LOHS grad visits White House as Presidential Scholar
Lake Oswego High School graduate Anushka Nair has had a busy summer.
She started the month of June at Carnegie Hall for the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, where she was awarded a Gold Key and Best in Grade awards, ended the month at the White House where she was honored as a Presidential Scholar, and in between attended the National Speech & Debate Tournament in Dallas, Texas. Fortunately, Nair is pretty used to this pace, as she has many passions and talents that she has explored through the years.
Nair is a scientist, activist and entrepreneur who is passionate about using science to improve the world. She is intent on changing the gender disparity in science and technology fields and will be attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the fall. Throughout high school, she conducted research in radiochemistry, artificial intelligence and computational biology, including at Stanford University, Harvard Medical School and OHSU. She also received a national award from the National Center for Women in Technology for her consistent leadership in this field.
Nair's role in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work extended outside of science, as she founded Enough is Enough at LOHS, a student led movement against social inequalities, and served as an elected co-chair of the LOSD's DEI Advisory Committee.
As if that's not enough, Nair is a Carnegie Hall solo violinist, composer, and has been an orchestra member of Metropolitan Youth Symphony for seven years.
She said returning to Carnegie Hall for the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards felt like "full-circle moment." Nair played at Carnegie Hall her freshman year of high school, and returned after high school graduation.
It was visiting the White House for the Presidential Scholar ceremony, however, that Nair said was the pinnacle of her high school experience. The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars selects students annually based on their academic success, artistic and technical excellence, essays, school evaluations and transcripts, as well as evidence of community service, leadership and demonstrated commitment to high ideals.
Created in 1964, the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program has honored over 7,500 of the nation's top-performing students with an annual ceremony in Washington, D.C. The program was expanded in 1979 to recognize students
who demonstrate exceptional talent in the visual, literary and performing arts. In 2015, the program was again extended to recognize students who demonstrate ability and accomplishment in career and technical education fields.
Nair and 160 other Presidential Scholars met President Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, and got to see unique areas of the White House the public normally doesn't have access to.
"I got to meet so many inspiring people. I have such an enormous respect for the office of the president and our government, so it was cool to be able to see that entire process up close," she said. "It was very exciting to be at the nexus of our country. That was an honor in itself, regardless of personal or political beliefs."
The experience also made her more excited to start college in the fall. "The thing I like about experiences like this is that I get to meet so many other people who are doing so many cool things. I often feel inspired to see what else is going on in the world," Nair said. "You get to meet so many people who have different world views. Going into college it's nice to have a more nuanced perspective."
On Monday, Nair visited the LO Rotary Club to talk about her experiences and share her award-winning personal essay titled "The Importance of 'Dumb' Questions." The piece talks about how basic questions that might seem obvious to you are not always obvious to everyone — and sometimes asking them is the best way to get to know people.
"Often when we're so focused on the complex parts of everything we ignore the foundational things," Nair said. "I think the most basic parts of who we are allow us to connect with each other. When that gets scraped away and we talk about how we're different, we stop being able to relate to each other and see each other as humans."
Nair said her favorite part of speech and debate is the oratory category, which in the National Speech and Debate Association is an approximately 10-minute factual and persuasive speech. "It's supposed to be a speech that changes the way people see something, which I think is a really powerful part of how you speak and communicate with other people," she said.
Growing up, Nair often felt like she had to pick between the arts and the sciences, but was never happy with that choice — she wanted to do both. She said that oratory is the perfect category for her because it combines her love of writing and speaking with her passion for research.
"Oratory is one of those places where I was able to combine (my interests). You have to have research, you have to have citations, you have to have to have science, but you also have to be able to communicate that well to a group of people," Nair said. "It was almost tailor-made
for how I like to express myself."
Nair will head to MIT in the fall, and said she is still processing her acceptance. "I'm still flabbergasted and honored that I get to go to MIT. I've always respected MIT so much as an institution, because it cares so much about purely science," she said. "It doesn't matter who you are, what you look like — what the institution respects is the scientific pursuit and doing good for the world. That's been my motto throughout high school. I really care about learning, I care about doing, and I also care about making sure everything I do helps the world in some way."
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