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December 17, 2020
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State Education Department Announces Nominees for 2021 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 Betty A. Rosa announced. The Presidential Scholar recognition is one of the nation’s highest honors for high school students.

“This year’s nominees are outstanding students as well as dynamic community members,” Board of Regents Vice Chancellor T. Andrew Brown said. “Even more exciting is their potential for future greatness. These students have shown excellence in their academics as well as their artistic and technical endeavors and serve as role models for all young people. I commend these nominees who will represent New York State during the national selection process.”

“These incredible students have shown determination and strength of character in their many successes and their accomplishments are testimonials to their tremendous efforts,” Interim Commissioner Rosa said. “I know our legislators who recommended these stellar students are as proud of them as I am and join me in wishing each of 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 U.S. Presidential Scholars medallion.

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 2021 Presidential Scholars Program

  • Emma Klein, Amherst Central High School, Amherst Central School District
  • Daniel Primeau, Cohoes High School, Cohoes City School District
  • Alexander Hunt, Ellicottville Central School, Ellicottville Central School District
  • Cody Harvey, Fallsburg Jr./Sr. High School, Fallsburg Central School District
  • Mburucuya Gomez, Harrison High School, Harrison Central School District 
  • Nikhil Keer, Division Avenue High School, Levittown Union Free School District
  • Carleigh Newman, Monroe-Woodbury High School, Monroe-Woodbury Central School District
  • James Molinski, Northeastern Clinton Central High School, Northeastern Clinton Central School District
  • Betty Kubovy-Weiss, Hunter College High School, NYC Geographic District #2
  • Oluwafemi Fadipe, The Frederick Douglass Academy, NYC Geographic District #5
  • Hadjirata Deh, Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change, NYC Geographic District #5
  • Alexander (Sasha) Loayza, Oswego High School, Oswego City School District
  • Aiden Levy, Pelham Memorial High School, Pelham Union Free School District 
  • Elaine Gillan, Rensselaer Jr./Sr. High School, Rensselaer City School District
  • Nistha Boghra, Sachem Central School North, Sachem Central School District
  • Holly Cifonelli, Sauquoit Valley High School, Sauquoit Valley Central School District
  • Anna Maisonville, Schroon Lake Central School, Schroon Lake Central School District
  • Christopher Alexander, Elmont Memorial High School, Sewanhaka Central High School District
  • Olivia Fabi, Wayne Central James A. Beneway High School, Wayne Central School District
  • Christopher Cardenas, White Plains High School, White Plains City School District

Career and Technical Education Nominees for the 2021 Presidential Scholars Program 

  • Alexander Jorgensen, Amherst Central High School, Amherst Central School District
  • Alexis Phillips, Hampton Bays High School, Hampton Bays Union Free School District
  • Damaris Hernandez, Lynbrook High School, Lynbrook Union Free School District
  • Arjun Govind, Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, NYC Geographic District #3
  • Taylor Samburgh, Saranac Lake High School, Saranac Lake 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 Christopher Cardenas, a senior at White Plains High School, has been nominated by Interim Commissioner Rosa as a candidate for recognition as a Presidential Scholar. When I heard what he has accomplished—as a honor student with AP classes, as the Senior Class Co-President,  varsity soccer player, Medicine Club President, math team member and orchestra  musician—all while working to help his parents, I knew this first generation college student was  deserving of this honor. Christopher plans to be a doctor, an achievement I am confident he can reach. And I hope he comes back to Westchester to practice!”

Assemblymember Deborah J. Glick: “I am deeply proud that Interim Commissioner Rosa has nominated one of our most respected young local scholars, Betty Kubovy-Weiss of Hunter College High School, for the prestigious Presidential Scholars Program. Betty has not only excelled academically, she has consistently demonstrated leadership skills while engaging with her peers, and is a highly regarded and active member of a dynamic community board in our district. I congratulate Betty 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 Mburucuya Gomez, senior at Harrison High School and Christopher Cardenas, senior at White Plains High School, for being selected as two of the 20 nominees from New York State for the 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program. Mburucuya and Christopher have overcome tremendous challenges to achieve great success as students and to make wonderful contributions to their communities. Their success is a testament to their persistence and hard work. I commend all of this year’s nominees for their many achievements, and I thank the community members, teachers, administrators, and families who supported them along the way.”

Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay: “Congratulations to Sasha Loayza of Oswego High School. Being nominated to the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program is a prestigious honor and I was happy to recommend him to the State Education Department for consideration. Sasha is a highly motivated, well-rounded student who speaks four languages, plays four instruments, and is involved with multiple sports.  In addition to mastering class materials and tests at school, his teachers report that he enjoys learning independently and has taught himself computer languages.  Honoring our youth’s achievements helps to encourage young leaders and fuels their desire to keep setting goals and achieving them. Keep up the great work Sasha!”

Senator Kevin Thomas: “I am proud to have recommended Nikhil Keer for the Presidential Scholars Program. Being chosen as one of twenty students by the New York State Education Department is a prestigious honor, and a testament to Mr. Keer’s character and academic achievements. Mr. Keer is an exceptionally driven, intelligent, and civic-minded young man, and I am highly impressed with his outstanding accomplishments as a student at Division Avenue High School. His hard work and dedication will undoubtedly lead to success in the future, and I am pleased to congratulate him on this nomination.”

Assemblymember John T. McDonald III: "I sincerely appreciate the nomination of Daniel Primeau and Elaine Gillan from my Assembly District that was put forth by Interim Commissioner Betty Rosa 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. Thank you to Interim Commissioner Rosa and the Regents for their continued efforts to shine a light on these bright stars throughout New York State."

Assemblymember Brian Manktelow: “The sheer complexity of issues that so many young people face today, in addition to the pressures of academics and planning for the future, can be enough to derail even the best of students. Yet, Olivia Fabi has triumphed over family, financial and health challenges. Her ambition, sense of responsibility and mature attitude have made it possible for her to be a success, as well as an example for her peers at Wayne Central High School. I have no doubt that Olivia will achieve the goals that she has set for herself, including becoming a marine biologist, one of her childhood dreams. I am pleased that Interim Commissioner Rosa has chosen to nominate Olivia Fabi as a candidate for recognition in the 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program.”

Senator James Skoufis: “Carleigh Newman of Monroe represents the absolute best of our community's students. She has excelled academically while demonstrating a strong commitment to serving our community. She has also demonstrated fantastic leadership qualities through her work to mentor incoming freshmen and her Bronze and Silver awards in Girl Scouting. I’m very proud to have recommended Carleigh as a Presidential Scholars nominee and I look forward to watching her continue to make our state and world a better place.”

Assemblymember Karen M. McMahon: “I was so pleased to learn that Emma Klein of Amherst Central High School is one of 20 students from across the state nominated by Interim Commissioner Betty A. Rosa for the 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program. After learning of Emma’s excellence in the classroom and her commitment and leadership as a student-athlete, I knew she was an ideal candidate for the Presidential Scholars program. Her family, teachers, and coaches are extremely proud of her accomplishments, and I look forward to her future success.”

Assemblymember Karen M. McMahon: “Alexander Jorgenson of Amherst Central High School knew early on that he wanted to pursue a career in aviation, which is why he chose an education path in the CTE program. I am delighted that Interim Commissioner Betty A. Rosa recognized both his excellence in the classroom and his leadership skills, by nominating him for the 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program. I am proud of his accomplishments and look forward to tracking his future successes.”

Senator George M. Borrello: “Alexander Hunt, a senior at Ellicottville Central School, has the drive and determination to be successful in whatever path he follows in college and beyond. He excels academically and athletically while making service to others a priority in his life. I am very proud to have recommended Alex and that Interim Commissioner Betty A. Rosa has chosen him as one of 20 nominees from New York State for the 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program. The Presidential Scholars Program recognizes America’s best and brightest high school scholars. Alex certainly belongs among them. Being a nominee for the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program is a prestigious honor. Congratulations to Alex and his family. I wish him well as process moves forward.

Assemblymember Brian Miller: “Holly is an excellent student and outstanding role model for others as someone who not only takes her studies very seriously but also understands the value of living a well-rounded life and giving back to her community. It was my honor to nominate Holly for the Presidential Scholars Program and I am delighted that she is among the twenty students being nominated to the federal selection committee from New York. Well done Holly and congratulations.”

