nation’s capital to meet dignitaries, take tours, and take part in a formal ceremony. 

The program mainly recognizes students who demonstrate exceptional talent in academics. Candidates are chosen to apply based on exceptional scores from administrations of the ACT or SAT of graduating high school seniors who are citizens of the United States. The U.S. The Department of Education picks the top 30 scoring males and females from each state then ranks them from high to low accordingly. The top 20 male and female students then become the candidates in each state, unless a tie occurs which permits more than 20 of that gender invited. Students can also be nominated by the Chief State School Officer or by a partnering organization based on outstanding scholarship. Every year, approximately 4,000 students are invited to apply to the program which is by application only and not allowed for students to apply individually or for schools to nominate them. 

Students may also be invited to apply based on artistic and career/technical education accomplishments. The arts program, added in 1979, requires students to participate in YoungArts, a national program identifying students who demonstrate excellence in the arts, which nominates 60 students. The career and technical education branch of the program, added in 2015 allows each Chief State School Officer to nominate a maximum of five candidates for consideration into the program. 

800 semifinalists are chosen in mid-April followed by the finalists for the Presidential Scholars group in May of up to 161 scholars. Chosen students enjoy an expense-paid trip to Washington D.C. in June, which includes the medallion ceremony at the White House in addition to the opportunity to meet important national and international figures along with their highly accomplished peers. 

“The chance to meet the Secretary of the Department of Education is really cool,” Ban said. 

The program has honored scholars for over 55 years, and encourages students to demonstrate leadership, scholarship, and contribution to school and community, which strengthen the importance of education.