Viera’s Lee named national semifinalist for U.S. Presidential Scholar award


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When Viera High School senior Shannon Lee saw the title of the email that had just been sent to her, she became ecstatic.

After reading the first sentence, she opened the door to her room and screamed for her parents.

She even started dancing around.

“Semifinalist Notification” the email title read.

That’s right. After becoming Viera High’s first student to win the Brevard County Public Schools and state competitions, Lee is now a national semifinalist in the 2020 United States Presidential Scholars program.

The budding architect is one of 621 national semifinal candidates, chosen out of a pool of nearly 5,600 high school seniors.

Up to 161 students will be named U.S. Presidential Scholars this month. All scholars will be invited to Washington D.C. in June for the National Recognition Program that will culminate in the presentation of the Presidential Scholar Medallion during a White House-sponsored ceremony.

“It would mean the world to me if I was named a U.S. Presidential Scholar,” Lee wrote in an email. “I have been working extremely hard in my academics and in our community my whole life, and this would just be the cherry on top. Even getting this far in the Scholar Program has motivated me beyond belief to continue on and reach for my goals.

“It would also be a special honor to be in the same pool of students who I regard as some of the most hard-working and determined people in the nation, and I find it insane that I am even being considered as one of those people.”

Established in 1964, the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program spotlights the academic achievement of outstanding graduating high school seniors. In 2015, it was expanded to include students in the career and technical fields (CTE).

Candidates are evaluated on their academic achievement, personal characteristics, leadership and service activities and the quality and content of six essays the students were required to write.

Lee, who has a 4.0 unweighted GPA and a 4.5 weighted GPA, wrote an essay about the characteristics of her family that she values the most. She also wrote about the teacher she admires most — Viera High’s Carrie Humphrys, who also is the school’s CTE Department Chair.

Humphrys, who nominated Lee for the Brevard County award, was the first person Lee texted after finding out she was a national semifinalist.

“For the main and largest essay, the prompt instructed me to choose any photo of my choice and then write approximately 7,000 characters about that,” Lee said. “For mine, I chose a pretty unique photo because I wanted mine to stand out among the crowd and to be remembered by the reader.

“My photo was a stock image of a frog and, throughout my essay, I wrote about how my passion for architecture and CTE programs have been exponentially growing throughout my life, which was funnily punctuated by frogs.

“For instance, when I spent a week living on the Fallingwater (Institute) property (in Mill Run, Pennsylvania) last summer, there was the constant din of frogs outside while I tried to sleep in preparation for my design studios the following day.

“And, when my best friend, Jasmine Moy, and I were painting a mural for the Viera High VPK Butterfly Garden, we were constantly being attacked by frogs and bees.”

Those same essays Lee wrote to be declared a national semifinalist will be used to determine whether she will become a Presidential Scholar.

She plans to attend the University of Florida in the fall and major in architecture.

But before she goes, hopefully, she’ll get to dance around her room one more time.