Cameron Van Der Graaf and his parents were a little confused when he opened the letter that let him know he had been chosen as a Presidential Scholar candidate.
But a quick search on the Internet revealed that he had been chosen -- along with two other classmates -- as a candidate for a program that honors the nation's most distinguished graduating high school seniors.
Catherine Lacy's letter was waiting for her on the kitchen table when she returned home from track practice.
"It's really a great honor, and I appreciate the idea of it," Lacy said. "I think it's cool."
Lacy, Van Der Graaf and Blake Lange are three of 49 Connecticut students chosen as candidates for the award. At the end, 141 students from across the country will be named scholars. Charles Williamson was the last Darien High School student to take home the award in 1999. There have been only three winners from Darien High School since the program began in 1946.
Van Der Graaf and Lacy contribute their successes in high school to the teachers who have supported them throughout their careers in the Darien school system.
"The teachers are really great," Lacy said. "A lot have inspired me to look into what my passions are. I really came to love math at the high school."
Lacy, who is the captain of the indoor and outdoor track teams, was accepted into her early choice school -- Harvard University -- but is waiting to hear back from Yale University as well. After high school, Lacy wants to expand her horizons and gain more world perspective. She wants to study math in college, but also wants to take other classes outside that field.
"I also really want to look more into my passions and find out what I want to do with my life, since I'm not totally sure yet," said Lacy, who also plays the flute in several music ensembles at the high school.
Lacy is also a member of the National Honor Society and the Tri-M Music Honor Society.
Like Lacy, Van Der Graaf is also in the National Honor Society, serving as the school's chapter president.
"I've been really fortunate to have the best, most caring, and knowledgeable teachers," Van Der Graaf said. "I've also had great classmates."
Van Der Graaf is the captain of DHS' debate team, the opinions editor of Neirad, vice president of the Model UN, captain of the golf team, head of the Quiz Bowl team and part of the authentic research program at the high school, which allows students to work with researchers.
During summer 2013 and as part of his research program, Van Der Graaf worked with researchers at Yale University to study Lyme disease vaccines.
He was accepted to and leaning toward attending Stanford University in the fall, but is considering other schools. Once in college, he hopes to study economics and biology so that he may eventually work with biotechnology start-up companies.
He's always had an interest in science but knows that he doesn't want to be confined to a laboratory.
"I like communicating and working with others," Van Der Graaf said.
The three will start to work with the guidance counselors at the high school to complete their Presidential Scholar application, which includes four short essays, one full-length essay and a teacher recommendation.
Students are invited to the Presidential Scholar program based on their SAT or ACT scores or recommendation from Department of Education commission Stefan Pryor.
The final 141 who are chosen as Presidential Scholars receive a trip to Washington, D.C., and a Presidential Scholars medallion at a ceremony at the White House. The chosen scholars receive no scholarship or award.
Lange could not be reached for comment.
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