Assemblymember Amy Paulin: "I am thrilled to learn that Aiden Levy has been nominated by Interim Commissioner Betty Rosa as a candidate for recognition in the 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program. Aiden is the definition of resilient and tenacious. He has not only excelled academically, but he is a leader who has earned the respect of his peers at Pelham Memorial High School. Aiden has already demonstrated that he is the kind of person who strives to make the world a better place. I look forward to hearing more about this courageous and impressive young man."

Senator Todd Kaminsky: "From serving as co-captain of her high school softball team while balancing a job as an orthodontic assistant, to excelling in her studies at Barry Tech, Damaris has proven herself as a leader both in and out of the classroom. I am proud to have successfully nominated her for this prestigious honor, and I am confident she will continue to excel both professionally and academically in the years to come.”

Assemblymember Judy Griffin: “I’m proud to have recommended Lynbrook High School’s Damaris Hernandez for the Career and Technical Education program and I am even more thrilled that Interim Commissioner Betty A. Rosa has selected her to be part of the 2021 Presidential Scholars Program. She is an impressive, successful and outstanding young woman who is a wonderful example for her peers.”

Assemblymember Dan Stec: “I am very pleased that Anna Maisonville, a senior at Schroon Lake Central School, has been selected as one of the 20 nominees from New York State for the 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program. Anna is a leader who has demonstrated academic excellence and who has also made many outstanding contributions to her community. I am proud to have recommended Anna. I congratulate her as she moves forward in the selection process and I wish her great success in all of her future endeavors.”

Assemblymember Fred W. Thiele, Jr.: “I am thrilled that Interim Commissioner Rosa has chosen one of my local students to be part of the five New York State high school seniors nominated for the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program in Career and Technical Education! Ms. Alexis Phillips is an exceptional student who stands out as having academic success, leadership qualities, and extraordinary personal achievements.  I am proud to represent this fine young woman in the First Assembly District and wish Alexis luck as she moves to the next level in this notable competition.”

Senator Anna M. Kaplan: “I’m so proud, but not surprised, to learn that Elmont’s own Christopher Alexander has been nominated as a candidate for recognition in the 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program!  Christopher is more than just a model student an engaged member of the Elmont community, he’s a role model for his entire school, and a source of pride for all of Elmont. I know that this great achievement will be the first of many for this talented and hard-working young man, and I can’t wait to see what great things lie ahead.  Congratulations to Christopher on this well-deserved honor!”

Senator Jen Metzger: “I was pleased to nominate Fallsburg High School Senior Cody Harvey for the 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program, and it is with great pleasure that I congratulate Cody on his selection as a New York State nominee. Cody will be the Valedictorian of the Fallsburg Class of 2021, and his peers and teachers would agree that he is one of the most humble and determined individuals in the student body. Beyond the classroom, Cody is an accomplished student athlete on the Fallsburg Track Team, a member of the National Honor Society, and serves in many school clubs, including the Environmental Club and Senior Math Team. Cody put it best when asked about his goals for the future, saying ‘I want to be able to help people, those directly around me as well as people I may never meet.’ I want to thank Interim Commissioner Rosa for recognizing this promising, community-minded young man who has distinguished himself academically among his peers.”

Assemblymember Billy Jones: “I’m proud to announce that James Molinski, a student I nominated for the 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program, has been selected as one of the program’s twenty nominees from New York. As a senior at Northeastern Clinton Central School, James is an exemplary student. He’s maintained a grade point average of 96.02, which is even more impressive considering the numerous college-level classes he’s taken. James is also an accomplished athlete, playing on his school’s track and field, basketball and soccer teams. Outside of the classroom, he spends his time volunteering for the Village of Champlain and working at a local hardware store. James Molinski excels both inside and outside of the classroom, and I’m glad to see his hardworking spirit being recognized.”

Assemblymember Billy Jones: “I’m very happy to announce that a North Country student I nominated for the 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholars Excellence in Career and Technical Education Program, Taylor Samburgh, has been selected as a candidate for recognition in the program. Just five students from New York were selected for this honor, and Taylor is more than deserving of it. Not only has he consistently received high marks in his classes, but he also spends time attending the Natural Resource Science Program at the Adirondack Educational Center. Additionally, he demonstrates an impressive level of technical competence in line with the qualifications necessary for the Presidential Scholars program. Taylor is both an excellent student and an exemplary member of our community, and I’m proud to see him continue to strive for the best.”