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With only two U.S. Presidential Scholars named in Hawaii each year chosen from all the high schools in the state, Waimea can claim three in the last two years – Kyle Matsuda from Hawaii Preparatory Academy last year, and Paul Gregg from Parker School and Zoe Sims from HPA this year.
The qualifications for the rare and prestigious honor are rigorous. Applying for the award is through invitation only, offered to the top 30 academic students in the state based on the SAT and ACT standardized test results. Applicants are also chosen not only on test scores, but also other academic achievements and school activities, leadership qualities, and involvement in community service and school activities. Two students – one man and one woman – are chosen from each state and jurisdictions, as well as 11 at large scholars and arts awardees. The 141 nationwide U.S. Presidential Scholar award winners receive a paid trip to Washington D.C., for a ceremony on June 16, and they are given the opportunity to invite their most influential teacher to accompany them, though this year’s teacher’s portion is not sponsored.
Sims, who will be attending Princeton University in the fall, chose Mollie Hustace as her most influential teacher. Gregg, who will attend Stanford, chose Kiyoshi Najita as his. North Hawaii News congratulates both Sims and Gregg for their achievements.
With a relaxed, content smile, Zoe Sims looks happy while she’s running.
And with her long, gazelle-like stride and her blond ponytail flying behind her, Zoe Sims has set records in the 400-, 800- and 1,500-meter runs and three state titles while competing in track and field and cross country, among many other athletic accomplishments.
She said the secret to her success is simple — enjoy the journey while competing, advice she said came from her coach, Mike Franklin.
“Running is a metaphor for life,” Sims said. “It is about challenging yourself – it is not about winning, or otherwise there would be no point. … Your real goal is in the challenge and finding joy in the challenge.”
Sims said she takes that “joy in the challenge” into the classroom and in all aspects of her life. With a quiet passion and singularity of focus, she is also the student body president, on the school honor council, earned a 4.92 cumulative grade point average and achieved an SAT score of 2,310 while at HPA. She is the also captain of the girls cross country team, and captain of the track team.
Sims’s talents span all subjects – in addition to athletic awards, she has won awards in English, Art History, AP statistics, physics calculus, trigonometry, geometry, science and social science.
“Sports helps,” she said of her success. “Running helps with time management. …You have to manage your time more, and you think more clearly.”
As her mentor, Sims chose her art history teacher, Mollie Hustace, to represent her with the school.
“Miss Hustace definitely has one of my favorite classes,” Sims said of her art history teacher. “The main way she it so significant as a teacher, was the way that in art history she made me look at art and culture, and to think critically. I was really inspired in the class.”
“She has such an inquisitive intellect,” Hustace said. “She is eager and enthusiastic to learn.
“She is focused,” Hustace said. “She has a dedication to mastery, but she is calm and tranquil. No one is overwhelmed when they learn from her. It is a wonderful chemistry that she brings to her class. She is humble.”
Sims’s mom, Kate, agrees with Hustace. An associate professor of English UH Center at West Hawaii Community College, Kate Sims said her daughter has always been inquisitive, focused and enjoyed learning.
“I really admire her athletic and academic performance, but I suppose the nicest part is she is just a wonderful human being,” Kate Sims said. “… She is very self motivated.”
Kate Sims said that the family has no television, which she believes has helped both of her children to self-entertain and made them “extremely avid readers.” She said that she and her husband Neil, a fisheries biologist, have always made learning and family life a priority.
Zoe Sims said that being chosen as a U.S. Presidential Scholar makes her want to continue her education and to give back to others.
“This is a huge honor, but is more about this community – my school, my teachers, my coaches and my friends that have really supported me through my high school career and life,” she said.
Lindsay Barnes Jr., headmaster of HPA, also said he was grateful for Waimea’s proud achievement of having two U. S. Presidential Scholars.
“Zoe’s academic and athletic achievements speak volumes about her, of course. But what I will long remember beyond the grades and the championship races are her humility and her humanity,” Barnes said. “This world of ours could use a lot more Zoe’s, that’s for sure.”
Barnes said that, in a world where some people are givers and some are takers, Zoe is “a ‘giver’ in the finest and most noble sense of the word.”
“The word ‘grace’ has lots of meanings. To me, the word suggests kindness, thoughtfulness, and an unassuming beauty of the heart and mind,” Barnes said. “For me, Zoe will always personify ‘grace.’ I feel so fortunate to have shared this time with her at HPA.”
For Paul Gregg, going to a small school has kept him busy.
He has been a member of Parker School’s debate team for four years, is the vice president of the student council, has been part of the National Honors Society for two years, and is vice-president this year.
Gregg is a founding member and co-president of the International Thespian Society and has been actively involved in Dramatiques, Parker’s after-school drama program, for four years, and is now serving as musical director. He is also a National Merit Scholarship Program finalist and scholarship recipient.
An accomplished athlete, Gregg ran on the cross country team, was named Most Valuable Player twice and was one of the top Big Island runners. He also played soccer for Parker for four years.
“Paul is a genuine renaissance man,” said Kiyoshi Najita, the teacher Gregg chose as his most influential teacher for his nomination as a U.S. Presidential Scholar. “If you were to ask people who work with him, they would say, ‘He is a great athlete,’ or ‘He is an awesome actor,’ or he is a great singer, or ‘He is a great musician,’ or ‘He is a fantastic writer,’ or ‘He is a great math student.’ But just like the blind man trying to see the elephant by touching just one part of him, that is not him. He is not even the aggregation of all of those qualities. He is that and more.”
Najita said the one extraordinary quality in Gregg is that he is graceful. He appears to be natural at whatever he is doing.
“He has had to work incredibly hard; talent is always an expression of hard work,” Najita said. “Paul has this elegance and lightness and joyfulness that draws people to him and is inspiring. Teaching him has been an unmitigated pleasure.”
Najita said he has had Gregg as a student in English, philosophy and song writing. As his songwriting teacher, he said that Gregg plays guitar, piano, and sings; and he “can pretty much play any instrument he picks up.”
According to Carl Sturges, Parker School headmaster and leader of the school’s debate team, of which Gregg is one of the captains, the student is well balanced and not too competitive.
“He has a really good personality for competition,” Sturges said. “He doesn’t become obsessive about it. He does his best, however, and he does fine. He has been a winner for us for four years.”
The headmaster described Gregg as “an extraordinarily bright kid, with amazing abilities.”
“It is also neat that he is such a nice guy,” Sturges said. “He is still a product of this little town and our little school. He is a very social kid. Everybody likes him; he is very balanced.”
Gregg’s mom, Lois Gregg, said that as a middle child between his older brother, Daniel, and younger sister, Julie, Paul has always had his own personality.
“He has always been the one who makes us laugh from the time he was small,” she said.
She said that her son is self motivated, and has always “just wanted to do his best and he just goes for everything.”
Gregg said his family has played a large role in his success.
“I was very lucky to have parents who encourage me, but don’t pressure me,” Gregg said. “I grew up without the pressure of having to get A pluses, but at the same time, my parents pressured me to be the best I can be. It struck a nice balance.”
He also said the small, nurturing and caring environment of Parker has helped him reach the level of success he has. “It has taught me the joy of learning,” he said. “The support of the Parker community is unparalleled.”
With true humility, Gregg said he hopes other students will be encouraged, because he is an “ordinary person who has put in hard work and got very lucky.”
“I think that is important for people to realize when it comes to being honored and finding success, that you don’t need to be anyone extraordinary,” Gregg said, “Just be yourself and do a good job at it.”