“Won the lottery”

Over the course of the last few weeks I have had the chance to interview a few U.S. Presidential Scholar’s. It’s inspiring to see what high school seniors are accomplishing. These students are going to go far in this world.

Chandler student a U.S. Presidential Scholar

Published in SanTan Sun News June 7, 2014

Named a U.S. Presidential Scholar, Arizona Virtual Academy senior Anna Han feels like she “won the lottery.”

“I never thought it would happen,” Han says. “There is no way to say who is going to get it and who is not. I knew a lot of people who were contenders and thought they were amazing.”

The Presidential Scholar in the Arts will travel to Washington, D.C., this month and perform at the Kennedy Center during the award ceremonies. The U.S. Presidential Scholars Program was established in 1964, by executive order of the president, to recognize and honor some of the nation’s most distinguished graduating high school seniors. In 1979, the program was extended to recognize students who demonstrate exceptional talent in the visual, creative and performing arts. Each year, up to 141 students are named as Presidential Scholars.

Arizona Virtual Academy Head of School Cindy  Carter says she is proud of Han.

“She is an example of how this particular academic environment worked for her,” Carter says. “It wasn’t an easy road. It was rigorous for her.”

Han says she began attending Arizona Virtual Academy when she was in eighth grade because the school provided her with the flexibility she needed to focus on her academics while pursuing her musical interest.

Longtime musician Han took up piano 13 years ago when her parents enrolled her in extracurricular activities.

“I started out with group lessons and developed an appreciation for music,” she says.

The 18-year-old has been with the same piano teacher, Fei Xu, since she began. She cites Xu as one of her influences.

Han says for most presidential scholars, their eligibility is based on ACT and SAT scores. Han, on the other hand, was named a U.S. Presidential Scholar through her participation in the national program YoungArts. She explains that she sent an application to YoungArts and was invited to Miami for a week last January where she participated in workshops, master classes and performances.

While Han was in Miami she performed a basic 10-minute piano audition, before being paired into chamber groups to learn a piece of music.

“It was really fun. We got to know all the teachers there and learned a lot,” she says of her experience in Miami. “I got paired with another pianist. We did a dual piece.”

Because Han was a junior when she participated, she was evaluated and considered as one of the 60 high school seniors to be nominated for this year’s scholar award.

“You get nominated for the presidential arts program, then you apply,” she says. “That application gets sent to the presidential scholar committee.”

Han will be honored in Washington, D.C., during National Recognition Weekend. She, along with the other scholars, will receive the U.S. Presidential Scholars medallion at a White House-sponsored ceremony. She says a show with a storyline will be put on by all the performing arts scholars in the Kennedy Center.

“I have never done something quite like it, so I am excited,” Han says.

She says she is most excited to meet the other scholars because she is sure each one is amazing.

This fall, Han plans on pursuing a bachelor’s of music degree at The Juilliard School, which is located in the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City.

“Ideally I would like to perform. Music has been something I have been working towards since I was really young,” she says. “It’s a really difficult career to sustain. I want to bring it to more people. I am also interested in teaching.”



A trip to Washington D.C.

Jason and I spent some time in Washington D.C. this past weekend while we were visiting my younger brother and his family in Maryland. It’s a destination that both of us have wanted to cross off our list, well Jason more than I over the last few years.

We left early Sat., Oct. 26, so we could drive into D.C. before my brother arrived home later that evening. It was definitely a different experience driving into a major metropolitan city, navigating the roads and finding a place to park. We finally saw a large parking area that was not $10 to $15. We pulled in, fed the meter a dollar and began walking a few miles to the Lincoln Memorial . . .  It felt good to walk after being in the car for a little more than six hours, but my legs almost instantly cramped because of the fast pace and cold weather.


There were a ton of people walking up the steps to the memorial taking pictures from every view-point, which only intensified once we arrived in the memorial. This beautiful dedication, which was designed by Henry Bacon, took eight years to complete, 1914 to 1922.


“In this temple
as in the hearts of the people
for whom he saved the union
the memory of Abraham Lincoln
is enshrined forever”

It’s hard to explain what feelings crept over me once we began reading the walls . . . and took in our surroundings. We both just stood there, lost in our own thoughts. This ended up being our favorite memorial that we saw.

After viewing such a beautiful piece of history, it encouraged me to research it a little more, must be the journalist in me.

The dedication ceremony for the memorial took place on May 30, 1922, according to the National Park Service website. Robert Lincoln, President Lincoln’s only surviving son was a special guest who attended the ceremony. Dr. Robert Moton, who had succeeded Booker T. Washington as the president of the Alabama Tuskegee Institute, delivered the keynote address about equality. President William Howard Taft, who signed a bill in February 1911 to create a memorial for Lincoln, was there the day of the ceremony to officiate the dedication. Warren G. Harding, the 29th president of the United States, accepted the memorial on behalf of Americans, Calvin Coolidge, vice president of the Untied States in 1922, was also in attendance, as well as Marian Anderson, a well-known opera singer.


After walking out of the memorial, we stopped at the top of the stairs and gazed at the Reflection Pool .



IMG_0481This picture above is by far my favorite from our whole trip. Jason, taking in the scenery while reflecting on all the history he has learned over the years. He was in heaven, my history buff. I absolutely love watching him get lost in the moment, it’s a beautiful thing to witness. It still gives me the goosebumps when looking at that photograph.

The following day we returned to Washington D.C. with my younger brother Tom, sister-in-law Lisa and my two sweet nephews. We took the metro from Maryland into D.C., about a 40-minute trip with all the stops, and walked the streets.


This gave us such a different feel of the city, a different perspective of the architecture, as well as those who live there. I was shocked to see a cardboard box house built on the sidewalk, homeless people laying on air vents to soak up all the warm heat. I was also disappointed to see all the trash that laid along our path. I guess that is what happens in major cities.

With that said, Washington D.C. was beautiful and fun to walk around. The trees were changing colors and the temperatures were perfect for a stroll – – well the many miles we ended up walking.

Our first stop was the White House, a destination that was popular for many other visitors.




After leaving there we walked past the Washington Monument, which was closed due to repairs from the 5.8 magnitued earthquake that struck in August 2011.

IMG_0540This beautiful monument stands 555 feet tall. The construction began in 1848 and a dedication took place on Feb. 21, 1885, a day before Washington’s birthday.

Our next destination was the World War II Memorial . . . as I walked around this memorial I was left speechless as I read some of the plaques. It really put into perspective what happened all those years ago.





Sixteen million people who served in the armed forces during World War II are honored in this memorial, as well as the 400,000 who died and all those who supported the effort of the war from their homes.






Construction began in 2001 and opened to the public on April 29, 2004 with a dedication on May 29 of the same year.

We also visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which includes 58,286 names as of 2013. The picture below shows just how many names are listed  . . . just how powerful this memorial is . . .



While we were there we saw a fox, well four to be exact, as we walked from the Vietnam to the World War II memorials.


He was patrolling the area for squirrels, which happened to be everywhere you looked.



This guy caught a squirrel and stopped in the grass to enjoy some lunch. It was incredible, I have never seen a fox up close and personal. Of course I followed it until I could get some good pictures . . . even while he ate.




He finally stopped eating and looked up long enough for me to snap a photo.


We had a great time walking around Washington D.C. . . .




I would love to return and see more of what the area has to offer. I would definitely encourage everyone to go! I loved learning some of our countries history!

It was a great weekend. I enjoyed every moment we had to spend with Tom, Lisa and my two adorable nephews.