The United States Presidential Scholars Program was established in 1964, by Executive Order of the President, to recognize and honor some of our Nation's most distinguished graduating high school seniors. Each year, up to 141 students are named as Presidential Scholars, one of the Nation's highest honors for high school students. In honoring the Presidential Scholars, the President of the United States symbolically honors all graduating high school seniors of high potential.
From President Lyndon B. Johnson to President Barack Obama, the Presidential Scholars Program has honored more than 6,000 of our nation's most distinguished graduating high school seniors. Initiated by President Johnson, the Presidential Scholars Program annually selects one male and one female student from each state (as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Americans living abroad) along with 15 at-large students and up to 20 students in the arts on the basis of outstanding scholarship, service, leadership, and creativity through a rigorous selection and review process administered by the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars and the US Department of Education.
During the first National Recognition Week in 1964, the Scholars participated in seminars with Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Astronaut Alan B. Sheppard, and Chief Justice Earl Warren. President Johnson opened the first meeting of the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars by stating that the Program was not just a reward for excellence, but a means of nourishing excellence. The Program was intended to stimulate achievement in a way that could be "revolutionary". President Johnson challenged the Scholars to dedicate their talents and time "in our land and in all lands to cleaning away the blight, to sweeping away the shoddiness, to wiping away the injustices and inequities of the past so that all men may live together in a great world community of decency and excellence."
Over the next decade, several changes occurred in the Presidential Scholars Program. In 1969, the medallion design became the Great Seal of the Nation. In 1972, the National Teacher of the Year was invited to become a Commissioner. Alumni Scholars were invited to serve as Advisors to the program. A booklet of Scholars' essays on issues facing the nation was issued by the Joint Commission on Arrangements for the Bicentennial in 1976.
In 1979, President Carter expanded the program to honor up to 20 students selected by the Commission through an artistic competition. In 1980, a compendium of Scholars' essays, poems, and musical compositions was published, following a performance by the Scholars in the National Academy of Sciences' auditorium.
In the 1980s the selection process was refined to emphasize the key elements of leadership and community service. The Horace Mann Learning Center produced a collection of Scholars' essays on ways to improve the nation's education system.
In 1981, the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts was created and its Art Recognition and Talent Search program began to conduct the annual artistic competition. In 1983, the Distinguished Teacher awards were created, and the twentieth year celebration of the program included an Alumni reunion and a performance by the Scholars at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
In 1994, The American Association for Gifted Children published its second working paper, "The Presidential Scholars: A Portrait of Talent and Its Development." The theme that emerged from the study suggested that the talents of these Presidential Scholars came forth in part because of the encouragement of teachers and parents and in part because their experienced built upon, rather than impeded, their abilities.
In 1998, the Distinguished Teacher award was renamed the Presidential Scholars Program Teacher Recognition Award to serve as a means for rewarding good teachers for knowledge, skill, and performance. The award symbolizes the steps that schools, communities, parent, students, teachers, and the US Department of Education are taking to improve teaching and learning in schools across America.
In 2014, the organization will celebrate its 50th anniversary.