On May 5 the U.S. Department of Education released the names of the Presidential Scholars, two students from each state plus winners from the arts and career/technology. This year’s Presidential Scholar List include a student from Princeton High School, Winona Guo, and one from Mercer County’s Health Science Academy, Sanjana Duggirala, of East Windsor.
Established in 1964 the program was expanded to include those who excel in the arts, as well as in academe, and it was expanded again in 2015 to add those in career and technical fields. I remember how excited I was when, in 1979, dancers were included in this prestigious program. Some years, the arts scholars performed at the Kennedy Center.
Here is how the scholars are selected. Under the original plan, the first cut is by SAT or ACT scores — the top 20 men and women from each state. For New Jersey, more than 350 were selected. This includes those who were selected by different criteria — for their achievement in the arts or in career technology fields. Then that group submits materials: essays, self-assessments, secondary school reports, and transcripts. That winnowed it down to 16, plus four arts students and two career/technology students.
Here’s where the essays and extra-curricular activities really count. Duggirali was named a Public Health Leadership scholar and state president of the New Jersey Association of Student Councils.
Surely what helped Winona Guo to win was her amazing work, along with Priya Vulchi, as co-founders of Princeton CHOOSE. Together, they worked to overcome racism and inspire harmony through exposure, education, and empowerment. Together, they wrote a much acclaimed textbook about race. I came to know Guo and Vulchi as board members of Not in Our Town Princeton, Both made invaluable contributions and modeled how to work together as a team of two . Working in tandem – always together – they muster support from peers and adults to accomplish what many thought impossible.