Alex Ala, 17, left, and Rachel Perry, 17, are seniors at Zama Middle High School at Camp Zama, Japan, and candidates for the 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program.
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Rachel Perry, 17, is a senior at Zama Middle High School at Camp Zama, Japan, and a candidate for the 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program.
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Alex Ala, 17, is a senior at Zama Middle High School at Camp Zama, Japan, and a candidate for the 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program.
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CAMP ZAMA, Japan (Feb. 3, 2020) – Two Zama Middle High School students are among 4,500 high school students from throughout the United States selected as candidates for the 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program.

The program selected Alex Ala, 17, and Rachel Perry, 17, from the nearly 3.6 million high school students expected to graduate this year. They both plan to apply to become one of the 161 scholars who will hopefully travel to Washington, D.C., COVID-19 circumstances permitting, to meet with officials in June and receive the Presidential Scholars Medallion at a ceremony sponsored by the White House.

Ala and Perry said their selections are an honor and that they were glad to learn about the program.

“I think it’s great that they have a program to bring attention to hardworking students,” Perry said.

Likewise, Ala said he thinks it’s wonderful the U.S. has a program that recognizes academic achievements.

The first round of the program selects students largely based on their SAT or ACT scores—Ala scored a 1530 out of 1600 on the SAT, and Perry a 35 out of 36 on the ACT. Every student who signs up for the tests is a potential candidate.

As Ala and Perry apply for further consideration, however, they must submit a package similar to many college applications. It requires long and short essay questions, a recommendation, transcripts and more. It is due Feb. 24, and then in April the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars will review the applications, selecting about 600 semifinalists for final consideration.

President Lyndon B. Johnson started the program in 1964 to recognize the nation’s top graduating high school seniors. Catherine Russell, ZMHS high school counselor, said one of the reasons becoming a candidate holds a lot of weight and honor is because the program has been around for 57 years.

Also, Ala and Perry are among a small percentage—0.125 percent to be exact—of seniors that the program chose as candidates, Russell said.

Russell said she is really excited for Ala and Perry and hopes the program selects them for the honor.

“Both students, Rachel and Alexander, are amazing students, [and] not just academically,” Russell said. “They have hearts of gold. Their personalities are infectious. They’re kind, caring and inviting when we have new students. They’re all around really great students. It makes me so happy that these two students were chosen.”

The fact that the program chose Ala and Perry not only speaks well of the students themselves, but of the school, their parents and the community as a whole, Russell said.

“I think the kids feel safe here,” Russell said. “I think that they know they have a good support system and that we are invested in their futures and so I think kids, when they feel that someone is invested in them, they do try to live up to not only their own expectations, but they’re like, ‘OK, I’ve got this because I have support and I have guidance.’”

In addition, when it comes to Ala and Perry, a lot of their success is self-driven, Russell said.

“For Rachel and Alexander, this goes back years to good self-discipline, being studious, having those higher-level and critical thinking skills,” Russell said. “I think living overseas, moving from school to school, they’re resilient.”

As for the future, Ala and Perry said they hope to attend college next year, with Ala planning to major in applied physics or engineering physics, and Perry planning to major in computer science.

Ala arrived at ZMHS about 18 months ago, and Perry two and a half years ago, and since then they have participated in many school activities.

Ala, current parliamentarian for the ZMHS Executive Board and a captain of the debate team, has participated in debate, Brain Bowl, student council and soccer at the school. Perry, current secretary for the ZMHS Executive Board, vice president of the STEM Club and president of the Key Club, has also participated in the National Honor Society, guitar club and drama set design.

For fun, Ala enjoys reading and traveling to places he has not visited before.

Ala said he reads a wide range of books, from nonfiction anthropology books, to fiction, to books in Japanese.

Perry said she hopes to combine her future computer science degree with her love of art by working as a technical artist on video games, and her hobbies reflect those interests.

“I do digital illustration, animation and comics, and I also, every once in a while, will do Japanese translations of literature and manga,” Perry said. “My hobbies tend to revolve around my career interests.”