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December 19, 2019
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State Education Department Announces Nominees for 2020 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program

Recognition is Among Nation’s Highest Honors for High School Students

The State Education Department today nominated 25 New York State high school seniors for the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program, Interim Commissioner Shannon Tahoe announced. The Presidential Scholar recognition is one of the nation’s highest honors for high school students.

“These students have shown excellence in their academics as well as their artistic and technical endeavors,” Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa said. “As well-rounded students, they serve as role models for all young people. I commend these nominees who will represent New York State during the national selection process.”

“Each of these students has worked incredibly hard during high school and their accomplishments are testimonials to their tremendous effort,” Interim Commissioner Tahoe said. “I thank our legislators for recommending these stellar students and wish them the best of luck in their bright futures.”  

The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars selects honored scholars annually 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. Application is by invitation only. The U.S. Department of Education will issue invitations in January from among those students nominated by Chief State School Officers and from a pool based on scores on the SAT or ACT. Semifinalists will be notified in mid-April and Scholars will be notified in May.

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. Scholars are provided opportunities to: discuss issues that concern America and the world; attend recitals, receptions and ceremonies held in their honor; visit Washington, D.C. area museums and monuments; and forge friendships with their peers from across the country.

Established in 1964 by executive order of the President, the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program recognizes and honors 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 further was expanded to recognize student excellence in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs.

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.

General Component Nominees for the 2020 Presidential Scholars Program

  • Paige Drumm, Binghamton High School, Binghamton City School District
  • Kevin Dennis, Canandaigua Academy, Canandaigua City School District
  • Grant GianGrasso, Clarence High School, Clarence Central School District
  • Karyme Hurtado, East Hampton High School, East Hampton Union Free School District  
  • Aditya Sehgal, Half Hollow Hills School West, Half Hollow Hills Central School District
  • Matthew Skulski, Lancaster High School, Lancaster Central School District
  • Julia Commane, Liverpool High School, Liverpool Central School District 
  • Arpie Bakshian, Lynbrook High School, Lynbrook Public Schools 
  • Taylor Chapman, The Bronx High School of Science, NYC Geographic District # 10- Bronx
  • Richard (Ricky) Sasson, Yeshiva of Flatbush Joel Braverman High School, NYC Geographic District # 21- Brooklyn
  • Giancarlo Mainardi, Francis Lewis High School, NYC Geographic District # 26- Queens
  • Emril Radoncic, Nyack High School, Nyack Public Schools
  • Philip Rea, Salem Washington Academy, Salem Central School District 
  • Huy Ho, Henninger High School, Syracuse City School District
  • Victoria Swett, Tri-Valley Secondary School, Tri-Valley Central School District
  • Diamond Owens, Troy High School, Troy City School District
  • Stephanie Fortune, Tupper Lake Middle-High School, Tupper Lake Central School District
  • Hannah Yi, Williamsville East High School, Williamsville Central School District 
  • Adam Taber, Yonkers Middle High School, Yonkers Public Schools
  • Litzy Mejia, Palisade Preparatory School, Yonkers Public Schools

The Career and Technical Education Nominees for the 2020 Presidential Scholars Program:

  • Mellissa Locke, Afton Junior/Senior High School, Afton Central School District
  • Mindy Jin, Cohoes High School, Cohoes City School District 
  • Thomas Gomez Morrobel, Freeport High School, Freeport Public Schools
  • Shareef Sawalhi, Lackawanna High School, Lackawanna City School District 
  • Kaitlyn Murphy, Valley Central High School, Valley Central School District 

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

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins: "I am so pleased that Litzy has been nominated for this honor. What makes Litzy unique is her involvement with her community and her eagerness to take advantage of every opportunity. She is also an unbelievable daughter. She is a volunteer in her Church, a peer tutor, a cabinet member of the student government and the National Honor Society. She ranks number one in her class. Litzy does all this while working at the Yonkers Riverfront Library to help pay the family's bills, and when she is home, she cooks and cleans to help out her working parents who have sacrificed so much for her. Litzy is a stand-out individual, and I have no doubt that she will accomplish great things with her life. This is the beginning." 

Assemblymember Deborah J. Glick: “I am deeply proud that Interim Commissioner Tahoe has nominated one of our most respected young local scholars, Taylor Chapman of The Bronx High School of Science, for the prestigious Presidential Scholars Program. Taylor has not only excelled academically, she has consistently demonstrated leadership skills while engaging with her classmates and teachers and is a highly regarded member of our community. I congratulate Taylor Chapman and her family on this esteemed nomination and wish her the best as she continues in the application process.”

Senator Shelley B. Mayer: “Congratulations to Adam Taber, Senior at Yonkers Middle High School, for being selected as one of the 20 nominees from New York State for the 2020 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program. Adam’s fortitude and triumph in the face of adversity is a testament to the resiliency of his spirit. His accomplishments and contributions to the community are an inspiration. I commend all of this year’s nominees for their many successes, and I thank the community members, teachers, administrators, and families who supported them along the way.”

Senator Toby Ann Stavisky: “As a former high school teacher, I am so proud that Giancarlo Mainardi, from Francis Lewis High School, has been nominated by Interim Commissioner Shannon Tahoe as a candidate for the 2020 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program. The Presidential Scholars Program was established by President Lyndon Johnson to recognize our country’s best and brightest students and Giancarlo certainly fits that mold. Giancarlo was nominated based upon his exemplary academic achievement, leadership, and service to the community. I congratulate him and his family and wish him the best in all his future endeavors.”

Senator James Skoufis: "Kaitlyn Murphy of Montgomery represents the absolute best of our community’s students. She has excelled both academically and athletically in the face of incredible adversity, all while demonstrating a strong commitment to serving our country. I’m very proud to have recommended Kaitlyn as a Presidential Scholars nominee and I look forward to watching her continue to make our state and world a better place."

Senator Pamela Helming: "Kevin Dennis, a senior at Canandaigua Academy is a terrific candidate for the Presidential Scholars Program. Kevin is a leader who excels both in and out of the classroom and is well respected by his peers and his teachers and administrators. He is most deserving of this recognition as he is a "shining star" at his school. I extend my congratulations to Kevin for being nominated for this prestigious honor. I wish him well as the process continues and I am confident he will be successful in his future academic and career endeavors,”

Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb: “The U.S. Presidential Scholars Program is a prestigious honor, and I’m proud to have nominated Kevin Dennis, a senior at Canandaigua Academy, as a recipient. This program celebrates the best and brightest young minds throughout New York State and Kevin has certainly earned that distinction. He continues to shine both academically and with his outside interests, including swimming and music. Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders and it is important to continue to motivate them to ensure the future of New York is in good hands.”

Senator Michael H. Ranzenhofer: “I am extremely happy to learn that Interim Commissioner Shannon Tahoe has nominated Grant GianGrasso, from Clarence High School, as a candidate for the 2020 U.S. Presidential Scholarship Program. Grant is a wonderful example to his classmates. Congratulations to Grant and his family, I wish him all the best!”

Assemblymember Michael J. Norris: “While Mr. GianGrasso will be the valedictorian this year at Clarence High School and it is very difficult to find even the slightest blemish of perfection on his resume, Grant’s aptitude is not limited to academia, as he holds a rare combination of both social and scholastic intelligence. As the age of social media has risen to its peak, much admiration should be given to students that remain humble, maintain perspective and generate positive interactions with their peers and others.  His hard work and dedication will certainly lead him to success in college and beyond and I congratulate him on his nomination.”

Assemblymember Carrie Woerner: “Philip Rea is a scholar, a student leader, a volunteer firefighter, and a ninth-generation farmer. He has an innate understanding of what the farming community needs and how to introduce agriculture to those who are new to it. He is a true ambassador for this industry and sees his leadership roles as opportunities to make a connection for people to agriculture. Teachers and community members all describe Phil as trustworthy, responsible, and with a unique ability to focus on each task at hand and get it done well. Phil is a natural role model to his peers, and I look forward to all of the great things he will accomplish.”

