San Diego Senior Named Among 160 U.S. Presidential Scholars

Westview High School senior Emmit K. Pert is among 160 students across the U.S. chosen for the Presidential Scholars award

A high school senior from San Diego has earned a prestigious honor: he’s among the 52nd class of U.S. Presidential Scholars announced by the U.S. Department of Education Wednesday.

Emmit K. Pert – a student at Westview High School in the Poway Unified School District – is among just 160 high school seniors named in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Scholars list.

U.S. Secretary of Education John King said the students, who hail from across the country, are recognized for their accomplishments in academics, the arts and career and technical education fields.

“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 in a press release. 

Pert is among seven U.S. Presidential Scholars chosen from California this year.

The teen spoke with NBC 7 Wednesday about receiving the award. He said one of the steps in the application process included a letter of recommendation from a teacher at his school. He said that letter and support came from his literature teacher, Mr. Bob McHeffey, who has been very influential in his life.

McHeffey is currently hospitalized in Ireland after testing positive for H1N1 during a school trip overseas last month. Pert was among the students on that trip with the teacher.

Pert said McHeffey is supposed to travel with him to Washington, D.C., next month to receive the Presidential Scholar award but due to the teacher's condition, Pert is not sure if those plans will pan out. Pert said he plans to reach out to McHeffey to tell him the good news about the award soon.

The teen said he's still in utter shock over the accolade.

“I really couldn’t believe it. I was elated to receive such a serious honor from the United States,” Pert said. “It’s a huge honor. It’s something that really means a lot to me.”

He said his parents were also thrilled and added, “They were probably even more excited than I was!”

According to a biography on Pert from Westview High School, Pert keeps very busy with friends, sports, clubs and his love of science. He made the top 50 for the National Chemistry Olympiad and also became a leader in his school’s science-based Catalyst program.

Pert is also one of the co-presidents of his school’s mock trial program and competes for Westview’s Academic League Team. When he’s not competing in academic challenges, Pert coaches students for middle and high school Science Olympiad.

The senior also plays water polo for his school. Outside of school, he earned his Eagle Scout award for his work on a conservation project to help burrowing owls.

Pert told NBC 7 he has an interest in both science and law and is heading to the University of Virginia this fall to study chemistry. After that, he may attend law school.

“I’ll see what happens,” the teen said with a smile.

The U.S. Department of Education says the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars is appointed by President Barack Obama and selects outstanding scholars annually for this honor.

Of the three million seniors expected to graduate from U.S. high schools this year, more than 5,600 candidates qualified for the 2016 awards determined by performance on the College Board SAT and ACT exams as well as nominations.

From there, the list was narrowed to just 160 students.

This year’s 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. Fifteen students were also chosen at-large, the Department of Education says, as well as 20 scholars in the arts and, for the first time, 20 scholars in career and technical education.

The program first launched in 1964. Since then, nearly 7,000 of the nation’s top students have been honored with the award.

Pert – along with the 159 other students – will receive a Presidential Scholar Medallion at the 2016 ceremony on June 19. For the full list of 2016 Presidential Scholars, click here.

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