Each year, 161 graduating high school seniors across the country are selected to be a part of the US Presidential Scholars Program. This program was put in motion in 1964 by Lyndon B. Johnson to recognize students who have displayed exceptional academic achievement, service, and leadership. Being selected for this prestigious program is one of the highest honors for high school students. This year, out of the approximately 3.6 million seniors who are expected to graduate in 2021, about 4500 candidates have recently been nominated and invited to apply for this program. Nayana Venukanthan, a senior at Mira Loma, is among these candidates.
Nayana attributes her accomplishments and high school success to approaching everything, no matter how seemingly insignificant, with an open mindset and devoted attention. She states, “Something that definitely helped was that I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to pursue beyond high school, so I ended up trying a lot of new things which helped me find new interests and what I see myself doing as a career. I remember signing up for a ridiculous amount of clubs at Club Rush, and over time I narrowed those down to the ones I really cared about and got the most from. In addition, letting go of the mentality of ‘Why should I bother? This is not going to matter in the long run’ when approaching something seemingly minor has led to some of the defining achievements of my high school years.”
In addition to her academic life, Nayana is also a coach and competitor for the Mira Loma Science Olympiad team. Science Olympiad has been part of her life since middle school. For the past three years, she has also been the treasurer of the Spanish Honors Society. Outside of school, she practices and performs Bharatanatyam, an Indian Classical Dance. In addition, she teaches at the Folsom branch of International Tamil Academy, which was founded to teach the Tamil language and culture.
Her advice to younger students is to keep an open mindset and to ask for help when needed. She says, “Especially when you’re transitioning to high school, there are a lot of new and confusing things that you feel like you have to figure out all by yourself, but there are so many people that are going through the same thing as you, or even better, have already gone through it, so just take that first step and reach out to them. The fact that my sanity is still intact is most probably due to the solid system of friends, family, and teachers who I could count on to help motivate me [and] stay on track.”
Since her nomination for the Presidential Scholars Program, Nayana has submitted an application for the program, which includes essays, self-assessments, and transcripts. Now she is waiting to see if she will be one of the 161 students who are chosen to be included in the program. Selected students will receive an expense-paid trip to Washington D.C. sometime this summer, where they will meet other accomplished Presidential Scholars and receive the Presidential Scholars Medallion at the White House.
Regardless of whether or not she is selected, being nominated for the U.S. Presidential Scholars program, in itself, is already a prestigious recognition of Nayana’s accomplishments. Staying true to her nature of keeping an open mind, Nayana does not have a fixed plan for her future. She hopes to pursue studies related to environmental engineering or energy resources engineering in college.