Assemblymember John T. McDonald III: “I am thrilled to see the nomination of Cohoes High School’s Mindy Jin was put forth by Interim Commissioner Tahoe 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. Mindy’s perseverance and drive in her academics does not go unnoticed and this honor, in my opinion, is one of many to follow. Thank you to Interim Commissioner Tahoe and the Board of Regents for their continued efforts to recognize these hardworking students throughout New York State.”

Assemblymember Karen McMahon: “I am so pleased that Interim Commissioner Tahoe selected Hannah Yi of Williamsville East High School as a New York State nominee in the Presidential Scholars Program. I was extremely impressed by Hannah’s maturity, her passion for human rights and gender equality, and her motivation to impact her school and community. I congratulate Hannah and her family on this honor, I wish her well in the selection process, and I look forward to seeing all the great things she will accomplish in the future.”

Assemblymember Judy Griffin: “I’m proud to have recommended Freeport High School’s Thomas Gomez Morrobel for the Career and Technical Education program and I am even more thrilled that Interim Commissioner Tahoe has selected him to be part of the 2020 Presidential Scholars Program. He is a role model in and out of the classroom and is a shining example of a well-rounded young person pursuing his dreams.”

Assemblymember William B. Magnarelli: “I am proud to have nominated Huy Ho as a presidential scholar. His academic resume and list of extracurricular activities are exemplary. It makes me extra proud that he is a student at Henninger High School in an area I represent and at a school where my wife taught.”

Assemblymember Kimberly Jean-Pierre: “I am thrilled that Interim Commissioner Tahoe has nominated Aditya Sehgal for the Presidential Scholars program. Aditya is a determined and innovative young man whose success both in and outside of the classroom continues to make a positive impact on all those around him. I am honored to have nominated this distinguished student and wish him all the best in the next round as well as all future endeavors.”  

Senator Tim Kennedy: "I am thrilled to learn that Interim Commissioner Tahoe has nominated Shareef Sawalhi, a student at Lackawanna High School, for the prestigious U.S. Presidential Scholars Excellence in Career and Technical Education (CTE) Program. I was proud to recommend Shareef for this recognition because he continues to serve as a leader, both in the classroom and in his community. Congratulations to Shareef and the entire Sawalhi family on this well-deserved honor, and best of luck as the selection process continues."

Assemblymember Pat Burke: “I’m extremely proud of Shareef Sawalhi from Lackawanna High School for being nominated by Interim Commissioner Tahoe for the Presidential Scholars Program. Shareef sets an example as someone who has only lived in the United States for four years, but who has courageously committed himself to being involved in the community and finding ways to make a positive impact, whether it’s among his peers or the younger students he mentors. His dedication to excellence both in and outside the classroom makes him incredibly deserving of the honor of being a U.S. Presidential Scholar.”  

Assemblymember Al Stirpe: “I’m excited to announce that one of our very own hardworking Central New Yorkers, Julia Commane, has been selected as one of only 20 presidential scholars in New York State, a distinguished honor recognizing the strongest, most accomplished students across the country. At Liverpool High School, Julia is an engaged member of the Science Olympiad Club and Chemistry Club and is known by her teachers as a bright and driven academic, as well as a kind, thoughtful and empathetic team player with a gift for working with others. Outside of the classroom, Julia is a dedicated athlete, serving four years on both the Liverpool Varsity golf team and cheerleading squad. She also finds the time to serve in her church as a youth leader, Sunday school assistant and community volunteer. Julia has proven to be an extraordinary young leader in our community, and I want to congratulate her on this outstanding achievement and wish her only the best moving forward.”

Assemblymember Donna A. Lupardo: “I am proud to have recommended Paige Drumm from Binghamton High School for the prestigious Presidential Scholars program. She is one of just 20 students from across New York State to be nominated by Interim Commissioner Tahoe. Paige is most deserving of this honor ranking in the top ten in her class, while also balancing a number of extracurricular activities and holding down a job. Her hard work and dedication will undoubtedly lead to success in the future and I congratulate her on this nomination.”

Senator Fred Akshar: "I could not be prouder that Interim Commissioner Tahoe chose to nominate the 52nd Senate District's own Mellissa Locke for the Presidential Scholars Program. Throughout her outstanding academic career, Mellissa has served as an excellent representative of our community and Broome-Tioga BOCES‘s Career and Technical Education program. She's played key roles at the Washington Leadership Training Institute and as former Vice President and current Treasurer of the NYS Area II chapter of SkillsUSA. Mellissa is an outstanding example not only for her peers at Afton High School, but for students across our great State. I thank the Interim Commissioner for recognizing what so many of us see in this young woman." 

