Two are Presidential Scholar finalists

May 09, 1994|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Sun Staff Writer

Two Howard County students have surpassed thousands of high school graduating seniors to become finalists in this year's Presidential Scholars Program.

Centennial High School's Jenny Lee and Wilde Lake High School's Shirin Sinnar were chosen as finalists from 2,600 semifinalists competing for the highest federal honor bestowed upon graduating seniors.

"I was pleasantly surprised," said Jenny, who didn't believe she had a "huge" chance at becoming a finalist.

The two are among 500 finalists who expect to find out this week if they will be among the final selection of 141 scholars who are invited to Washington, D.C., in June to receive the Presidential Scholar medallion and participate in activities in their honor.

The scholars are two students from each state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, families of U.S. citizens living abroad as well as up to 20 students selected from the arts and 15 students chosen at large.

Scholars are selected based on their scores on the Scholastic Assessment Test or ACT, two tests used as college entrance exams. Students are also chosen for their leadership qualities, character and involvement in community and school activities.

Jenny, 18, is opinion page editor of the Wingspan, Centennial High School's newspaper, and a member of the Speech and Debate Team. She also plays violin in the school orchestra, helped establish the Philosophy Club and participates in the school's humanities program, which combines social studies, music, art, history and English.

She is also a National Merit Scholarship finalist and plans to attend Cornell University in the fall where she will study political science, philosophy and economic theory. She hopes to become an attorney.

Discussing political and economic philosophies is one of Jenny's favorite activities.

"I like playing devil's advocate. You can provoke reaction in the most unexpected quarters," Jenny said.

For the past four years, Jenny has participated on the Speech and Debate Team, earning Certificates of Superiority in both extemporaneous speaking and the Lincoln-Douglas style of debate.

"It lets me think on my feet," she said. "It's a challenge to present a logical argument."

William Klingaman, a social studies and English teacher at Centennial, said Jenny is an exceptional student.

"Jenny is an extremely bright student," Mr. Klingaman said. "She has that kind of wide-ranging intellect that zig-zags from point to point and gets to the end."

Shirin Sinnar has achieved academic success at Wilde Lake High School.

The 17-year-old is editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, the Paw Print, and a member of the "It's Academic" team.

She belongs to the Howard County Association of Student Councils, serving as secretary, news editor and editor of the organization's monthly newsletter, the Gavel.

Last year, Shirin won a $10,000 writing award from the U.S. Institute of Peace for an essay on America's role in the new world order. She is also one of six Howard County students to win recognition in a national writing contest sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English.

Shirin, a National Merit Scholar, will attend Harvard University this fall where she plans to study history and English.

She eventually wants to become a journalist.

"I really like to write," Shirin said. "I like talking to people. I like words -- putting words together."

Serving as the school newspaper's editor-in-chief has helped her become a leader, Shirin said.

"One part of becoming a leader is you don't emphasize the fact that you're the leader, but that 'We are the team, we are going to do it,' " she said.

Jerry Berkowitz, an English teacher and journalism adviser at Wilde Lake, said he has never met a student like Shirin during his 21-year teaching career.

"She's extraordinarily calm, centered and completely ego-less," Mr. Berkowitz said. She loves "learning for its own sake."

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