Sunday | April 26, 2015
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State’s presidential scholars hail from Big Island

Hawaii’s winners of one of the top academic honors for high schoolers both hail from the Big Island.

In fact, both of the state’s 2013 U.S. Presidential Scholars attend school in Waimea — Zoe Sims at Hawaii Preparatory Academy and Paul Gregg at Parker School. The U.S. Department of Education selects just 141 students from the United States, Puerto Rico and Americans living abroad for the honor.

Sims, 17, said having both state winners study in Waimea is “cool for the community. It’s something the whole community shares. It’s about the community that has allowed us to grow up and nurtures us to be who we are.”

Gregg, also 17, agreed, adding the honors reflect the “support of a warm and loving community.”

Gregg plans to attend Stanford. He has not selected a major or specific career, but said he will likely end up in a mathematics-related field. A member of the soccer and cross-country teams, Gregg also competed on the school’s debate team, qualifying this year for the national debate competition, and was involved in theater. He recently completed a run as the lead in the school’s musical, and served as the show’s musical director.

He said he initially couldn’t really believe he had won the award.

“I was just absolutely humbled by it,” Gregg said. “Of course, I was very excited.”

A Waimea resident, Gregg named Kiyoshi Najita as his most influential teacher. Currently, Najita is Gregg’s advanced placement English language teacher, as well as his philosophy teacher.

Gregg took another English class from Najita as a ninth-grader, as well as an advanced placement literature class and a songwriting course.

“It’s really across quite different fields,” Gregg said. “We connect on a variety of levels. I really respect his philosophical view on life. He’s a mentor and a teacher. He’s also a friend.”

Sims named Mollie Hustace as her most influential teacher. Sims is taking a class on art history from Hustace. Sims said she particularly appreciated the way Hustace “made me look at art in a way that it’s about peoples and their cultures. It’s a lot more universal than an aesthetic experience of art.”

A Kailua-Kona resident, Sims plans to attend Princeton and focus her studies on biology, possibly looking at environmental science. She said she was honored and humbled by being named a presidential scholar. The award doesn’t necessarily change her future plans, she said, but it does give her something else to think about as she pursues her next course of studies and enters the work force.

“It’s about putting my opportunities and education to work for the country and the world as much as I can,” she said.

While attending HPA, Sims has been a member of the cross-country and track teams. She is student body president.

This is the 49th class of presidential scholars. Sims and Gregg will attend a ceremony June 16, at which they will have the chance to meet President Barack Obama.

A selection committee narrows the candidate list from about 3,300 qualified students, out of the roughly 3 million students graduating high school this year, based on academic success, artistic excellence, essays, school evaluations and transcripts, as well as evidence of community service, leadership and demonstrated commitment to high ideals, according to an announcement by the U.S. Department of Education.