Two Punahou Seniors Honored as Presidential Scholars

Rachel Breitweser ’03

May 9, 2016

Punahou seniors Michael Chen and Eileen Liu have been named 2016 Presidential Scholars from Hawai‘i. Chen and Liu are among 160 students across the country chosen from a pool of 5,600 qualifying graduating seniors. Another Hawai‘i student, Joseph Fujinami of Mililani High School, was named as Presidential Scholar in Career and Technical Education.

Initiated in 1964, the U.S. Presidential Scholar Program recognizes the nation’s highest-achieving seniors, honoring students based on excellence in academics and the arts, as well as leadership and contributions to their community.

Since 1983, each Presidential Scholar has invited his or her most inspiring teacher to travel to Washington, D.C., to receive a Teacher Recognition Award from the U.S. Department of Education and to participate in the recognition events.

Michael Chen ’16

Chen has been involved in the Punahou Wind Ensemble and Hawai‘i Youth Symphony as a clarinet player. He’s played on the Punahou Varsity Tennis team for three years. He and fellow Science Bowl team members recently won this year’s regional title and their division laboratory competition in the nationals. He’s on the math team, is Class Treasurer and a Ka Punahou editor. He’s also an A.P. Chemistry and A.P. Physics Teaching Assistant.

“There were so many great candidates this year,” said Chen. “I feel so fortunate and lucky to represent the School.” When it comes to facing challenges, Chen says taking small steps is key: “No matter how hard something is at first, just try and see what comes out of it,” he explained. Chen is grateful for the support of his older sister and brother, Allison ’09 and William ’12. “Without them, I would definitely not be who I am today,” he shared.

Chen named Science teacher Marcus Kaya as his most influencial teacher and mentor. “Mr. Kaya is able to create a lighthearted environment in the classroom. His classes are engaging and fun,” said Chen. “He’s been instrumental in helping me transition from calculations and classroom work to hands-on lab work,” commented Chen. Kaya’s ability to identify the different ways students learn has also helped Chen.

“There have been so many great teachers here at Punahou that have shaped Michael into the individual that he is today,” Kaya said on being named Chen’s most inspiring teacher. “To be picked by him is truly an honor. I am happy that I have had such a positive impact on his education and life,”

“Michael is an outstanding student,” Kaya continued. “What makes him stand out is his compassion for others. He goes out of his way to help his peers. He is a genuine person that puts the needs of others ahead of himself, which says a lot considering the type of individual accolades he has collected. Michael is the type of well-rounded student Punahou strives to develop.”

Eileen Liu ’16

Liu, like Chen, is also a musician. She plays violin in the Punahou Symphony Orchestra, Hawai‘i Youth Symphony and Punahou Chamber Music Program. She is one of three members of the Club Status and Funding Committee, which reviews and approves funding requests from Punahou’s clubs. She is also a Chinese language and math tutor, in addition to being on the math team. This year, she’s also part of Baccalaureate committee. She volunteers weekly at Kuakini Hospital assisting elderly patients. She’s also co-founder of Ping Pong for Kids, a Punahou club which combines physical activity with community service and sustainability to raise money for under-privileged children.

Liu is honored to be named a Presidential Scholar. “There were so many phenomenal candidates. It’s a great privilege and I hope to be able to hold to that title and continue to improve myself,” she said.

Liu selected Science teacher Alex Paer ‘08 as her most notable teacher. “Ms. Paer is my role model and inspiration. Not only is she intelligent, but she is also kind. She’s always willing to talk and help people, whether it be about school or life,” said Liu. Paer’s continual self-improvement is also something Liu looks up to.

“Eileen really deserves this honor,” shared Paer, who worked with Liu in math, biology and physics. “She is a hard-working individual and rises to challenges while keeping a relaxed attitude. She’s a good problem-solver, analytical and thorough. She’s a great student and person, and always looking to go above and beyond.”

“It makes you feel good to hear that you’re a student’s most influential teacher,” Paer went on to say. “Eileen and Michael are both naturally bright students, but they don’t stop at that.”

Liu also thanks her family and fellow classmates. “Their accomplishments and skills are really something I admire. It’s encouraging to have all these talents around me. I thank Punahou for the education and opportunities.”

All parties look forward to the 2016 ceremony, which is held at the White House on June 19, when each honoree will receive a Presidential Scholar Medallion.


  • 5/19/2016 5:13:36 PM

    These seniors are a real inspiration to younger brothers and sisters at Punahou. – Hao Nguyen


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