Oxford’s Zhao named Presidential Scholar
By Chris Kieffer
An Oxford High School senior received prestigious national recognition this week.
Yuqi “Mark” Zhao was one of 141 American high school seniors to be named a 2014 U.S. Presidential Scholar, the U.S. Department of Education announced.
“I wasn’t really expecting to get it considering how many other quality students there are in our school and in Mississippi,” Zhao said.
He learned of the honor this week in a text message from a friend.
“There were a few minutes of numbness and not really believing it,” he said. “When I got home, I was pretty excited.”
The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars selects the honorees based on academic success, artistic excellence, essays, school evaluations and transcripts, as well as evidence of community service, leadership and demonstrated commitment to high ideals.
One young man and one young woman is chosen from each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico and from U.S. families living abroad. In addition, 15 scholars are chosen at large and 20 are chosen as Presidential Scholars in the Arts.
“They show all of us that when students challenge themselves and commit themselves to excellence, the results can be astounding,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a press release. “These scholars will help move our country forward and will have a lasting impact on their families, communities and on our society.”
The son of Mei Wang and Jianping Zhao, Zhao is a National Merit Finalist and was a pre-collegiate intern at the center for Research Excellence in Natural Products Neuroscience. He is captain of the school’s Envirothon Team, which placed first in two events and fifth overall at the International North American Envirothon. He also captained the Science Olympiad Team, which placed first in four events and second in two events at the state level.
Zhao also participated on the FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics Team, the OHS Math and Science Team, the National Honor Society, History Club, Green Team, Mu Alpha Theta and Speech and Debate Team. He placed first in microbiology at the state Science Fair and is an AP Scholar with Distinction.
“He is an outstanding citizen and student here at the high school and is very deserving,” said Oxford High Principal Mike Martin. “He is very intelligent and talented, and he tries to get the most out of his talent. We are very proud to have him.”
Each Presidential Scholar has the opportunity to name his or her most influential teacher. Zhao chose Jim Reidy, who teaches physics, AP physics and AP chemistry.
“Mark is a remarkable student,” Reidy said. “He is kind of quiet, but whenever he brings up a question, it always is a good question that makes me think.
“He is one of those students who comes along a few times in your career, just a remarkable guy. In a lot of ways, he is just a well-rounded kid. He has a lot of friends, and he is really a smart kid.”
Zhao will attend Cornell University next year, where he will likely major in electrical engineering. He plans to pursue a career in scientific research and industry.