Anna Han is one of three Arizona high school seniors named a U.S. Presidential Scholar this week. The honor is somewhat deceiving in name.
Han was recognized primarily for her musical ability.
She first performed with the Chandler Symphony Orchestra in 2007 as an 11-year-old. Han, who lives in Chandler, won first place at the 2012 New York International Piano Competition, the 2011 New Orleans International Piano Competition for Young Artists, the 2011 and 2008 International Institute for Young Musicians International Piano Competition, and the 2007 Music Teachers National Association Junior Piano Competition.
Han recently was accepted to The Juilliard School in New York.
The U.S. Presidential Scholars judges knew of these honors and Han’s résumé. But they never heard or saw her perform. That makes her selection that much more special to Han.
“This is different and unique,” Han said. “Those others are based strictly on a piano performance. This is a lot more all-around and they see you and a full individual.”
The U.S. Presidential Scholars Program was established in 1964, by executive order of the President Lyndon B. Johnson, to recognize and honor some of the country’s most distinguished graduating high school seniors. In 1979, the program was extended to recognize students who “demonstrate exceptional talent in the visual, creative and performing arts.” Each year, up to 141 students are named Presidential Scholars, one of the nation’s highest honors for high school students.
“The extraordinary young men and women being honored for the 50th anniversary of the Presidential Scholars have excelled in their educational, artistic and civic pursuits,” said Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education. “They show all of us that when students challenge themselves and commit themselves to excellence, the results can be astounding. These scholars will help move our country forward and will have a lasting impact on their families, communities, and on our society. They represent the potential of all young citizens to lift up America.”
Twenty of this year’s 141 scholars are arts scholars and being an arts scholar representing a performing arts discipline, Han will perform at the Kennedy Center in June.
“This is all pretty awesome,” said Han, who earlier this year performed with the West Valley Symphony as a piano soloist.
Han has studied with Fei Xu at New Century Conservatory in Chandler since she started playing the piano at 5 years old. Xu will be honored as a 2014 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program Distinguished Teacher.
Han credited Xu for tirelessly working with her to “develop as a musician as well as a person.”
Han’s path to being a U.S. Presidential Scholar started last January as one of 150 arts performers at a week-long Young Arts workshop/competition in Miami. Sixty artists from there were nominated for the scholar program and then the application process began for Han, who had to craft a series of personal essays and self reflections.
It was a different method than Han, who attends Arizona Virtual Academy, was used to being judged.
“I love to perform,” Han said. “To tell a story and be able to bring the audience in, I love that.
“It’s hard to imagine my life without music. It’s given me a lot of my goals and is what my life revolves around. I’ve developed a lot of discipline through music and I’ve opened up and gained confidence.”
Han started on the piano as an extra-curricular activity 13 years ago. Neither of her parents, Wenhai Han and Hong Wan, had a musical background. But she loved it.
“It’s a like a new language,” Han said, “a new way to express yourself. ... I want to change the world through music.”
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