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November 30, 2017
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State Education Department Announces Nominees for 2018 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program

Twenty-five New York State high school seniors have been nominated for the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program, State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia announced today. The Presidential Scholar recognition is one of the nation’s highest honors for high school students. Every year, one young man and one young woman from each state are named as Presidential Scholars.

“This year’s nominees exhibit exceptional leadership qualities and prove that creativity and perseverance can make a positive impact,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa. “These students have worked hard to excel in school and in their communities, and their dedication offers us hope for our future. I am proud of these young people who will represent New York State as they move to the national selection phase.”

“The distinguished nominees are representative of the many talented high school students across our state,” State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said. “Their commitment to academic excellence sets a strong example for their peers, and I am pleased to recognize their accomplishments. I wish them continued success as nominees for this prestigious award.”

The U.S. Presidential Scholars Program was established in 1964, by executive order of the President, to recognize and honor some of our nation's most distinguished graduating high school seniors. In 1979, the program was extended to recognize students who demonstrate exceptional talent in the visual, creative and performing arts. In 2015, the program was expanded to recognize student excellence in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs.

Students chosen as U.S. Presidential Scholars receive a trip to Washington, D.C. in June and the U.S. Presidential Scholars medallion at a ceremony sponsored by the White House. During their visit to Washington, Scholars will meet important national and international figures, including government officials, educators, authors, musicians and scientists.

For more information on the Presidential Scholars Program, visit the U.S. Department of Education’s website.

Below are comments from the legislators who recommended the 25 students.

The Academics and Arts Nominees for the 2018 Presidential Scholars Program:

  • Max Heller, Albany High School, Albany City School District
  • Joshua Raiff, Bronxville High School, Bronxville Union Free School District
  • Trevor Crystal, Chittenango High School, Chittenango Central School District
  • Elizabeth Conley, Cornwall Central High School, Cornwall Central School District
  • Dylan Lis, Depew High School, Depew Union Free School District
  • Nicholas A. Demitraszek, Fonda-Fultonville Senior High School, Fonda-Fultonville Central School District
  • Alyssa Deacon, Lancaster High School, Lancaster Central School District
  • Andrew Johnson, Liverpool High School, Liverpool Central School District
  • Genesis Santana, Aviation High School, New York City Geographic District #24
  • Franklyn Bernabe, Long Island City High School, New York City Geographic District #30
  • Maya Owens, Nyack Senior High School, Nyack Union Free School District
  • Cory H. Nichols, Oceanside High School, Oceanside Union Free School District
  • Olivia Keller, Palmyra-Macedon Senior High School, Palmyra-Macedon Central School District
  • Valentina Loaiza, Peekskill High School, Peekskill City School District
  • Catherine Musumeci, John C Birdlebough High School, Phoenix Central School District
  • Natalie Maleszewski, Suffern Senior High School, Suffern Central School District
  • Patrick Ethier, Watervliet Junior-Senior High School, Watervliet City School District
  • Anderson Pleasants, Williamsville East High School, Williamsville Central School District
  • Kristen Dillard, Yonkers Montessori Academy, Yonkers City School District
  • Cassidy Johnston, Pioneer Senior High School, Yorkshire-Pioneer Central School District

The Career and Technical Education Nominees for the 2018 Presidential Scholars Program:

  • Emily Pilon, Chazy Central Rural Junior-Senior High School, Chazy Union Free School District
  • Mariah Wittschack, Eastport-South Manor Junior Senior High School, Eastport-South Manor Central School District
  • Christian Hernandez, General Douglas MacArthur High School, Levittown Union Free School District
  • Emily Ramprashad, John Bowne High School, New York City Geographic District #25
  • Jonathan Switzer, Wayne Senior High School, Wayne Central School District

Quotes by New York State Legislators on the Presidential Scholars Nominees:

Assemblymember Catherine Nolan: “Congratulations to Genesis Santana of Aviation High School and Franklyn Bernabe of Long Island City High School on their nominations to be a Presidential Scholar. I would like to thank Commissioner Elia and the State Education Department for including students from our communities in Western Queens. Congratulations again to both Genesis and Franklyn.”

Assemblymember Patricia Fahy: “I could not be more pleased to have nominated Max Heller of Albany High School and to learn that he has been nominated by the Commissioner to be a Presidential Scholar. What Max has accomplished at such a young age is truly remarkable, including completion of 13 Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses, and serving as captain of the Track and Cross Country Team. He has done all this while maintaining a 99.76% average, and earning the title of valedictorian of his class. I am confident his hard work will continue to lead to success, and congratulate him on his nomination.” 

Senator George Latimer: "I believe that Nomination for the Presidential Scholarship Program is a recognition of the exceptional students in our community. Joshua Raiff, a student at Bronxville High School in the 37th Senate District, personifies the definition of exceptional. In being one of but a handful of students from across the state to be nominated by Commissioner MaryEllen Elia for this prestigious recognition and educational support, we all join with his family and applauding his hard work and commitment. Joshua is a young man who overcomes obstacles every day that many of us would shy away from. He has the resolve to fight on and the tenacity to be successful. He is a student who is wholly worthy of this recognition, and it is an honor for me to have placed his name in nomination, and today I thank the Commissioner for recognizing what many of us see in this young man."

