A man like Jonathan Chu can’t be described in just one word.
The recent Pembroke Hill graduate is a scientist, artist, avid runner, comedian, lifeguard and most recently a U.S. Presidential Scholar.
Chu was one of only three students in Missouri to receive the honor this year — which recognizes outstanding high school seniors across the country.
While ACT and SAT scores play a large role in initially identifying candidates for the award, those who know Chu best say it’s likely his eclectic set of talents and interests that set him apart from the competition.
“I think he just has a balanced approach,” said his mom, Beth Chu.
After identifying top-scoring ACT and SAT students, the U.S. Presidential scholars program also looks at academic achievement, personal characteristics, leadership and service activities when making the final selections.
All of which Chu has in spades.
“He has a powerful intellect that he manifests in a very quiet and effective, very witty, way,” said Connie Wells, Chu’s advanced placement physics teacher and Science Olympiad coach at Pembroke Hill.
“He’s a very powerful leader.”
Wells has worked closely with Chu for four years as part of Science Olympiad, an academic team-based competition, and has seen his leadership skills firsthand. Chu was elected by his peers to serve as captain of the team this year.
“He also has a way with people that is just extremely powerful,” Wells said. “He has a way of influencing people with his quiet tone and his wit. He is one of funniest guys I’ve ever been around.”
In high school, the Kansas City resident earned numerous academic accolades. He was named a National Merit finalist, received top science honors and earned a medal at the national Science Olympiad competition. He was a member of the math club and took numerous Advanced Placement courses, but it wasn’t just his academic prowess that earned him recognition.
When he wasn’t at Science Olympiad or the math club, Chu could often be found lacing up his running shoes. He was a member of both the cross country and track team at his school.
Running, he said. can be a good stress reliever, although admittedly an exhausting one.
He found an even more relaxing pastime in the art department — ceramics.
“Ceramics is really soothing because it’s so quiet,” he said.
While his mother initially questioned his decision to enroll in an Advanced Placement art studio course his senior year because of the time commitment it would require, she said it turned out to be a wonderful choice.
“It gives him a more well-rounded life,” she said.
Those around him may not have been surprised that the U.S. Presidential Scholars selection committee recognized his diverse set of talents, but Chu never imagined he’d win the award.
“I was surprised and excited,” he said.
This month he and his family will head to Washington, D.C. where he’ll receive a U.S. Presidential Scholars medallion and participate in several days of activities with other winners across the country.
His plans for the rest of the summer include working as a lifeguard at Leawood pool and maybe even a little relaxation before heading off to Dartmouth College this fall.
His advice for other high school students?
“Decide how you want to manage your time and stay focused on what you want to get done,” he said.
And one more thing.
“Try new things.”