The Dobyns-Bennett High School student was one of only 141 high school seniors selected to the exclusive 2009 Presidential Scholars list released Monday by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Students selected to receive the honor have demonstrated outstanding academic achievement, artistic excellence, leadership, citizenship and community service, and will be honored for their accomplishments in Washington, D.C., in June.
“Every year for nearly half a century, we’ve been honoring America’s best and brightest students, and every year they continue to make outstanding contributions to society while reaching milestones in their academic pursuits,” Duncan said.
“This year’s Presidential Scholars continue that trend. They are shining examples of excellence in academics and in the arts and are role models that all students should emulate.”
The selection as a Presidential Scholar is the second major honor for Xiang this year. Earlier this spring, the Siemens Foundation selected Xiang as the sole female recipient of the 2008-09 Siemens Award for Advanced Placement in Tennessee.
Xiang is the daughter of Fang Liu and Tian Xiang.
“When I applied, I didn’t really think I would necessarily get it because there were so many students from Tennessee vying for it. I’m just really excited,” said Xiang, who learned she had made the Presidential Scholars’ final cut via e-mail on Monday.
“I’m excited about the all-expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C., and shaking President Obama’s hand. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity.”
The United States Presidential Scholars Program was established in 1964, by executive order of the president, to recognize and honor some of the nation’s most distinguished graduating high school seniors. Each year, up to 141 students are named as Presidential Scholars — one of the nation’s highest honors for a high school student. A 29-member Commission on Presidential Scholars appointed by the president selected the scholars based on their academic success, artistic excellence, essays, school evaluations and transcripts, as well as evidence of community service, leadership, and demonstrated commitment to high ideals.
“Academics have always been kind of easy for me, which has allowed me to focus on other aspects of my life. I’m pretty involved with several extracurricular (activities) and I think that’s what has really helped me with these awards. I think they like to see people who are really involved and active and passionate about a lot of different things,” Xiang said.
Xiang, who plans to attend Harvard University in the fall, has yet to decide on a major but is leaning toward economics.
“The future is still pretty wide open,” she said.
For the past 45 years, the Presidential Scholars program has honored more than 6,000 of the nation’s top-performing students. Of the 3 million students expected to graduate from high school this year, more than 3,000 candidates qualified on the basis of outstanding performance on the College Board SAT and ACT exams or by nomination through the nationwide youngARTS competition conducted by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts.
Since 1983, each Presidential Scholar has invited his or her most inspiring and challenging teacher to travel to Washington, D.C., to receive a Teacher Recognition Award from the U.S. Department of Education and to participate in the recognition events. For Xiang, that teacher is Dobyns-Bennett’s Kevin Fielden.
“Mr. Fielden has always been really receptive to helping students in any way he can, especially with extracurricular (activities),” Xiang said. “I’m very involved in Junior Statesmen of America. If we needed a room to host meetings in or needed a teacher to help with something, he was always there.
“I also think he’s good at teaching us European history and philosophy (the two classes I had with him) in a way that’s both interesting and challenging,” she continued. “He helps to really foster a passion for the various subjects that he teaches.”
The Presidential Scholars will visit Washington, D.C., June 20-24.