Scholar semifinalists discuss academics, plans
Jesuit's Taylor Sutton, Westview's Geetha Somayajula are in running for national honor
Two Beaverton School District students are among the six semifinalists in the U.S. Presidential Scholar Program from Oregon.
Taylor Sutton, a senior at Jesuit High School, and Westview High School senior Geetha Somayajula will find out this month if theyre among the finalists chosen to represent his or her state at the U.S. Presidential Scholars recognition ceremony held in June in Washington, D.C. The Commission on Presidential Scholars, a group of citizens appointed by President Barack Obama, will select one young woman and a young man from each state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and U.S. citizens living abroad.
Chosen from 4,000 candidates based on superior achievements, leadership qualities, personal character and involvement in community and school activities, the semifinalists were selected by a panel of distinguished educators based on students essays, self-assessments, activities descriptions, school recommendations and transcripts.
Sutton, a Tigard resident, enjoys primary source academic works across fields including classical through 20th century philosophy, mathematics, science and history. A sports fan, hes served as online broadcast commentator for Jesuits varsity football team, keeping statistics for the freshman basketball team and filmed for the varsity basketball squad.
The Eagle Scout candidate intends to study mathematics, likely in combination with social studies and hard science in theoretical forms.
Somayajula, who lives in the Bethany area, is interested in civic activism and music. She serves as president of the Junior Statesmen of America chapter at Westview, the vice-chairwoman of the Mayors Youth Advisory Board, sings in a number of choral ensembles, and privately studies piano and voice. With next weekends show, the 18-year-old is wrapping up Beaverton Teen Idol, a singing talent event geared to raise money and awareness of student homelessness.
After graduation, she will attend the University of Southern Californias Thornton School of Music in Los Angeles while pursuing a business major at USC.
Somayajula and Sutton took a few moments to reflect on their selection as Presidential Scholar semifinalists with the Beaverton Valley Times. Here is what they had to say:
Valley Times: How does it feel to be a Presidential Scholar Program finalist? What did it take for you to get there?
Sutton: I appreciate the honor but am well aware that there are other equally deserving candidates who have not been honored. Ultimately, my academic career has been vastly more important in itself than any award that could be attached to it ... With the guidance of great teachers and my older brother, Ive worked to refine my abilities across disciplines in terms of refinement and originality.
Somayajula: I feel very honored to have been selected a semi-finalist. It was such a wonderful surprise to see my name on the list. It took a lot of passion and determination to get this far in the program. Im so grateful to my parents and to my teachers who have supported me over the last four years.
Valley Times: Was this a longtime goal of yours?
Somayajula: For the last two years, my school has been home to a Presidential Scholar finalist (Raghav Tripathi, 2013, and Pratyusa Mukherjee, 2012), so Ive been inspired since my sophomore year to pursue this goal.
Sutton: No award has been a goal for me. Its a pleasant surprise, but my academic work doesnt have ulterior motives.
Valley Times: Who encouraged and supported you at school?
Somayajula: At Westview, my guidance counselor, Sue Long, has been really supportive throughout this process. Shes offered valuable guidance every step of the way.
Sutton: It would be unfair to list people at Jesuit who have supported me, because I would inevitably leave someone out. I have nothing but good things to say about Jesuit students, teachers, administrators and coaches. I appreciate the things they have done for me.
Valley Times: How has your family been supportive?
Sutton: My parents can be invested to a fault, but are careful to judge results and not methods. Ive had the freedom to find the ways I work best. My brother has been a great support. He is a role model of hard work and strong social skills. Im constantly learning from him.
Somayajula: My parents have been amazing through the whole process. The program isnt just about the essays that you write. Its about the culmination of your entire high school career. Over the last four years, my parents have shuttled me to and from JSA meetings, cheered me on at singing competitions, and offered love and support when Ive needed it.
Valley Times: Do you feel confident about being named a finalist?
Somayajula: Ive applied to enough colleges and participated in enough competitions that I know when a program is this competitive, naming a winner is essentially a crapshoot. Ive put my best foot forward, and Ill be content with the results, regardless of whether or not Im named a finalist.
Sutton: Not particularly. One of the essays I wrote for the application was art criticism. Note in my first answer I never say anything about artistic skill, aesthetics, or even the viewing of art. Just another chance to challenge myself and expand my proficiencies.
Valley Times: Have you been to the nations capital before? If you are chosen, what do you plan to do while youre there?
Sutton: I have been to Washington, D.C., though I dont remember it well. I would probably reacquaint myself with the more notable parts of the area before doing a bit of exploration if I have time.
Somayajula: Once, about four years ago. I would love to stand at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial and soak up some inspiration. The Lincoln Memorial commemorates our greatest president, in my opinion, and has been the site of some monumental events. Id like to spend some time there reflecting on history, and my place in it.
Valley Times: How do you feel the program will help you with your life, education and career plans?
Somayajula: As a semi-finalist, I can already say that the program has helped me hone my verbal and written communication skills. If chosen as a finalist, Im sure attending the program in Washington, D.C., and meeting with other scholars and high-ranking government officials will instill me with a newfound inspiration and passion that will guide my future endeavors. Im honored to be a semi-finalist, and Im so thankful for everyone who has helped me achieve my goals over the last four years.
Sutton: Career and life are too long-term to answer right now. Education? Im not sure it will alter my plans, but well see what happens.
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