A crop of talented high school students wow fans at the Kennedy Center with a standout multidisciplinary show. 

By Erica Moody 

Dancer Oonagh Davis performs (Photo by Christopher Duggan)

Design winner Oonagh Davis (Photo by Christopher Duggan)

As 1,100 people stood for a standing ovation at the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall, it was easy to see why the twenty students being applauded were selected for the prestigious U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts awards. The group of dancers, classical musicians, actors, visual artists, singers and writers possessed raw talent along with determination to influence the world through their art.

In partnership with the National YoungArts Foundation, each scholar was nominated to The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars for artistic achievement, and then selected based on academic achievement, personal characteristics and leadership and service activities. As YoungArts scholars, they were chosen from over 11,000 applications from across the U.S.

Anagha Prasanna (Courtesy Photo)

Dancer Anagha Prasanna (Photo by Christopher Duggan)

In a show directed by three-time Emmy Award winner Debbie Allen, the scholars performed dance, theater, music and voice; poets recited original works; and the works of student painters and sculptors were displayed on-screen behind the performers.

Highlights from “A Salute to the 2015 U.S. Presidential Scholars” included saxophone by Charles Lilley, classical Indian dance by Anagha Prasanna and writing from Adriane Tharp.

Debbie Allen & Michael Kaiser (Photo by Yassine El Mansouri)

Debbie Allen & Michael Kaiser (Photo by Yassine El Mansouri)

“As a former member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities and a YoungArts Master Teacher, I am honored to help celebrate and showcase the talents of the 2015 U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts,” said Allen. “I have experienced firsthand the ability of the arts to lift communities and I am grateful to the National YoungArts Foundation and the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars for the work that they do to support young artists and to encourage them to pursue careers in the arts.

Sarah Arison and Armando Codina (Photo by Yassine El Mansouri)

Sarah Arison and Armando Codina (Photo by Yassine El Mansouri)

Notable YoungArts alumni include actors Kerry Washington, Anna Gunn and Adrien Grenier; recording artists Josh Groban and Nicki Minaj, and writer Naomi Wolf, to name a few.

At the end of the evening, the scholars read from their personal statements. “Art is not neutral but a dynamic force,” said Kevin Broom. “James Baldwin believed as I do that, whatever life brings, artists are responsible to perfect their art form for the benefit of the human spirit. My music is part of the world’s artistic mosaic and serves to elevate the human spirit.”  Watch the entire performance here. 

A Salute to 2015 U (Photo by Christopher Duggan)

A Salute to 2015 U.S. Presidential Scholars (Photo by Christopher Duggan)

Prior to the concert, the National YoungArts Foundation and its board of trustees held a private reception in the newly remodeled Russian Lounge of the Kennedy Center. Among those spotted were supporters Michael Kaiser, Bob Lynch, Dianne Brace, Sarah Arison, Jeff Kauffman, Justin DiCioccio, Jerome Parks, Rich Kohan, and  Julia and Nancy Gabel.

Benefits for YoungArts alumni include access to the top colleges, universities and conservatories and scholarships. YoungArts has facilitated more than $150 million in scholarships at the nation’s leading colleges, universities and conservatories. Learn more about YoungArts and the Presidential Scholars Program at www.youngarts.org

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