Kentwood High senior candidate for U.S. Presidential Scholars Program

Avery Zerr named one of 60 Presidential Scholars in the Arts

Kentwood High School senior Avery Zerr has been named one of 60 Presidential Scholars in the Arts candidates as part of the 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program.

The candidates were nominated from almost 7,000 participants in the annual National YoungArts Foundation competition.

“This whole process for me began when I first found out that I was selected as a YoungArts Winner in dance,” Zerr said in an email. “When I got that phone call letting me know I had been picked as one of the winners, I started to cry. The YoungArts representative asked me if I was crying and I told her yes. She congratulated me and said, ‘it’s OK to cry, this is a really big deal!’”

Zerr, the daughter of Eric and Tracy Zerr, received her nomination after participating virtually Jan. 4-9 in YoungArts Week. She would have traveled to Miami for the week, but due to COVID-19 it became a virtual event.

A total of 144 students were part of that group, in 10 fields of the arts. Zerr was one of 14 artists picked in the dance field and one of two choreographers.

“That week, the 14 of us spent time together with mentors in the dance world,” Zerr said. “We spent time dancing, creating and being challenged in our thoughts, movements and creativity.”

Sixty artists out of the 144 and five of the 14 in dance, including Zerr, were nominated for the Presidential Scholar in the Arts.

“I was shocked and so incredibly thankful,” said Zerr, who has trained for nine years at Allegro Performing Arts Academy in Kent. “The opportunities that YoungArts and this nomination will and have been providing me is incredible and I am so thankful for the opportunity to be looked at for this award.”

The 60 arts candidates were selected for their exceptional performance in the disciplines of dance, film/video, instrumental music, jazz, voice, photography, theater, visual arts, design and creative writing. Further consideration will be based on students’ essays, self-assessments, description of activities, school recommendations and school transcripts.

Of these 60, up to 20 will be selected as U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts.

The U.S. Presidential Scholars Program was established in 1964 by executive order of the president to recognize some of our nation’s most distinguished graduating seniors for their accomplishments in many areas: academic success, leadership, and service to school and community. It was expanded in 1979 to recognize students demonstrating exceptional scholarship and talent in the visual, creative and performing arts.

In 2015, the program was expanded once again to recognize students who demonstrate ability and accomplishment in career and technical fields.

Annually, up to 161 U.S. Presidential Scholars are chosen from among that year’s senior class, representing excellence in education and the promise of greatness in America’s youth.

If circumstances permit, all scholars will be invited to Washington, D.C. in June for the National Recognition Program, featuring various events and enrichment activities and culminating in the presentation of the Presidential Scholars Medallion during a White House-sponsored ceremony.

The Commission on Presidential Scholars, a group of up to 32 eminent citizens appointed by the president, will select the finalists, and the U.S. Department of Education will announce the semifinalists in April and the scholars in May.

Each year over 4,500 candidates are identified for the component of the program that focuses on academic achievement and based on having scored exceptionally well on the SAT or the ACT.

Candidacy materials are mailed to students for participation in the program. Application is by invitation only; students do not apply individually to the program, nor do their schools nominate them.

Approximately 600 candidates are named semifinalists, and their names and supporting materials are forwarded to the commission for further review.

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