Sarah Van Dierdonck, a senior at Dobyns-Bennett High School, has been named a semifinalist to be a U.S. Presidential Scholar. Photo by Ned Jilton II.
KINGSPORT — Dobyns-Bennett senior Sarah Van Dierdonck is in the running as a semifinalist to be a U.S. Presidential Scholar.
That is something only three other D-B students and a relatively small number nationwide have accomplished since the mid-1960s, when the program began.
Van Dierdonck, daughter of Olivier Van Dierdonck and Tamara Rivera, learned in mid-April she had been selected to advance to the final round of the 2014 U.S. Presidential Scholars competition.
She said she learned after the school was notified and was told by someone her standing was being promoted on social media.
Dierdonck is no stranger to high academic achievement. Last year, she was honored by D-B for making a perfect 36 on the ACT exam. She also is captain of D-B's Science Olympiad team that recently had two first-place finishes at the statewide competition in Knoxville and is a flute player in the D-B band. She also has done the Scholar and Science bowls and is a Beta Club memb e r.
"I keep busy," said Van Dierdonck, who was profiled last year by the Kingsport Times-News for the perfect ACT score.
From nearly 3.2 million graduating high school seniors, more than 4,000 were identified as candidates in the program. Only 565 were named semifinalists nationwide. Van Dierdonck is one of 13 in Tennessee — and the only one from Northeast Tennessee — to become a semifinalist.
She was invited to participate in the competition based on her academic accomplishments, including the perfect ACT and a PSAT, and wrote essays and had letters of recommendations submitted on her behalf.
"Words cannot express how proud and pleased I am that Sarah has been recognized as a U.S. Presidential Scholar semifinalist," D-B Principal Dr. Chris Hampton said in a news release. "This is one of, if not the most recognized and significant academic recognitions a high school senior can receive. To be one of only a handful of students in
Tennessee and the nation to receive this honor is a testament to her excellence as a student and person."
Established in 1964 by executive order of the president, the program recognizes and honors the nation's most distinguished graduating seniors for their accomplishments in academic success, leadership and service to school and comm u n i t y.
In 1979, the program was extended to recognize students who demonstrate exceptional talent in the visual, creative and performing arts.
Each year, up to 141 students are named as Presidential Scholars.
"We are thrilled that such an excellent student has been recognized in such a significant way," KCS Superintendent Lyle Ailshie said in a news release. "Sarah embodies all that is great about Kingsport City Schools. Her achievement represents the many world-class opportunities at Dobyns-Bennett and throughout KCS."
School system spokesman Andy True said there have been three previous Presidential Scholar award winners in the history of D-B, the latest occurring in 2009.
In the fall, van Dierdonck plans to attend the Mas- sachusetts Institute of Technology and major in engineering. Of the 13 Tennessee recipients, six are female, six male and one is an art recipient, she said.
Application for the award is by invitation only. Students are invited to apply based on their scores on the SAT or ACT exam or their nomination by a Chief State School Officer, the year of their graduation from high school and whether they are U.S. citizens or legal permanent U.S. residents.
Students who qualify will automatically receive applications. Applicants are then narrowed to approximately 560 semifinalists, and ultimately then determined as a recipient or not.
Van Dierdonck said she expects to find out if she wins the award by mid-May.
Students chosen will receive an expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., in June for National Recognition Weekend featuring various events, enrichment activities and culminating in the presentation of the Presidential Scholars Medallion during a White House-sponsored ceremony. During their visit, scholars have access to national and international figures, including government officials, educators, authors, musicians, scientists and other accomplished individuals.