Skyview High student named 2012 Presidential Scholar




Fred Lu already has racked up a lot of awards in his 18 years. But on Wednesday, the Skyview High School senior took the highest official honor available for high school students in this country.

Lu was named a U.S. Presidential Scholar. He will be among 141 high school seniors to be honored in Washington, D.C., next month, the Education Department announced.

Lu and his family didn’t know about his winning the award until The Columbian called them Wednesday.

“I had no idea that decision was coming out already,” Lu said. “I feel really good. It’s a really big deal for me.”

His father, Di Lu — a physician at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center — also hadn’t heard until he checked his voice mail at work.

“I was so excited,” Di Lu said. “I was almost in tears.”

Fred Lu has received accolades in spades over the past years, both for his artistic talents and academic skills.

He maintains a 4.0 grade point average at Skyview and is a member of the school’s Knowledge Bowl team, which won the state title two years ago and came in second last year.

Accomplished pianist

Lu started playing piano when he was 4 years old. Since then, Lu has won the Vancouver Symphony’s 2010 Young Artists Competition, the 2009 and 2011 MetroArts Young Artists competition, and the Oregon Music Teachers Association 2009 Senior Division. He came in second in the 2008 Seattle International Piano Competition, when he was 14.

Last summer, he participated in the Colburn Academy Piano Festival in Los Angeles. He also was the featured soloist in a November concert with the Portland Youth Philharmonic.

After taking second place at the American Fine Arts Festival Piano Concerto Competition, he was invited to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York.

Lu used his piano skills in community service, too. He’s volunteered at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center for a couple of years, playing piano in the hospital lobby for hours each Friday night, his father said.

Lu also is a successful cross-country runner, a sport his coach, math teacher and Knowledge Bowl adviser said is a good choice for the hard-working teenager.

“Cross-country is a little bit like learning,” Bob Brands said. “How well you do depends on how much you put in. It’s a smart choice for Fred.”

That’s because the teen puts a lot into anything he does, Brands said.

“Society will look at him and say, ‘He’s just smart,’ ” Brands said. “But where he’s at is a fruit of how hard he’s worked. He’s maximizing his talents.”

Brands remembered many occasions when he’d left campus for a couple of hours between the end of cross-country practice and the start of Knowledge Bowl practice. When he’d return, Lu was still there. The student had spent the two hours solving math problems. Not homework, not Knowledge Bowl questions — just equations he thought would be interesting to master.

And Lu was an asset to other students in Brands’ classes, the teacher said. When, inevitably, Lu was done first with a math problem, Brands sometimes asked him to help other kids with their work.

“He’s a natural tutor,” Brands said. “Kids like him. He’s funny.”

Lu feels equally appreciative about his teacher. Each presidential scholar picks a teacher who was inspiring and influential to accompany him or her to the ceremony in D.C. Lu chose Brands.

“He inspired me to work hard and stay focused on a task,” Lu said about Brands. “He taught us to reach our goals and still have fun.”

Bound for Harvard

Lu this week made his college choice. He’s going to Harvard, double-majoring in piano performance and an academic subject yet to be nailed down.

Science or math are obvious choices. He’s thinking about pre-medical. Lu’s developed an interest in literature, too.

But if he really had his druthers, if there were no real-world considerations such as job opportunities or earning potential, Lu would choose something different altogether.

“I might be an archeologist,” he said with a laugh. “It’d be great, going to excavation sites and discovering something new about an old culture.”

Becoming a professional concert pianist would be great, too. But “that’s really competitive,” Lu said.

So is applying for a presidential scholar award.

Out of about 3 million students expected to graduate nationwide this year, more than 3,300 qualified for the awards based on their performance on SAT and ACT exams. Lu and the other 140 were chosen from among those 3,300 based on academic success, essays, school evaluations and track records of community service, among other criteria.

Previous local winners

Clark County has fielded two other presidential scholars in recent years. In 2005, Spenser Theberge, then a student at the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, was named a scholar in the arts. In 2009, Stephanie Nicholson, of Camas High School, was a presidential scholar.

The 141 presidential scholars include one male and one female student from each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and from U.S. families living abroad, as well as 15 who are picked at-large and 20 students who are named presidential scholars in the arts. For Washington, Monisha Gulabani of Eastlake High School in Sammamish also was named this year.

The D.C. ceremony will be held June 16.

Lu’s family is still checking work schedules to see who can go. Lu is definitely going, as is Brands.

“I’ve never been to Washington, D.C.,” Brands said. “If I get to go on Fred’s coattails, that’s okay. I’ll carry his backpack.”

Jacques Von Lunen: 360-735-4515;;