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Three Massachusetts high school seniors recognized as 2020 US Presidential Scholars

Three Massachusetts students are among 161 high school seniors nationwide to be named US Presidential Scholars in recognition of their academic, artistic, and technical achievements.

Amelia Ao of Wayland and Jaiden David Edelman of West Tisbury were awarded for academic success, while Saviel Ortiz of Lawrence was recognized as a scholar in career and technical education. The awards were announced last month by US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

Ortiz, an 18-year-old senior at Greater Lawrence Technical School in Andover, said he had been preparing for the Presidential Scholar category after his older brother, Alkenly, won in 2017.

“My motivation was that I wanted to be recognized. I wanted to take the challenge and to see if I was worthy and to see if I was one of the top students in the country,” said Ortiz. “I was just going for it as a challenge to see if I could accomplish that and gladly I did.”

In the fall, Ortiz plans to attend Northern Essex Community College with a major in business administration.


Ao, an 18-year-old senior at Wayland High School, said she was very surprised when she got the call that she had been recognized as a Presidential Scholar.

“I don’t think I’m extraordinary in any way,” said Ao. “Obviously I’m so grateful, but it’s something I need to take very humbly because it was a good combination of dumb luck, hard work, success, failure, and the support of the people around me that got me here.”

Ao is set to attend Harvard College in the fall and is planning to follow a path that explores the intersection between science and art.

“It’s a little mind-blowing,” said 17-year-old Edelman, a senior at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School who plans to double major in physics and math at Harvard. “I was not expecting any recognition of this scale.”


The US Presidential Scholars Program was created in 1964 and celebrates the accomplishments of one young man and woman from each state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico as well as US families living abroad each year. In addition, 15 students are chosen at-large, 20 scholars in the Arts, and 20 scholars in Career and Technical Education.

“It’s nice to be recognized but I think the real draw is interacting with all of these really smart people who come from every state and the US territories and who have different interests,” said Edelman.

The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars selects scholars each year based on their academic success and artistic and technical excellence. The process takes into account essays, school evaluations, transcripts, and evidence of community service, leadership, and commitment to high ideals.

Out of the 3.6 million students expected to graduate from high school this year, more than 5,300 candidates qualified for the program due to outstanding performance on the College Board SAT or ACT exams or through nominations.

“After being recognized, I realized that I’d been given a chance to say something and have people listen to me as a student,” said Ao. “It’s our generation’s responsibility to try and better ourselves and the world, and the answer must be in the attempt to understand one another. As presidential scholars, we have been given something of a platform, and I hope we use it.”