Senator David Valesky: "Trevor Crystal’s academic accomplishments, participation in music and athletic programs, and leadership in the development of the Robotics Team at Chittenango High School make him an outstanding nominee for the Presidential Scholars Program. I congratulate Trevor and his family on this honor, and I am confident his hard work will assure him of continued success in the future."

Assemblymember James Skoufis: "Elizabeth Conley of Cornwall represents the best of our community’s students. She has faced down incredible personal adversity and, all the while, demonstrated a strong commitment to improving the lives of those around her. I’m very proud to have helped nominate Elizabeth as a Presidential Scholars nominee and I look forward to watching her continue to make our community and state a better place."

Senator Patrick Gallivan: “I congratulate Alyssa Deacon of Lancaster High School and Dylan Lis of Depew High School for having been nominated for the Presidential Scholars Award. Through their hard work, they serve as role models for their peers and exemplify the very best of our community. I wish them the best of luck in the next round of the competition and continued success in their future endeavors.”

Assemblymember Monica Wallace: “I’m thrilled that Commissioner Elia has selected Alyssa Deacon of Lancaster High School and Dylan Lis of Depew High School to be among New York’s nominees for the Presidential Scholars Program. In addition to having outstanding academic credentials, both students demonstrate a commitment to the community through their volunteer work and active participation in school activities. I was honored to recommend Alyssa and Dylan to Commissioner Elia, and I sincerely congratulate Alyssa, Dylan, and their families on their selection. Alyssa and Dylan demonstrate the commitment and values of Western New York and serve as inspiration to their peers. I commend both of these students and wish them success in their future endeavors.”

Assemblymember Angelo Santabarbara: “I’m very pleased to see Nicholas Demitraszek from the Fonda-Fultonville High School selected to be a nominee this year for the US Presidential Scholars program. I know he has made the Fonda-Fultonville School District very proud with this recognition, and it represents his hard work and dedication both in and outside of the classroom. I’m thankful to have Nicholas as a member of my student cabinet in the NY State Assembly and I know his future is bright.”

Assemblymember Al Stirpe: “The Presidential Scholars Program is one the highest academic honors any high school student can receive, and I’m absolutely thrilled that one of our local students, Andrew Johnson, has advanced to the next round of the selection process. As a senior at Liverpool High School, Andrew has excelled academically despite undertaking a rigorous course load and participating in a host of extracurricular activities, which is why I nominated him for this prestigious honor. His achievements are a testament to his ambition and drive, and to the gifted teachers and well-rounded education found in our local schools.”

Assemblymember Kenneth Zebrowski: “I am thrilled that Commissioner Elia and the State Education Department has decided to nominate Maya Owens for the Presidential Scholars Program. Maya is a Nyack High School student and my constituent that I have the pleasure of representing in the 96th Assembly District. Ms. Owens exemplifies what it means to be a leader and a hard worker; she is certainly a role model for so many and most deserving of this recognition. Maya continues to make her community proud and I am hopeful for nothing but continued success for her in the future.”

Senator Todd Kaminsky: “I could not have been prouder to nominate Oceanside High School’s Cory Nichols and I am even more thrilled that Commissioner Elia has selected him to be part of the Presidential Scholars Program. He is a leader in and out of the classroom and sets a strong example for his peers. His wealth of accomplishments are proof that hard work and passion for one’s community can make a difference at any age.”

Assemblymember Bob Oaks: “I am excited that Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia selected Olivia Keller, an exceptional senior at Palmyra-Macedon High School, as a nominee from New York State, for the Presidential Scholars Program. Olivia is ranked second in her class and excels not only in college level academics, but is also a three-sport varsity athlete and the current class president. She is a devoted member of the Pal-Mac community; however, her community service has extended beyond her hometown internationally to Kenya and Peru. I congratulate Olivia on this outstanding achievement and wish her all the best as she moves forward in the Presidential Scholars Program.”

Senator Terrence Murphy: “I am extremely proud that Valentina Loaiza, a Peekskill High School student in the 40th Senate District, has been nominated for the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program. Valentina is ranked first in her class of 242 students and has an astounding 99 GPA. She has shown a strong commitment to serving her community through her volunteer work with the ASPCA, Special Olympics and the Peekskill Library, and has devoted herself to helping our immigrant population through her work with CUNY Citizenship Now. Valentina is a sterling example of how hard work can yield positive results. I thank Commissioner MaryEllen Elia for selecting her for the next phase of the competition.”

Senator Patty Ritchie: “I am thrilled that Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia has chosen Catherine Musumeci as a nominee for the Presidential Scholars Program. Catherine’s achievements, both in the classroom at John C. Birdlebough High School and as a volunteer in the Phoenix community, are the exact reason why she’d be a tremendous representative of this program. I would like to thank Commissioner Elia for recognizing Catherine’s hard work, dedication and talent, and want to congratulate Catherine and her family on this achievement.”

