RBHS hosts Presidential Scholar Finalist for second year in a row


“It’s necessary and awesome because so much of what we learn in history, despite the fact that there are teachers now who are trying to reverse it and make it more inclusive, the fact is that for most of history we have completely disregarded their point of view. The fact that people complain about it… First of all, why does it matter to you because it matters to those whose history has been erased, okay? If you’re not black I feel like you should not complain about it because you don’t understand. Also the fact that you get to learn about so many cool people… So we all learn about Edison and the light bulb and also there’s Tesla who’s super important in electricity, but there’s also a third black man who was really involved in helping Tesla and helping him do his research. Lewis Latimer made a long lasting light bulb and no one knows about him, and you never learn about this stuff because it’s just a race. I don’t know. It’s important and necessary.” -Michele Yang, Senior

Emily Franke

On Monday as senior Michele Yang worked at a computer and EEE teacher Kathryn Fishman Weaver stood at her desk across the EEE room, Weaver heard the “ding” from her computer. Months after finishing an intensive application process for the Presidential Scholars program with Yang, Weaver received an email from the U.S. Department of Education. Yang, a semifinalist in the contest as of April 21, 2015, was now listed under Missouri as one of the two Presidential Scholars out of 141 nationwide.
“I was doing my work in the EEE room and Mrs. Weaver asks me if I got an email,” Yang said. “I was really confused, but she’s really bad at hiding her happy/surprised face so I figured it was something good. Then I remembered that the finalist list was supposed to come out and googled the presidential scholars website really quick, and I was on the list! We went around to see some principals and counselors to let them know and thank them, because a lot of people helped me with my application.”
According to the USDE, 30 top scoring male and 30 top scoring female students are chosen from each state and narrowed down to 20 male and 20 female candidates from each state, and each Chief State School Officer may nominate five students within their jurisdiction based on exemplary scholarship. Invitations were mailed to all qualifying candidates on Jan. 22 this year, and all application materials were due on February 26.
“It started in the winter,” Yang said. “My stuff was due around late February. There was an application a little like college apps, but a more intense. … I basically wrote a lot of essays and reported all my activities and awards and volunteering, so it was pretty standard.”
The application, Weaver agreed, was very intensive and required multiple essays from the scholar as well as the recommending teacher or guidance counselor. Acting as Yang’s recommender, Weaver wrote about Yang’s academics and character, including a context essay that shows what RBHS’s AP and Gifted program look like and another essay about how Weaver thinks Yang will do in her post secondary endeavors.
“It’s an intimidating application student writes upwards of six essays, [the] recommending teacher or counselor does six essays on the student – it’s very intense,” Weaver said. “Students submit that whole package, their essays, their recommender’s essays, all of their ap scores, [USDE] already have the ACT/SAT scores and GPA, and then you wait like everything else senior year.”
Weaver said guidance receptionist Tracy Hook helped with the application by collecting essays and the test scores for all 14 of the AP tests Yang has taken and by submitting the materials electronically. Although Yang finished her application in late February, she said she procrastinated in completing the essays.
“I remember being really stressed about writing five essays,” Yang said. “I was a bit of a brat about the application. I was procrastinating really hard on writing my essays and I had to have a mini intervention in the Guidance office with them telling me to get it done. So I just pulled an all-nighter to finish my essays, and sent it off the same day.”
After working through such a rush, Yang said she submitted the essays and “forgot about them” until she heard the news that she was a semifinalist. Even then, Yang said, the news still didn’t set in, and even now she is still surprised to have made it this far.
In the past two years, RBHS has had two presidential scholars. Last year, Weaver said, Jenny Yao was also a finalist. Yao invited Weaver to attend the ceremony in Washington, D.C., and Weaver will attend the ceremony again this year with Yang, where all finalists will be honored.
“The secretary of education, Arne Duncan, congratulates each kid individually. The ceremony itself is rather intimate, so I think each scholar only gets to bring three or fewer guests,” Weaver said. “I was sitting really close so I could hear secretary Duncan talking to the kids and he had a really quick rapport with students and so that was neat. [This award is] among the very highest academic honors you can get in our country and Michele will be honored at the board office on Monday.”
By Emily Franke