Who are we and what did we do?
We are Nina Srivastava and Andy Trattner, and we had the honor of serving as the Executive Advisors for this year’s National Recognition Program (NRP) honoring the 2017 U.S. Presidential Scholars.** We are alumni of the program ourselves (2014) and rising college seniors at Harvard (Nina) and MIT (Andy). We helped run the NRP events for this year’s Scholars, arriving in DC two weeks before they did, and preparing with the Department of Education (ED) staff. Simone Olson and Caryn Kuzner at ED have been at the helm of this program for years, and we were grateful for their experience and guidance.
As you can imagine, coordinating the logistics of transporting over 150 high school seniors to recognition events around our nation’s capital is an intricate task. We did everything from vehicle orchestration to board game selection to security checkpoint choreography.
Our primary role, however, involved leading a team of twenty recent alumni who return to NRP each year to staff the program, the Advisors. Each Advisor serves as the primary point of contact for the “cluster” of 6-8 Scholars they are assigned.
Clusters move together from event to event, come up with group cheers to help with attendance, and bond through facilitated group activities during free time. It sounds very organized and boring, and although it is organized, the activities are far from boring!
We were Advisors for the past two years before becoming Executive Advisors, so we can say with certainty that meeting diverse folks from all over the country is a fun adventure every year for all of the Advisors.
What happens during NRP?
During the week of NRP, the Advisor team arrived on Thursday night, and we met them with excitement. After two weeks in a cubicle at ED, it was reenergizing to see them full of joy and ready to prepare for the Scholars’ arrival.
On Friday, we took the Advisors to ED with us where we led them through Advisor Orientation and Training, and they helped us prepare all of the information packets for Scholars, their families, and our guests of honor, the White House Commissioners who select the Scholars. One of the highlights of the program is the opportunity to visit the White House.
Every year, we wait with bated breath to hear from the White House about whether we will be able to visit, and if so, with whom. This year, for example, we heard on Friday afternoon that the White House would be able to accommodate us for a Monday visit with First Lady Melania Trump.
Saturday, NRP officially began when the Arts Scholars moved into our dorm at Georgetown. By this point, they had already been in D.C. preparing and rehearsing. In one week, they put together a professional quality show that they performed at the Kennedy Center! The arrival of the Scholars is always met with lots of excitement from the Advisors, who have spent a few days in DC preparing and are eager to meet their charges for the weekend.
In addition to the Arts Scholars performance at the Kennedy Center, the other main highlight of the weekend was the Medallion Ceremony, where the Scholars were presented with their medallions by the Chair of the Commission, Dr. Marina McCarthy. Normally, the Secretary of Education addresses the Scholars, but this year, the Scholars were lucky to have three addresses! Secretary Betsy DeVos, Acting Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Jason Botel, and Congressman Jamie Raskin congratulated the Scholars.
The address from Congressman Raskin was particularly special because he himself was a Scholar in 1979. Each year, these addresses galvanize the Scholars and inspire them to continue to be involved citizens.
So, each year during NRP, Scholars go to lots of events and meet some important people in a very short time. In between, they tour D.C., and they mingle and form relationships amongst themselves, camp-style. It’s fun! But why does it matter?
For many scholars, NRP is their first college-like experience. And just like college, it can set the tone for the rest of a student’s life.
NRP allows Scholars who come from myriad background situations to share their stories, make friends with high-achieving peers, and imagine a better future for our country. It provides good, clean fun that is fueled by the pure joy of companionship, enhanced by the gravity of patriotic duty, and impelled by the exuberance of high school–tempered with the maturity of adulthood.
We discuss our favorite ice cream flavors along with our future dreams. We compare Culvers to WaWa to Chick-fil-A to In and Out, and we wear formal clothes for a jam-packed 24 hours of back-to-back meetings with elected and appointed officials. We discover the similarities and differences that make America the magnificent country it is, and we imagine the many improvements which we can dedicate our lives to making. NRP is fun, eye-opening, and empowering. We build lifelong relationships, broaden our perspectives, and give thanks for the opportunities we have been given.
The program’s fast pace is matched only by its ability to inspire, and we are thankful to have been able to attend for the past four years. We know Scholars long before and long after us have been and will continue to be grateful to the Department of Education and the White House for their continuous support of Presidential Scholars.
**Curious about the Presidential Scholars Program? Want to know who the Scholars are?
Each year, the Department’s Presidential Scholars Program invites 161 talented high school seniors to the nation’s capital to present them with a Presidential Scholars Medallion in recognition of their accomplishments during a National Recognition Program (NRP). The program was established by an Executive Order of the President in 1964 to recognize the top graduating male and female from each state for their extraordinary academic success, leadership, and service to school in community (General Scholars).
Since then, the program has expanded to recognize students who demonstrate exceptional ability in the performance, visual, and literary arts (Arts Scholars) and in career and technical fields (CTE Scholars). The Scholars are identified either through their performance on standardized tests, special nominations from their Chief State School Officers, nominations from one of the Presidential Scholars Program’s partner organizations, or through their respective statuses as Arts applicants (by partner organization, YoungArts) or CTE applicants (nominated by Chief State School Officer). They are selected by the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars.
Nina Srivastava is a rising senior at Harvard, a 2014 alumnus of the U.S. Presidential Scholars program and an Executive Advisor for the National Recognition Program honoring the 2017 U.S. Presidential Scholars.
Andy Trattner is a rising senior at MIT, a 2014 alumnus of the U.S. Presidential Scholars program and an Executive Advisor for the National Recognition Program honoring the 2017 U.S. Presidential Scholars.
Photo at the top: 2017 U.S. Presidential Scholars with First Lady Melania Trump in the East Room of the White House (White House photo)