Meet the 2024 U.S. Presidential Scholars from Idaho

Each year, a commission chooses 161 United States Presidential Scholars, honoring graduating seniors from all over the nation for their excellence.

Usually, the two or three students chosen from Idaho come from different parts of the state. This year, the scholars not only both live in Boise, but also both attend Timberline High School.

Hayoon Lee and Austin Jackson Giffen received the honor based on excellence they have shown both inside and outside the classroom. Watch an interview with the students here. 

In a press release, Superintendent of Public Instruction Debbie Critchfield said, “These two bright scholars exemplify what it means to be fully prepared for the next step in their educational experiences. Whether they are proving themselves in the classroom or are demonstrating a commitment to community outside of it, Hayoon and Austin are shining examples of all-around achievement.”

The two students were chosen out of 5,700 candidates by the The Commission on Presidential Scholars, a group of private citizens appointed by the president. The group takes into account grades, test scores, and other exceptional achievements. Both Hayoon and Austin will be invited to a virtual recognition program this summer.

Timberline High School in Boise, where U.S. Presidential Scholars from Idaho Austin Jackson Giffen and Hayoon Lee attended high school.

Austin Jackson Giffen

When Austin describes his perfect day, it doesn’t involve much lounging around. He says he would referee a soccer game, spend some time at Aspen Valley – a senior living community where he works – and then get lunch with friends at Willow Creek in Boise.

“I am a person that likes to be busy. I like to feel like I’m having a productive day,” he explains.

Austin Jackson Giffen was named one of the 161 U.S. Presidential Scholars of 2024

Austin hobbies are to mountain bike, sail and play piano. At school, he is active in many clubs, including a peer tutoring math club he helped create called Math Cafe. His team got fifth place in the science bowl this year and he was part of the first ever Timberline boys tennis team to win districts and the first to win state.

Pursuing a variety of activities is important to Austin, whose advice to students just starting high school is to “use it as a time where you can develop yourself and explore different interests.”

“For example,” he explained, “I took a ceramics class that I never really planned on taking originally and I really enjoyed it.”

Austin performing a piano piece. Photo courtesy of Austin Jackson Giffen.

Austin, who plans to attend Yale University in the fall, says he hopes to continue utilizing his resources to make the best of the experience. He plans on studying chemical engineering, though he’s open to other options.

“The ultimate impact I want to have is something good for the environment or something good for the world.”

 Hayoon Lee

Hayoon said, “there’s a lot of luck in it” when it comes to getting awards like being a U.S. Presidential Scholar or getting into college — she will attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the fall to study mechanical engineering.

And yet, her high school accomplishments show a bit more than luck. Not only does she have a high GPA and test scores, she excels in her hobbies as well.

Hayoon Lee was named one of the 161 U.S. Presidential Scholars of 2024.

She has won several prestigious awards for her violin playing, and played at the state tennis tournament three consecutive years.

She also is part of “The Chickadees,” a girl-founded robotics team run by Boise State University (BSU).

Hayoon emphasizes the importance of the relationships she makes doing those activities. When asked about a memorable moment of high school, she describes a recent orchestra trip. “We took a bus [to the competition] together and stayed in hotels. It was a lot of fun and we made a lot of memories together.”

If she had a day to do anything, she says she would spend time with friends, “I don’t need anything glamorous to have fun…just the people I care about.”

Hayoon with a few of her friends in Boise. Photo courtesy of Hayoon Lee.

After graduation, she will take a nine-hour red eye flight to Korea, where she will visit family for over a month.

Hayoon grew up hearing her Korean parents speak the language in her home. Though she worries her language will be rusty, she’s excited to spend time with family and order delivery jajangmyeon (black bean noodles), a special type of Korean take-out that comes on motorcycles.

Hayoon and Austin graduated from Timberline High School last week, and will start at MIT and Yale in the fall.

Watch their interviews here and find out what’s next for them.


Katie McGuire

Katie McGuire

Katie McGuire is a freelance reporter for EdNews. She lives in Meridian with her husband and their two children. She has a bachelor's degree in secondary education social science teaching from Brigham Young University and a master's in history from Kent State University.

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