Looming large on the minds of seniors as they approach the end of their high school careers are college choices and scholarships. Among the most well-known is the U.S Presidential Scholars Program. This program reviews the standardized test scores of over 1.5 million students across the nation to find the top candidates. This year, two Friends’ Central seniors, Alex Rice and Allison Whellan, are finalists for this highly selective award.
The U.S Presidential Scholars Program sends only 5,000 invitations per year to current high school seniors who score exceptionally well on either the SAT or the ACT. Unlike other scholarship programs, the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program does not award a monetary scholarship. Instead, students chosen as Presidential Scholars receive an expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. and are presented with a medallion at a special ceremony sponsored by the White House.
Friends’ Central “lifer” Alex, who has been at the School since Pre-K, is thrilled to be recognized as a finalist by both of these distinguished programs. In addition to his impressive scores on the PSAT and SAT and strong academic record, Alex also had to submit several essays as part of the application process. For the Presidential Scholars application, one of the essays asked him to pick an image that represented himself and write a 7,000-character essay about it. Alex wanted to choose something that would stand out from the other applicants. Alex said, “I picked the pride flag and wrote about LGBTQ representation in the media. I wrote about different forms of representation, how it’s personal to me, and how I want to create art that represents people well.”
Alex is very involved in theater both in and outside of FCS. “In Middle School, I started to realize how much fun I had doing theater,” said Alex. In ninth grade, he was in the ensemble in the production of Les Misérables. “I think that was my favorite memory at FCS. I realized that acting is my dream job,” he said.
For his Senior Project, Alex is writing and performing in a one-person show. Still in its early stages, he said, “It’s an allegory for anxiety about going into college.” Alex was not always so confident in his writing abilities. “Especially my ninth-grade English class,” he explained, “I had to slowly improve my writing. Katie Dickerson really helped my writing get to a level where I’m actually proud of the stuff I’m making.”
Beyond his love of the arts, Alex enjoys his history classes at FCS. “My favorite class was American History with Mr. Calder last year. I like the way we had discussions and how Mr. Calder encouraged us to think about the material we were learning. It opened my eyes to the fun of studying history.”
At FCS, Alex has also taken on leadership roles in the Asian Students Association and Page to Stage club. Last year, he helped run the Pan-Asian Conference with ASA, a program for Asian-affiliated students groups. Alex explained that the conference is, “a space for people of the same identity from different schools to gather and discuss issues that are relevant to them. Last year was a big success, and people were raving about it, so I’m excited to get more people on campus this year!”
Allison, who also came to Friends’ Central in Pre-K, said, “I’m really proud of being selected as a Presidential Scholar finalist..” For one of Allison’s application essays, she wrote about her interest in changing the manner in which some institutions conduct community-based research. “When I interned with West Philly Promise Neighborhood, I learned about the long history of various institutions of higher learning using the residents of West Philly for research and not communicating transparently or informing the residents of the results,” she said. WPPN, in contrast, seeks to integrate the community into the research by having community members work as data surveyors. “I saw how meaningful it was for those individuals to be part of the research going on in their community. My essay focused on WPPN’s work and how there should be a better standard for community-based research,” said Allison.
When she heads off to college, Allison is contemplating majoring in public health. “I’m particularly interested in the policy side of public health. It’s a combination of all of the things I’m enthusiastic about,” she said. “It focuses on social justice, too. FCS has done a really good job of instilling that value in me.”
In the classroom, Allison enjoys English, history, and woodworking, but her favorite subject is math. “In Lower School, I realized that I liked math and I was a quick learner in the subject,” she said. “I remember enjoying math in second grade with Ms. Davis. My favorite type of math was geometry in Middle School with Ms. Quinlan. In the Upper School, I loved Mr. Darling [math teacher]. He made all of my questions feel valuable. I’ve had some really great teachers here.”
Allison’s most memorable moment at Friends’ Central came this year as captain of the girls’ tennis team. The team not only had an undefeated season but also were the Friends’ School League champions this year. “I had been the captain for the past two years, and it was a very rewarding experience to see the team come together. I definitely think that my leadership – along with the leadership of my co-captains – played a role in that,” she said.
When reflecting on her time at FCS, Allison said, “The Quaker values of the School have created a student body that is very empathetic and understanding. During Meeting for Worship, we learned that the light of God is in everyone. We learned that everyone has value, so you should be listening to what they have to say.”
Alex echoed the sentiment that the Quaker values embedded in daily life have made his experience here unique. “Also, the way the teachers interact with the students here is very different,” he said, “because the class sizes are so small, the students really get to know their teachers.”
Alex is also eligible for a second award through the National Merit Scholarship Program, which recognizes students based on the top scores of the PSAT/NMSQT. 50,000 students are invited to apply for the program, and from that pool, 15,000 students advance to finalist standing. 7,250 finalists will be selected to receive a National Merit Scholarship award.
Alex and Allison are standing by to hear if they will advance to the final stages. Allison is hoping to head south for college and has already been accepted to the University of Virginia. She would like to major in Public Policy. Alex is waiting to hear back from his top-choice schools, Yale and Northwestern, where he hopes to double major in Theater and another major still to be determined.
This spring, 161 winners will be selected for the U.S Presidential Scholars award. Congratulations to Alex and Allison on their incredible achievement so far, and best of luck on the rest of their senior year and beyond!