Camas High senior earns national honor

Monica Chang, a 2019 presidential scholar, to be honored at event in D.C.

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Camas High School senior Monica Chang was recently selected as a United States Presidential Scholar, one of 161 students nationwide to be honored.

Camas High School senior Monica Chang has been named as a 2019 United States Presidential Scholar.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced the selection of Chang and 160 other high school seniors from across the nation on May 7.

The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars selects honored scholars annually based on academic success, artistic and technical excellence, essays, school evaluations and transcripts, as well as evidence of community service, leadership and demonstrated commitment to high ideals, according to a press release on the Presidential Scholars program.

“I want to congratulate this year’s class of presidential scholars on their achievement both inside of the classroom and out,” DeVos stated in the press release. “Their hard work and commitment to excellence, no matter what challenge they are tackling, will serve them well throughout their lifelong learning journeys. I have no doubt that many of tomorrow’s leaders are among this year’s class of scholars.”

The scholars will be honored for their accomplishments in Washington D.C. at the end of June.

“I’m really excited to meet the other scholars and hear their stories,” Chang said.

When Chang found out about her selection, she thought of her parents, mother Yayun Yang, an internal medicine hospitalist, and father Ming-Jei Chang, a cardiologist.

“It was really awesome to tell (them) and see their reaction,” she said. “That was definitely really heartwarming. They’ve sacrificed so much for me over the years, so to be able to give something back to them, in a way, was really nice.”

Chang said the honor is “kind of a culmination, in a sense,” of her high school career, adding that the national scale of the award does make it different from other honors she’s received.

In classic Camas fashion, Chang said the award was more of a community effort than something she did all by herself.

“Even though this honor is attributed to my name, I’ve been given so many opportunities by my teachers and parents and (other) people along the way, so it feels – maybe it’s the timing, maybe it’s the national scale of it – that it’s as much theirs as it is mine,” Chang said.

Each presidential scholar can name their most influential teacher to be honored with a personal letter from the U.S. Secretary of Education

Chang chose Kim Newman, who retired from her position as a science teacher at Camas High in 2018 and is now the program director at Vancouver-based M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, for the honor.

Newman taught Chang in several classes and served as an advisor of several of the clubs that Chang founded.

“She’s always been a wonderful source of support,” Chang said. “The way life is hectic and is always going and going, she can make you feel seen.”

Chang — who earned perfect scores on her PSAT and ACT tests and has founded several clubs and campaigns during her high school career, including the TEDxYouth@Camas club, DECA Girls Represent Public Relations Campaign, Never Again Southwest Washington and Girls Who Code — will continue her education at Harvard University.

“I’m definitely interested in everything from STEM, of course, because I’ve done so much research in high school and I love that,” she said. “But (I’m) also (interested in) business, and government and politics and activism. I’m kind of all over the place. I don’t know what I want to do, but hopefully I’ll figure it out in the future.”

Newman said Chang has a combination of a brilliant mind and a compassionate spirit.

“There are so many amazing kids in this world, and she’s been passed over for (honors) for which she was rightfully qualified,” Newman said. “It’s exciting to see her to be recognized for something. She’s worked so hard, but doesn’t do it for awards. She’s aware of the privileges she’s had and still humbly serves. She’s all about service to other people.”