By Morgan Van Lanen, Aviator editor-in-chief
“I was shocked. I just looked at that envelope and thought, ‘Me? They picked me?’ ”
Those were the thoughts of De Pere senior Nicholas Ngo, who on May 5 received a package in the mail that has the entire city of De Pere talking.
On that day, after taking the AP Calculus exam, Nick called his mom to see if he could come home to eat. She responded by saying that he needed to come home right away, as there was a package waiting for him.
“So I came home and opened the envelope,” he said. “And I was like, ‘Wow’. My mom just bounced off of the walls. She exploded. It was cool.”
Nick was selected as one of the 2015 U.S. Presidential Scholars. One male and one female from every state is chosen each year.
To become a candidate for the Presidential Scholarship, an individual must receive a certain ACT or SAT score.
Nick took both the ACT and SAT only one time each. However, he studied for about a year for them and took about 15 practice SATs and 5 practice ACTs.
“I decided I wanted to take them just once and get them over with and not have to worry about taking them over and over,” he said. “I wanted to try and hit it out of the park the first time.”
Next, Nick received an invitation to apply for the scholarship and had to fill out a series of applications and essays.
“If you’re selected to be a ‘semi-finalist’ you have to do another biographical with even more detail and about five essays,” said Ngo. “Those were rather unique.
“The longest one asked you to attach a photo of something or someone who had great significance to you, and you had to explain it. That was the hardest part – the second round essays – because those really forced you to think outside of the box.”
Being selected as a President Scholar has brought much fame for Ngo. He has been interviewed by local news channels and asked many questions. He isn’t sure, however, if he really likes the attention.
“I haven’t really told that many people,” he said. “People have come up to me and have asked me about it. I was surprised that so many people knew.
“In some ways it’s cool that I’m in the news, but it’s not really extraordinary. I haven’t found a cure for cancer or anything! A lot of people achieve this. … I’m just really grateful that I’ve been able to come this far.”
He wouldn’t have been able to achieve all that he has without the support of others around him, Nick said, crediting Mrs. Hawley, an English teacher at the high school.
Students who are awarded the scholarship must choose a teacher who has made the biggest influence in their lives. Ngo chose Mrs. Hawley.
“I am really, really honored and very, very humbled by the fact that he selected me,” she said. “Typically, most students will pick a math or a science teacher, and it’s really unusual for them to pick an English teacher.”
Nick and Mrs. Hawley met four years ago when he joined the Academic Decathlon that she coaches. Also, he has been apart of the Language Arts Academic Team and a student in Mrs. Hawley’s World Literature and AP English Literature classes.
“Nick is very intense and motivated,” she said. “His best quality is his work ethic. He is constantly focused on learning and growing and being the best person that he can be.”
Nick considers Mrs. Hawley to be one of his biggest role models because of all of the new ideas she brings and the way she teaches, he stated.
“She’s encouraged me to be the best person I can be, not only as a student, but also as a human being,” Ngo said. “That’s why I’m so grateful for her.”
Nick is looking forward to his new plans this summer, as he will be traveling to Washington D.C., from June 21-23 to receive the honor. He will be accompanied by his parents and younger sister. Also, Nick will get the chance to meet the president.
“If I get to talk to the president I would thank him for his service to the country,” Ngo said. “And for all of the things he’s doing to try do to better the world.”
Next year, Nicholas is heading to Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. He will be majoring in engineering, but knows that, if he decides to change his mind, he will still be prosperous.
“There’s so many different fields that I’m interested in and at a place like Harvard, there’s so many opportunities in all of those fields,” he said. “You really can’t go wrong. If I find out that engineering isn’t the best thing for me, I will still have the freedom to choose anything at Harvard. I’ll pursue it and know that I will be successful.”