Senator Todd Kaminsky: “I could not have been prouder to nominate Lynbrook High School’s Arpie Bakhshian. She is a leader in and out of the classroom and sets a strong example for her peers. Her wealth of accomplishments is proof that hard work and passion for one’s community can make a difference at any age.”

Senator Neil D. Breslin: "I applaud Interim Commissioner Shannon Tahoe for the nomination of Diamond Owens for the 2020 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program. Diamond Owens is a bright, motivated and compassionate young person. I applaud the State Education Department for recognizing her and other exceptional youth, spring-boarding them to a bright future."

Assemblymember Fred W. Thiele, Jr.: “I am thrilled that Ms. Karyme Hurtado has been nominated as a candidate for the 2020 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program!  As an East Hampton High School Senior, Karyme has displayed academic excellence, leadership qualities, community involvement and extraordinary personal achievements. Being chosen as one of twenty students by the New York State Education Department is an honor, and I am proud to represent this fine young student in the First Assembly District. I wish Karyme luck as she continues onto the next step in the selection process.”

Senator David Carlucci: "It was an honor and a pleasure to recommend Nyack High School student, Emril Radoncic for the Presidential Scholars Program. Emril excels both in the classroom and on the field. He is in the top 5% of his graduating class academically and was named Captain and MVP of his high school football team. He's continually working to make our community a better place by volunteering with Meals on Wheels and serves as role model to his peers. I thank Interim Commissioner Tahoe for nominating Emril for this prestigious award.”    

Senator Jen Metzger: “I was pleased to nominate Tri-Valley Central School Senior Victoria Swett for the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program, and it is with great pleasure that I extend my congratulations to Victoria on her selection as a New York State nominee. Victoria has been on the Principal's Honor Roll every quarter and she is a strong role model for all of those around her. She excels not only inside but outside of the classroom as an athlete on multiple sports teams, a student volunteer for an elementary classroom, a choir member, and an Officer for the Future Business Leaders of America. Victoria’s kindness, grace, and leadership skills shine through in all that she does, and I thank Interim Commissioner Tahoe for recognizing this outstanding young woman.”

Assemblymember Monica P. Wallace: “Being nominated as a Presidential Scholar is among the highest honors that a high school student can receive, and Matthew Skulski has fully earned that honor. In addition to maintaining excellent academic standing, Skulski is a leader in several student organizations and belongs to no less than three student honor society groups. Despite the extensive demands of his coursework, Skulski still finds time to play on the Lancaster High School varsity football team. He is a model for balancing athletic and academic commitments. I thank Interim Commissioner Tahoe for recognizing Skulski’s incredible achievements and look forward to seeing what this outstanding young man accomplishes in the years ahead.”

Assemblymember Simcha Eichenstein: "I am delighted that Ricky Sasson from Yeshiva of Flatbush has been nominated by the New York State Education Department following my recommendation for the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program. A well-rounded scholar in academics as well as performance arts and sports, he is the ideal candidate for this program. I congratulate Ricky Sasson and his family on this incredible honor and wish them all the best in his future academic endeavors."

Assemblymember Billy Jones: “I’m thrilled that one of my nominations and one of our North Country’s own, Stephanie Fortune, has been selected as one of only 20 presidential scholars in New York State, a high honor awarded to the country’s most distinguished students. At Tupper Lake High School, Stephanie’s hard work has put her at the top of her class. She’s also a passionate and talented figure skater and serves as junior coach for the Tupper Lake Figure Skating Club. In addition to being an exceptional student and accomplished athlete, Stephanie is a member of the National Honor Society, serves as a lector at her church and has volunteered at many community events and charities, including the Tupper Lake Tinman Triathlon, Relay for Life, The Salvation Army and Tupper Arts fundraising galas. Stephanie is an exemplary member of our community, and I want to congratulate her on this outstanding and well-deserved accolade.”

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