Two graduates of Northwest schools are among this year’s U.S. Presidential Scholars — one of the nation’s most prestigious honors for high school seniors.
Kira Medish of National Cathedral School and John Nugent of School Without Walls High School were awarded medallions at a White House ceremony attended by U.S. Rep. Jamin Raskin from Maryland on June 18. They also met first lady Melania Trump at the White House the next day.
The U.S. Department of Education program, established by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, recognizes students with exemplary academic achievement, leadership and community service.
Each year, the honor goes to one female and one male from each state, D.C. and Puerto Rico, as well as two overseas students and 15 at-large students. Over the years the program has expanded to include 20 arts and 20 career and technical education honorees.
Medish and Nugent both said they were stunned when they learned that of 5,100 students who had qualified for the award, they had been selected — two of only 161 honorees across the country.
“I was in disbelief at first. I called my parents in shock,” Medish said.
Both Nugent and Medish are eager to begin their new chapters at Harvard University, which they’ve both have imagined attending since childhood.
“I went ballistic when I found out. It really is a dream,” Nugent said.
When Nugent moved to the District from Manhattan in eighth grade, he was immediately infected by a common D.C. bug: politics.
Nugent’s mother, Katherine, partially attributes her son’s success to the city itself. D.C. awakened a “real passion for politics,” in her son, she said.
“We raised him and his siblings hoping they’ll do something to make a difference in the world,” Katherine Nugent said. “And I know that John will.”
Between homework and college applications, John Nugent found time for public service — volunteering at a senior residence and spending two years on student council.
“I like to try and give back,” John Nugent told The Current. “I like to realize what I’m doing is bigger than myself.” He has also coached debate and chess teams.
Nugent selected humanities teacher Taneka Parascandolo as his most inspiring teacher at School Without Walls. As Model United Nations mentor, she accompanied Nugent and three other students in October 2015 to an international conference in South Africa, according to an article on the School Without Walls website. The team took first place, and Nugent won a Best Speaker’s Award at the competition.
Nugent hopes to work in public service one day — possibly environmental policy — while also weaving teaching into his career. “He’s very engaged and passionate about politics,” Nugent’s academic counselor, Crystal Pace, said in an interview.
Medish, who dreams of a career in medicine, will begin pursuing that goal in a Harvard pre-med course this fall.
While Medish’s interests mostly involve “every kind of science, especially neuroscience,” she said, she realized a passion for writing during a semester-long class taught by Victoria Dawson at St. Albans School, next door to Medish’s own school.
To Dawson, Medish was “the kind of student who would make any teacher look good.” Struck by Medish’s “thoughtful, exquisite” writing, Dawson submitted two of her class essays for publication. Both “Stop or Go: In Praise of the Yellow Light” and “Encountering an Acorn” appeared in the online magazine Mindspace last year.
Growing up with three brothers left Medish no choice but to stand tall and charge headfirst into every venture — sometimes literally. Over the years, Medish tried her hand at swimming, basketball, tennis, soccer and track. Medish began running competitively in her senior year, earning a spot on the varsity team.
“It’s so important to have a balance,” she said.
Medish nominated Katharine Sheeler for honors as the National Cathedral School’s most distinguished teacher. Sheeler — who taught Medish Latin in seventh, ninth and 11th grades — is spending her summer on an archaeological excavation in Israel’s Negev Desert.
“Kira is a student. This is my highest praise,” Sheeler told The Current in an email. “Student comes from the Latin verb ‘to be eager.’ Kira is an eager and enthusiastic student, willing to share her work, and be responsible for her learning.”