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Two high school seniors from Canyon Crest Academy among 2019 U.S. Presidential Scholars

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Anne Liu, 17, and Michael Chen, 18, both of Carmel Valley, are this year’s U.S. Presidential Scholars from San Diego.
(Courtesy)

Two students at Canyon Crest Academy are among 161 high school seniors picked for this year’s class of U.S. Presidential Scholars, the U.S. Department of Education announced Tuesday, May 7.

The students, Anne Liu, 17, and Michael Chen, 18, both of Carmel Valley, were among 10 California students named for one of the nation’s highest honors for high school students. They were the only two San Diego County students to receive the honor, which recognizes accomplishments in academics, the arts, and career and technical education fields.

Students may not apply for the Presidential Scholars program, and their schools cannot nominate them. Application is by invitation only.

Canyon Crest Academy Principal Brett Killeen told The San Diego Union-Tribune during an interview Tuesday, May 7, that the announcement of the students’ recognition was a proud moment for the school.

“These are kids who are already doing great things and thinking beyond themselves,” Killeen said. “It’s a pat on the back they deserve.”

About 3.6 million students are expected to graduate from high school this year nationwide, and more than 5,200 candidates qualified to be considered for the award, based on SAT and ACT scores or nominations made by the Chief State School Officers in each state or by the program’s partner organizations, the Department of Education said Tuesday.

A young man and young woman are selected from each state, and from Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and from U.S. families living abroad. Another 15 students are chosen “at-large,” 20 are selected as scholars in the arts, and 20 are selected as career and technical education scholars.

Liu, an accomplished pianist, was named a scholar of the arts, and Chen was recognized for academic achievement, according to the announcement.

Both students are already bright stars.

Liu, who has been playing piano since she was 4, has won several prestigious awards and scholarships in recent years. She plans to pursue a five-year program to earn a master’s degree from The Juilliard School and a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University.

Last weekend, Liu said, she played a piano concerto in the La Jolla Symphony & Chorus’ “Looking to the Future” concerts.

She was in a class on government Tuesday morning when she received an email notifying her she had been named a presidential scholar.

“I was very, very honored,” Liu said. “It’s a huge personal accomplishment, but I also feel very proud to represent CCA (Canyon Crest Academy) for arts.”

Liu said she plans to participate in a collaborative performance with other presidential scholars of the arts at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. when the winners gather there for the awards ceremony in June. She said it will be the largest venue she has ever played.

In the future, Liu said she wants to share her love of music with others through a career as a concert pianist.

Chen, who is also an accomplished pianist, was named a presidential scholar for academic achievement, based in part on his perfect ACT score, he said.

He told the Union-Tribune on Tuesday that he plans to attend Yale University in the fall and he wants to earn a degree in computer science. Computer science appeals to Chen because it involves both the logical and creative parts of his mind, he said.

“When you’re writing a program, you can come up with whatever solution you want as long as it works,” Chen said.

While his career will probably focus on computer programming, Chen said he also hopes he can continue to play piano and perform concerts.

Chen was in an art history class Tuesday morning when he learned he had been named a presidential scholar, he said, adding he was excited and texted his mom to tell her the good news.

Each honoree will receive a Presidential Scholar Medallion at the 2019 awards ceremony June 23 in Washington, D.C.. Both Liu and Chen said they plan to attend the ceremony.

-- Morgan Cook is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune