Emma Sun ’20 is Named To The Prestigious Class of Presidential Scholars

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Emma Sun Emma Sun from the Class of 2020 at Waterford School was named a 2020 U.S. Presidential Scholar. Sun is one of 161 outstanding American high school seniors who has demonstrated outstanding academic achievement, artistic excellence, technical expertise, leadership, citizenship, service, and contribution to school and community. 

The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars selects honored scholars annually based on their academic success, artistic and technical excellence, essays, school evaluations and transcripts, as well as evidence of community service, leadership, and demonstrated commitment to high ideals. Of the 3.6 million students expected to graduate from high school this year, more than 5,300 candidates qualified for the 2020 awards determined by outstanding performance on the College Board SAT or ACT exams, and through nominations made by Chief State School Officers, other partner recognition organizations or the National YoungArts Foundation’s nationwide YoungArtsTM program. 

“It is my privilege to congratulate the Presidential Scholars Class of 2020 on their outstanding academic achievement, community service, and leadership. These exemplary young people have excelled inside the classroom and out. And, while they are facing unprecedented challenges as they graduate from high school into a world that looks much different than it did just a few months ago, their determination, resilience, and commitment to excellence will serve them well as they pursue their next steps.” - U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

The 2020 U.S. Presidential Scholars are comprised of one young man and one young woman from each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and from U.S. families living abroad, as well as 15 chosen at-large, 20 U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts, and 20 U.S. Presidential Scholars in Career and Technical Education. 

Emma Sun - Ethics Bowl
Emma Sun (second from left) with her Ethics Bowl Team, 2019

Emma was chosen for her many accomplishments, and her demonstrable perseverance and interest in many areas. Emma embodies the Liberal Arts tradition, as seen in the depth and breadth of her interests, school work, research and advocacy. Emma enjoys science and is committed to her involvement in research. Because she is also interested in environmental advocacy and social change, she has been particularly interested in behavioral science research about what motivates people to act. Her research on compassion fade—the phenomenon in which people donate less to a group than to an individual in need—won second place in the Behavioral Sciences category at the International Science & Engineering (ISEF). She and her partner found that prior research on compassion fade was flawed because it was conducted only on college students, and in the larger samples they analyzed, compassion fade was only observed in college-age subjects. She was also an ISEF finalist the following year and won an Honorable Mention from the American Psychological Association. Because of her love for research, she applied to and was accepted to the prestigious Research Science Institute (RSI), which brings 80 students from across the world to the MIT campus for a six-week intense research experience after their junior years. That summer, Emma worked at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics using microlensing events to study globular clusters.  

Emma Sun - Outdoor Program
Emma Sun climbing with the Waterford Outdoor Program, 2017

Emma also loves to learn new things, and is particularly passionate about the environment. She is currently planning to study something related to Environmental Engineering (or maybe ecology or marine biology) at Stanford next year. Emma is interested in environmental and social policy; she was the co-captain of Waterford's debate team and twice qualified for the national (NCFL) debate tournament.  She was also co-captain of the Ethics Bowl team and loved spending time discussing the nuances of different ethical theories with other team members, especially those new to Ethics Bowl.  

Her passion for the environment, also moved her to her deep and abiding love for the outdoors, and particularly for Utah's beautiful landscapes. She has been a member of Waterford's Outdoor Program since Class VII, where she has learned to climb (including engaging in simulated rescue missions of injured climbers), trek, packraft, ski, assess avalanche danger, and savor time outside. Every summer for many years (other than this last summer, because of a conflict with RSI), Emma has spent a couple of weeks at the Birch Creek Service Ranch in Spring City, Utah, spending a half-day doing ranch work and a half-day enjoying outdoor activities.  Emma isn't afraid of hard physical work, and relishes building things and accomplishing difficult tasks. 

Emma Sun - Quartet
Emma Sun (left) performing in Waterford School's Winter 2019 Chambers
Orchestra Concert with her Quartet

She has been more directly involved in the community on growth-planning issues as co-founder and co-chair of the Envision Utah Youth Council.  She has developed her public speaking skills and has spoken at several state-wide and national conferences on issues she cares about. 

And finally, Emma has dedicated herself to Waterford's amazing orchestra as a violinist and to the opportunity to make beautiful music together with her quartet.

Created in 1964, the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program has honored over 7,600 of the nation’s top-performing students with the prestigious award given to honorees during the annual ceremony in D.C. The program was expanded in 1979 to recognize students who demonstrate exceptional talent in the visual, literary and performing arts. In 2015, the program was again extended to recognize students who demonstrate ability and accomplishment in career and technical education fields. 

Since 1983, each U.S. Presidential Scholar has been offered the opportunity to name his or her most influential teacher. Each distinguished teacher is honored with a personal letter from the Secretary of Education. 

Megan Orton The teacher chosen for recognition by Emma was Megan Orton, Math Teacher at Waterford School.  Megan Orton is a graduate of the Westminster College where she earned a B.S. in Math Teaching, with a History Teaching Minor. She also received a M.S. in Mathematics from Western Illinois University. After completing her graduate studies, Megan worked as a full time Math Instructor at Western Illinois University for four years, spending her summers as an adjunct Math Instructor at Spoon River College. She loves working with the Waterford community, and in her spare time enjoys spending time with her husband and cat at her home in West Jordan.

The Presidential Scholars Class of 2020 will be recognized for their outstanding achievement this summer as public health circumstances permit. 

A complete list of 2020 U.S. Presidential Scholars is available at http://www.ed.gov/programs/psp/