Thursday May 12, 2016
Secretary of Education John King announced the selection of South Burlington High School (SBHS) senior Alan Chiang as a 2016 U.S. Presidential Scholar. Chiang is one of 160 American high school seniors who have demonstrated outstanding academic achievement, artistic excellence, leadership, citizenship, service, and contribution to school and community. Chiang will be honored for his accomplishments this June in Washington D.C.
The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars, appointed by President Obama, 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. “This year’s class of Presidential Scholars continues a more than 50 year trend of honoring students who’ve shown excellence in their educational, artistic and civic pursuits,” King said.
Chiang describes himself as being “in blissful disbelief” since hearing the news that he is now a Presidential Scholar. He notes, “It’s a confirmation of the hard work in academics and community service that I have done over the past four years. This is the icing on the cake that is already sweet.” Chiang, who has plans to attend Yale University, says his plans after graduation include an internship in Tokyo with GNT, Inc., Tokyo’s leading mobile company.
Since 1983, each Presidential Scholar has been offered the opportunity to name his or her most influential teacher. Each distinguished teacher, nominated by the scholar, is honored with a personal letter from the Secretary of Education. Chiang selected SBHS teacher Deirdre Donovan as his most influential teacher. He says, in regard to Donovan, “My high school experience is greatly enhanced by such a dynamic personality and style of teaching.”
Donovan, who has taught Chiang for three years in such classes as Honors American Studies, AP Government and Politics, and Public Issues and World Affairs, says Chiang has distinguished himself as a top student. A teacher who values the potential in every student, Donovan describes the art of teaching as “finding the balance between rigor and learning - always with an added dose of humor.”
Donovan says there is no one more deserving of the 2016 Presidential Scholar honor than Chiang. She adds, “Alan is a true intellectual. He is fully invested in the learning process and is a genuine role model for creative thinking. His abilities to think, question, and eloquently reflect have been his gift to the classroom. He raises the bar for all around him.” In addition, she reports, “What is most impressive about Alan is that he is both humble about his accomplishments and grateful for his education.”
On Chiang’s part, he reports Donovan’s teaching has opened his eyes in regard to world issues and crises. “I am grateful that I was shown this important perspective during high school, for given the distracting media we currently have (and which Mrs. Donovan has taught about in the AP Government class), it is so easy to lose sight of what is actually important and what important global events are occurring and how it affects my life,” he says.
Donovan sees students like Chiang as future leaders and says it is her job to help prepare them. “In the end, I don’t want students to just learn history; I want them to feel history. I want students to have an emotional response to the world around them and appreciate the multiple perspectives of every issue,” she said.
It is apparent through Chiang’s experience that time spent in Donovaon’s classroom achieves that goal, with an added dose of humor. As Donovan puts it, “With teaching history, it is sometimes important to lighten the mood!”
“Every class with Mrs. Donovan reinforces how grateful I am to have a teacher that makes learning sarcastically entertaining and enlightening. My high school experience is greatly enhanced by such a dynamic personality and style of teaching,” says Chiang.
The young scholar is also an accomplished pianist. Chiang has won several competitions and attended and performed at many international summer music festivals, including Boston University’s Tanglewood Institute. In 2014, Chiang presented a piano recital as a benefit for the Me2/Orchestra, the world’s only classical music organization created for individuals with mental illnesses.
Of the three million students expected to graduate from high school this year, Chiang is one of 5,600 candidates who qualified for the award. The 161 Presidential Scholars are comprised of one young man and one young woman from each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and from U.S. families living abroad. In addition, there are 15 chosen at-large, 20 U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts, and for the first time 20 U.S. Presidential Scholars in Career and Technical Education. The scholar selections are determined by outstanding performance on the College Board SAT and ACT exams, and through nominations made by Chief State School Officers, other partner recognition organizations or the National YoungArts Foundation’s nationwide YoungArts competition.
Chiang is now part of a tradition that dates back to the creation of the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program in 1964. Since that date, almost 7,000 of the nation’s top-performing students have been selected as Presidential Scholars. According to the U.S. Department of Education, “The Scholars represent excellence in education and the promise of greatness in young people.”