Old Town High School senior Emma Hargreaves, 18, was named a 2019 presidential scholar. Credit: Gabor Degre

Last Tuesday, Emma Hargreaves, 18, was taking an AP Physics exam when an important email landed in her inbox. After the exam, she got in her car, turned her phone on and started giggling with excitement when she saw the message. She had been named a 2019 U.S Presidential Scholar.

“I got a little teary eyed, I almost couldn’t believe it,” Hargreaves said. She called her mother, and they celebrated over the phone. “I had a dance party in my car, and she was screaming a little bit. She was very excited for me.”

Hargreaves, an Old Town High School senior, is one of two Maine students to be named presidential scholars. One of the most prestigious awards for high school seniors, presidential scholars are chosen for their accomplishments in academics, arts and community service. This year, 161 students were chosen out of more than 5,200 seniors who qualified for the award, based on outstanding standardized test results.

Every year, the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars selects one male and one female student from every state as well as two each from Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. An additional 55 students are honored: 20 for achievements in arts, 20 for career and technical education and another 15 at large.

The scholars will be presented with a medallion at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., on June 23.

[Subscribe to our free morning newsletter and get the latest headlines in your inbox]

“I have been learning more and more about my fellow scholars,” Hargreaves said. “I’m honored and humbled.”

Hargreaves is bound for Bowdoin College after graduation, where she plans to study government and English. She’s an avid reader, with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, but she needed some extra help getting there. In first grade, she discovered she was not as good at reading as her peers, and started a Reading Recovery program, for which she spent a few hours a week with a specially trained teacher.

“It changed the trajectory of my life,” she said.

Hargreaves gained academic confidence from her Reading Recovery sessions with Terri St. Louis. Many years later, as a student representative to the school board, Hargreaves heard a teacher present program data at a board meeting and she spoke up.

“I’m one of your success stories,” she told the teacher. “The program turned my life around.”

Hargreaves now advocates for Reading Recovery throughout Maine.

She spoke about the importance of the program in her life at a teachers’ conference at UMaine, and will be addressing a larger gathering in Belfast next week.

Hargreaves also advocates for gun safety, and she is a championship gymnast and shot put thrower.

“She’s a leader of her peers in many ways,” said Jon Doty, curriculum coordinator for Regional School Unit 34, which comprises Old Town, Bradley and Alton. “It’s really striking for an adolescent how willing she is to stick her neck out and advocate for the community.”