Good day, below I want to share an email sent to one of my high school students, Theo, in response to learning he is under consideration for a prestigious recognition award, the United States Presidential Scholars Program. This program is by invitation only. It 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 again extended to recognize students who demonstrate ability and accomplishment in career and technical education fields. Each year, up to 161 students are named as Presidential Scholars, one of the nation's highest honors for high school students. I am so proud of him for being among those invited to apply.
Roughly 4,000 students are currently approved for application and consideration. To put this in the proper frame, in Fall of 2018, about 50 million students began enrollment (2018-2019 School Year) in a public school across the United States (elementary through 12th grade). To find that he is among the 4,000 seniors being considered for the ultimate recognition is truly awe-inspiring. For me as a public school superintendent, I love all of my students. Truly, each student's story pulls me in and tugs at my heart for many different reasons. When it comes to caring for each of them, ultimately it does not matter if they are at the top of the class or the bottom. I really do not have favorites when it comes what part of the journey they find themselves on. Rather, I look to see what, if anything, can I do to add value to this young person's life. Superintendents make countless decisions each day that shape, mold, and have an impact on the students entrusted in our care. In addition, we interact on a more personal level every single day with various students and their families. With a student like "Theo", there is not much he really needs from me. If I am being honest, and I am, I was not even close academically to him. Knowing that, I always think share something of value for him to reflect on. In that spirit, please enjoy the email message below.
I want to take a moment to send this note of congratulations regarding your pursuit of Presidential Scholar recognition. We are all very excited and proud of you. I requested a copy of your resume for my review after learning about this exciting news. You have an impressive resume. You are clearly a scholar of the highest caliber, a current GPA of 4.59, among the top of your peers (among 478), advanced placement course work, and outstanding standardized test scores! I am literally a bit in awe of your accomplishments thus far. I mean a 1590 SAT score, and ACT score of 35 are two tremendous accomplishments. While typing this email to you, I have my thesaurus open to the word tremendous since so much of what you have accomplished so far in the classroom is simply, well... tremendous or (astounding, colossal, exceptional, extraordinary, fabulous, and prodigious among my favorite synonyms).
I have met some amazing students over my 20 plus years in education. Some of them have similar academic accomplishments, however, when I look beyond the classroom there are few extracurricular experiences. This is not the case for you, which is why I am most impressed by you. You have been a successful marching band member, a member of the jazz band, worked to support the theater productions, and excelled in the engineering and robotics club just to mention a few. In addition, you are a swimmer. You have already demonstrated that you recognize the importance and value of employment. You have held part-time jobs in addition to all of your other interests. Also, you are a community service volunteer who has actively given back to your City. I recognize that each one of the accomplishments listed above came with a set of demands. I know you had to sacrifice enjoying experiences that would have been simply ‘fun’ for buckling down to study. You likely exchanged time with your family and friends for your school work or practicing your instrument. I want to convey that your efforts are recognized and appreciated. More importantly though, you are not the person you are because you desire recognition but you have dreams of a future lived a certain way. You have family who have supported you and raised you to be the hard-worker that you have developed into. At times, you may privately wonder ‘is this really worth it’ when you are feeling particularly overwhelmed. The easy thing for me to say is yes. Yes it will all work out the way you want it to. All of your hard work will lead to unlocking every door you want to enter. I really - really want to tell you that. However, that would be irresponsible of me. The truth is, time will tell. You will find out if this has been a worthy endeavor down the road. That may not feel overly uplifting or encouraging. That is ok, because a student like you does not need a ‘pep talk’ from me. You are self-motivated - Driven.
I will offer, instead of a fluffy inspirational message, my beliefs based on my 44 years on this Earth so far. I believe that you reap the effort you put forth in each and every endeavor. So if you put in a half-hearted effort you receive ho-hum outcomes. So good news for you, I believe you have demonstrated that you are extraordinary; you are willing to put your everything into all that you set to accomplish. I believe it will indeed pay off. I have come to understand that ‘pay off’ is a very tricky thing to define however. In some parts of my life, I believed the pay off would be a career or financial security. I wanted to be part of something that could make life better for others. To make a difference in the lives of people has always been part of what I wanted. Later, the pay off was finding someone who loved me as much as I loved them. Further, the pay off is the joy of fatherhood. As I watch my own children grow in front of my wife and I, the pay off has shifted to wanting their dreams to come true. I believe that as I get older, my idea of what is valuable will continue to change and evolve. It took me a long time to realize that I needed to enjoy each day, each part of the experience, to learn from every mistake and success. So the little bit of wisdom a guy like me wants to offer a superstar like you is simply -be happy or not, the choice is yours. Do not base your happiness on milestones or particular accomplishments. Avoid thoughts such as “I will be happy if I can just…”.
Keep striving for the goals you desire…enjoy them if you are able to make them happen, but be happy during the experience too. During the ‘grind’ of working towards something….find the joy in it. Do not give up your curiosity but rather feed it. If you are curious about something – you should pursue it just for the sake of figuring it out. As all sorts of wonderful things come into your life, University – Scholarships – Grades – Career – Family try to enjoy every single second of it. Please do not become one of those old people (old like me lol) who says things like “ugh, I hate Mondays…I can’t wait until Friday”…. Each and every day is a gift, enjoy each day as if it were a Friday night. Lastly, as you go through life, you will have people who have gone before you come into your life – try to learn from them. Grow your network of connections as you go. Please feel free to consider me among that network as I would be pleased to be of any help I can in your future!
Best of luck in the Presidential Scholar recognition experience,
Dr. David Gentile, Superintendent and President of Your Fan Club