Boise senior named U.S. Presidential Scholar

Boise High senior Sienna White is racking her brain trying to come up with the perfect way to impress President Obama.

Sienna White, left, and her friends visit Wednesday afternoon at Boise High, Photo by Andrew Reed / Idaho Ed News.
Sienna White, left, and her friends visit Wednesday afternoon at Boise High, Photo by Andrew Reed / Idaho Ed News.

Next month, Sienna will travel to Washington, D.C., to collect her medallion and participate in ceremonies honoring this year’s class of U.S. Presidential Scholars. She was one of just two Idaho students to receive the honor – joining Centennial High’s William Min – and qualified based on her performance on the SAT college entrance exam and submitting an application packet that included multiple essays and recommendations.

Nationally, just 141 high school seniors will receive the award. During the program’s history, about 7,000 of the country’s highest-performing students have been named U.S. Presidential Scholars since 1964.

“I was really surprised to get it,” Sienna said. “It’s also hard. A lot of friends at Boise High who also applied are such crazy, talented inspirational people. I’m really honored, and I haven’t been to Washington.”

Sienna isn’t yet sure if she will meet Obama or First Lady Michelle Obama during the June 21 ceremony, but her and her father are already brainstorming short introductions they hope will stand out in Obama’s mind – should the meeting take place.

Sienna White hopes to meet President Obama during ceremonies next month. Photo by Andrew Reed / Idaho Ed News.
Sienna White hopes to meet President Obama during ceremonies next month. Photo by Andrew Reed / Idaho Ed News.

It’s still early, but Sienna is considering complementing Obama on a literary analysis of T.S. Eliot’s 1922 poem “The Waste Land,” which the future president shared with a then girlfriend while he was a graduate student.

Sienna is the type of person who wrote her own literary analysis of a book she disagreed with, while at the same time falling in love with the elegant way the author defended his position. She also loved Obama’s dissection of “The Waste Land,” and thinks the topic may be just obscure enough to leave an impression on the country’s 44th president.

“It is top notch; he’s a special president,” Sienna said.

What Sienna hasn’t considered is simply talking about her own life, accomplishments and ambitions – which were noteworthy enough to earn her the trip to Washington, D.C., in the first place.

Sharon Hanson, who teachers AP language composition and creative writing at Boise High, described Sienna as one of her most gifted students.

“What makes Sienna stand out is obviously she’s got the test scores and she excels at everything she does,” Hanson said. “One reason I admire her is how grounded she is.”

“She is one of the most authentic people you will ever find.”

Sienna White
Creative writing teacher Sharon Hanson, left, poses with Sienna on Wednesday. Photo by Andrew Reed / Idaho Ed News.

While Sienna excels in English and creative writing courses, Hanson is quick to point out those aren’t even Sienna’s strongest subjects – “she’s off the charts in everything else,” Hanson adds.

Sienna, who carries a 4.4 GPA, is interested in math, computer science, linguistics, cognitive psychology and cryptology, which involves how mathematics can be used to encode information so people can share information confidentially.

Next year Sienna will attend Stanford University (having selected Stanford over MIT, Northwestern and Northeastern), where she opes to combine her areas of interest into a program that will allow her to create things that “will allow people to interact with their world in good ways.”

In her spare time, Sienna runs cross country and enjoys ultimate Frisbee. She’s also a passionate musician, playing guitar in the indie-folk group Calico of Boise. Through her band, she’s rocked out at Boise’s Treefort Music Fest, played to crowds across the Northwest and seen her group named of of “10 Idaho bands that you should listen to right now” by the national publication Paste Magazine.

“Calico is a band of high schoolers making music far beyond their years,” Paste wrote. “…For their youth, their musical maturity is impressive, to say the least.”

On top of all that, Sienna is a substitute DJ at Radio Boise.

“How many cryptologists do you know who are also DJs?” Hanson asked rhetorically.

For her part, Hanson isn’t worried that Sienna will blow her chance to impress Obama.

Hanson enjoys reading interviews with famous authors who are asked to name a handful of people – living or dead – who they would like to have dinner with. Their answers always fascinate Hanson, and she is convinced some famous author someday will list Sienna as one of the people to have dinner with.

“Students like Sienna, I try to brag about her to adults who are worried for our future,” Hanson said. “I think ‘No, no we’re in good hands.’ Le me tell you about students who I have.”