On Stage: A Salute to Presidential Scholars

by Editorial

A group of what some may call the ‘brightest and best’ in the country brought their many talents to the John F. Kennedy Center stage.

By Meghan Moriarty 


U.S. Presidential Arts Scholars and National YoungArts Foundation Winners: (Top) Lydia Graham, Sean Stack, Nadia Wolf, Ruwanthi Ekanayake, Diana Eusebio, Jared Brown, Victoria Canal, Cornelius Tulloch, Aubree Oliverson, Zachary Rapaport, Kaylin Sturtevant (Bottom) Ben Ross, Aubrey Spensley, Rachel Page, Pavithra Nagaraja, Isabella Nilsson, Dario Natarelli, Katerina McCrimmon, Lauryn Hobbs (Photo Courtesy of Christopher Duggan)

The John F. Kennedy Center held the U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts- Performance and Exhibition, Monday June 20, to showcase student’s artwork through dance, theater, music and voice. This year’s host was three-time Emmy award winner, Debbie Allen. The program started back in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson to recognize the nation’s brightest high school seniors.


Nadia Wolf, Victoria Canal and Cornelius Tulloch perform together at the Salute to the 2016 U.S. Presidential Scholars (Photo Courtesy of Christopher Duggan)

The night began with a pre-performance in the Russian Lounge with 100 VIP guests.  Notable attendees included: three-time Tony award winner Hinton Battle, U.S. Presidential Scholars Commission Chairwoman Marina C. McCarthy and President and CEO of the Geoffrey Beene Foundation Alzheimer’s Initiative Meryl Comer.

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U.S. Presidential Scholar Matthew Pisini and U.S. Senator Angus King (Photo by Meghan Moriarty)

After the reception, 160 gifted students from all over the country flooded the seats and stage of the Concert Hall.  Matthew Pisini, a Scholar from the small town of Cumberland in southern Maine, described the night as “incredible.”


Ben Ross, Katerina McCrimmon, Lydia Graham and Ruwanthi Ekanayake show off their talents for theater and writing (Photo Courtesy of Christopher Duggan)

“Every artist was so effective in their medium that I couldn’t count how many times I was left with goosebumps in awe.”  Twenty artists entered the stage and each gave a unique performance with a core message.  Every act tied together uninterrupted as one performance.  Pisini continued by saying, “By the end of the night I wasn’t sure if I was still watching my peers. I kept telling myself ‘these kids can’t be my age.’”


The crowd was roaring during Dario Natarelli and Pavithra Nagarajan’s dance performance (Photo Courtesy of Christopher Duggan)

The students received two standing ovations from the 2,000 cheering attendees.  It was truly astonishing that these students were only eighteen, and had such incredible talents.

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