The Presidential Scholars Program (PSP) has named Athena Chu and Jiho Lee (both ’18) among 4,500 high school seniors finalists for the distinction based on their artistic and academic achievements, respectively.
First awarded in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the PSP honors the country’s most distinguished high school seniors, according to its website. While the designation originally focused on just academics, the award expanded in 1979 to encompass students skilled in the arts and again in 2015 to recognize students interested in technical education. Each year, a few thousand students receive a nomination, and up to 161 win the honor. In school history, only Vaishali Bakshi ’86, Jennifer Gelfrand Church ’89, Michelle Siao ’05, and Aaron Orbey ’14 have become presidential scholars.
This year, the PSP recognized Athena for her film “Genesis Unedited” and her three poems—“Genesis Unedited,” “My Chinese,” and “Prayer”—that she submitted earlier this school year to the YoungArts Foundation, an organization aiming to develop student artists, according to its website. Because Athena was named a YoungArts finalist, she traveled to Miami from January 7 to 14 to participate in workshops for a week, where the judges nominated her and 59 of the other finalists for the PSP.
Athena learned in late January that she was eligible to become a presidential scholar and said she credited her success in the field to her English teachers.
“All my English teachers have greatly influenced me. I would not be where I am without any of them,” she said. “Mr. Leith is my advisor and is also the reason I fell in love with writing in freshman year. Ms. Getchell introduced me to the art of the spoken word and the slam [poetry] community sophomore year. Mr. Williams taught me the power of criticism, being not only a creator but also a critic to grow as a reader and writer.”
Jiho earned the nomination after the PSP invited him to report his high ACT scores. He said he was happy to receive the nomination, but he doesn’t want to celebrate until he hears about whether or not he received the finalist designation.
“The real prize is becoming a finalist because nominations [can] only hinge on test scores,” he said. “But when I received the nomination, I was happily surprised. I realize how prestigious an award this is and am honored to even be considered for it.”
Next in the process, Athena and Jiho must fill out an application that involves writing short essays and a personal statement. They must also send transcripts, lists of extracurricular and community service activities, and a teacher recommendation.
English Teacher Rob Leith, who teaches both Athena and Jiho this year, praised them for their nominations.
“In AP Art History this year, the intensity of Athena’s devotion to art and her interest in the artistic spirit have greatly enriched the class. Her Presidential Scholars nomination and her recent designation as a YoungArts Finalist are richly deserved recognitions of her talent and commitment,” he said.
“Jiho has a passionate devotion to literature and learning and is a highly worthy and deserving nominee.”
The two will discover whether they are semifinalists in April, and if they advance, they will hear if they receive presidential scholar designation in May.