Hunter College High School’s seniors are ending their high school careers on a high note. Though the coronavirus pandemic has moved classes and commencement ceremonies online, the graduating class is celebrating several real-world honors and accomplishments.
Senior Sophia Lynn Li has been named a 2020 U.S. Presidential Scholar, an honor reserved for only 161 students nationwide. Sophia, who has excelled throughout high school in both STEM and creative writing fields, was chosen be part of the nationally sourced Class of 2020, which includes one young man and one young woman from each state. The daughter of Chinese-born research scientists, Sophia spent her high school years diving into the field of immunology. Her resume boasts stints in research labs at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, a first place win at the Biomedical Engineering Society High School Expo, and a summer trip to Liberia, where she worked with teachers and students to expand their STEM curiosity and understanding. Her poetry and short stories have garnered national medals, and she credits her Hunter teachers with inspiring her interest in writing as a form of self-expression and connecting disparate concepts and interests. On being chosen as a Presidential Scholar, she says, “I never in a million years expected this to happen.” But she says that her faculty and peers and the passionate intellectual culture at Hunter College High School have readied her for this success: “Being in this interdisciplinary environment has opened up possibilities that I never considered before.” In the fall Sophia will head to Yale, where she hopes to study creative writing and molecular biology.
In mid-May, Chelsea Xia was chosen as “NY1 Scholar Athlete of the Week,” a program that recognizes exceptional public high school student athletes, featuring them with a profile segment on the local nightly news and awarding them academic scholarships of $1,000 for use towards college expenses. The NY1 scholar athletes, who are nominated by coaches, counselors, teachers, and administrators, are selected for their academic and athletic prowess, as well as their contributions to their community. Chelsea was honored for her Hunter College High School achievements, both on the fencing team and in the classroom, and she was also recognized for her musicianship; she is a talented violinist who has performed with the Bergen Philharmonic and the New York International Chamber Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, as well as performing at Lincoln Center. As an athlete, she fenced in the Junior Olympics and world championships and led her high school team twice to PSAL championships. Chelsea, like Sophia, is interested in writing and scientific research, and she plans to pursue her many passions at Harvard University in the fall.
Ari Firester was named a finalist in the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2020, the most prestigious science and math competition for high school students in the country. Since 1942, the Regeneron competition has been celebrating the innovative research and discoveries of young scientists and providing them a platform to share their work. Ari’s project, “WormBots: Earthworm Inspired Robots with Self-Assembly Capabilities,” was chosen as one of the top 40 entries out of 1,993 qualified research projects. His “Wormbot,” a rescue device inspired by the movements of earthworms, has already received national recognition, winning a $10,000 scholarship prize at last year’s International Science and Engineering Fair. He conceived the Wormbot when he saw a news report about a Navy SEAL who had died on a rescue mission; he wanted to create something that could navigate dangerous spaces without risking human life. With his success in the Regeneron competition, Ari is continuing a family tradition: his older brother Benjy Firester ’18 won the prize two years ago. “I believe that attending Hunter College High School has been the luckiest turn in my life, not only for inspiring me in science, but for developing my love for the humanities and music and for introducing me to remarkable faculty and peers,” Ari says. After a gap year dedicated to community service in Israel, he will join Chelsea at Harvard University.
Hunter College High School is known as an incubator for artistic and academic talent; its alumni go onto great achievements in and out of the classroom, with prominent alumni over the decades including Mildred Dresselhaus ’48 who became an MIT physics professor and won the Presidential Medal of honor; Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan ’77; Jeannie Suk ’91, the first Asian-American woman to be granted tenure at Harvard Law School; and Robert Lopez ’93 and Lin-Manuel Miranda ’98 of musical theater fame.