Assemblymember Karl Brabenec: "I was very happy to hear that Natalie Maleszewski of Suffern High School was nominated to this year's Presidential Scholars Program.  Natalie has faced many challenges throughout her young life, but has always worked tirelessly to overcome them. In addition to excelling in all of her studies in school, she works twice as hard as some of her peers, working two to three part time jobs and always striving to create more opportunities for herself to learn. As a senior in high school, she is taking college-level courses advancing her studies to the next level in a heartfelt effort to be the best she can be. She has traveled across the country hiking, camping, and living outdoors and even started a girl scout troop, for girls ages 7 through 10, in order to provide those girls with the same opportunities that she experienced as a young child. Natalie is a role model in her community by being a shining example of what a young American should be. I am extremely proud of her and all of her accomplishments."

Assemblymember John McDonald: “I sincerely appreciate the nomination of Patrick Ethier that was put forth by Commissioner Elia as part of an elite group of women and men for the Presidential Scholars program.  This prestigious program recognizes the talent and commitment of these future leaders and I pleased that Patrick’s name has been placed in nomination. Patrick is an all around well rounded student who stands head and shoulders amongst his peers. His approach to his education and life is respected and this honor is in my opinion one of many to follow. Thank you to Commissioner Elia and the Regents for their continued efforts to shine a light on these bright stars throughout New York State.”

Assemblymember Raymond Walter: “Anderson Pleasants’ commitment to excellence, both inside and outside the classroom, are nothing short of incredible, and I am thrilled to learn that he has been named one of this year’s nominees for the Presidential Scholars Program. Anderson, despite facing unimaginable adversity throughout his young life, holds himself to the highest standards as both a student and a person, and I can think of no one more deserving of this prestigious honor. Congratulations to Anderson, along with the rest of this year’s nominees, on this hard-earned and well-deserved recognition.”

Assemblymember Shelley Mayer: “I am delighted to learn that Yonkers Public School student Kristen Dillard was nominated by New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia for the Presidential Scholars Program. I was pleased to recommend Ms. Dillard, a senior at the Yonkers Montessori Academy, based on her excellent academic record, deep commitment to giving back to the community, and impressive list of projects she spearheads. Ms. Dillard was nominated by her counselor based on her strong sense of responsibility and internal motivation, as well as her compassion and integrity, characteristics that will serve her well in her career, and also make for an engaged and honorable citizen. I congratulate Ms. Dillard on being nominated for the Presidential Scholars Program, and wish her the best as her application moves forward."

Senator Catharine Young: “I am thrilled to congratulate Cassidy Johnston on her selection as a New York State nominee for the Presidential Scholars Program. At the top of her class and a National Honor Society member, Cassidy is an academic standout who balances her studies with achievements in music, competitive horseback riding and community service. At the core of her accomplishments is a depth of character and compassion that inspires those around her. Cassidy is a role model in the very best sense and a wonderful ambassador for our state. She has our sincerest wishes for continued success as she moves forward to the next level of this prestigious competition.”

Assemblymember Billy Jones: “Emily Pilon is an upstanding student who is most deserving of this nomination. On behalf of the 115th Assembly District, I would like to formally congratulate Emily, a senior at Chazy Central Rural School, for her relentless efforts to excel in the classroom and her devotion to her community through countless acts of volunteerism. Ms. Pilon’s work ethic, leadership skills and commitment to success have made her a prime candidate for this program of distinction. We are very proud of Emily’s accomplishments and wish her all the best moving forward.”

Assemblymember Fred Thiele: “I am delighted that Commissioner Elia has nominated Ms. Mariah Wittschack, a student at Eastport South Manor Junior-Senior High School, for the Career and Technical Education (CTE) portion of the 2018 Presidential Scholars Program. Mariah Wittschack is a compassionate young woman who excels academically and has made contributions to both her school and our community. I am honored to represent this fine student in the 1st Assembly District and wish Mariah luck as the selection process continues.”

Assemblymember David McDonough: “I am pleased to congratulate Christian Hernandez upon his being nominated for the United States Presidential Scholar Program. Christian is a shining example that hard work and determination can be rewarded and he has been an incredible asset to his school, the Gerald R. Claps Career and Technical Center. Christian has an outstanding work ethic and has excelled in their highly industrious Electrical Technology Class and is deserving of this prestigious nomination.”

Assemblymember Nily Rozic: "I am delighted to congratulate Emily Ramprashad of John Bowne High School on being nominated by the New York State Education Department as a candidate for the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program. Queens students as talented and hard working as Emily deserve recognition by New York State, and I thank Commissioner Elia and John Bowne High School for elevating and nurturing one of our best and brightest."

Senator Pamela Helming: “I’d like to extend my warmest congratulations to Jonathan Switzer from the Wayne Central School District. Jon is an outstanding candidate for recognition for excellence in career and technical education and I was proud to recommend him for Presidential Scholars Program. Jon is a diligent and responsible student who holds himself to a high standard. His near-perfect attendance demonstrates his motivation to be at school every day, and to overcome obstacles that stand in the way of his goals. In his career and technical conservation program, Jon serves as a role model to his classmates and supports those who struggle with different aspects of the program. He continues to make his entire community proud and I wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors."