Amy Zhang among Mississippi's Nine U.S. Presidential Scholar Semifinalists

JACKSON, Miss. –  The Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) announced today that the outgoing Mississippi State Board of Education (SBE) senior student representative Amy Zhang of Starkville is one of nine Mississippi students selected as semifinalists for the 2022 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program. The program honors the nation’s most distinguished graduating high school seniors.

Amy attends the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science in Columbus. She was appointed as the SBE junior representative in 2020. 

Mississippi’s other U.S. Presidential Scholar semifinalists for 2022 are listed below:

  • Dia Chawla of Pillow Academy in Greenwood
  • Kylar DeLoach of Enterprise High School in Enterprise
  • Jeffrey Jordan of Jackson Preparatory School in Jackson
  • Sarah Leroux of Madison Central High School in Madison
  • Madeline Pitre of Biloxi High School in Biloxi
  • Wesley Smalley of Florence High School in Florence
  • Ritchie Yang of Petal High School in Petal
  • Yujie Yang of Oak Grove High School in Hattiesburg

Madeline and Ritchie, along with Amy, are also members of MDE’s Student Advisory Council.

Mississippi’s semifinalists were selected from among more than 5,000 candidates nationwide. A total of 620 high school seniors were selected as semifinalists for 2022. These students form the pool from which the 2022 U.S. Presidential Scholars will be chosen.

The 2022 Presidential Scholars are chosen on the basis of their accomplishments in many areas – academic and artistic success, accomplishment in career and technical fields, leadership, and involvement in school and the community. The scholars represent excellence in education and the promise of greatness in America’s young people.

“Mississippi is represented well among the nation’s top high school scholars once again,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education. “I join with these students’ families, teachers, schools and communities in congratulating them for receiving this national recognition.”

Created in 1964, the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program honors the nation’s top-performing students with the prestigious award given to honorees during the annual ceremony in D.C. The program was later expanded to recognize students who demonstrate exceptional talent in the arts and career and technical education fields. The 2022 U.S. Presidential Scholars will be announced in mid-May.



After earning a hard-earned victory in the school Poetry Out Loud competition, junior Lori Feng traveled to the regional round on February 5 in Oxford. Feng placed fourth at the competition, choosing “Ways of Talking” by Ha Jin and “Sheltered Garden” by Hilda Doolittle as her two poems to recite. 

Poetry Out Loud is a nationwide poetry recitation contest that encourages students to learn and understand great poetry through memorization and performance. The goal of the competition is to help young individuals master the art of public speaking and enhance their self confidence while providing motivation to gain interest in interpreting literary works. 

MSMS English professor Dr. Scott Curtis has sponsored the contest for three years, recognizing the opportunity Poetry Out Loud provides for students to discover their passion for poetic pieces. Curtis served as an adviser to Feng during preparations for her performance. 

“Lori practiced reciting those poems to me and Amber Jackson, who also helped out. We also had a theater professor from MUW who helped prepare. She was very good reciting her two poems. There were eight contestants, and Lori finished fourth. She had a good contest. We had a good school contest and good experience at Oxford,” Curtis explained. 

Since Poetry Out Loud celebrates the ability to make poems come alive when read aloud, contestants are evaluated on accuracy and portrayal of heartfelt emotions. Feng received guidance and advice on these elements from theater professors and senior Amber Jackson. Jackson gained success at the regional competition last year and was ranked third at the state level. 

“It was different being the mentor this time, but it was a very humbling and eye-opening experience to see Lori grow and her performance blossom. Poetry Out Loud is about portraying stories, you get an in-depth analysis of what you are reading or what the author wanted to portray to the world. You get to be creative with it, and hearing different interpretations of other people’s pieces is really fun,” Jackson expressed. 

Feng is eager to compile the pointers and skills she has collected from her experiences at the competition and incorporate them in contest next year. 

“The competition wasn’t like a cut-throat competition atmosphere, it was more of everyone supporting each other. It was an eye-opening experience as to how to improve upon your recitation skills because no matter how well you did, the judges as well as the overall Poetry Out Loud State Coordinator would help you and give you advice, which was very insightful. One major piece of advice I got was, when interpreting a poem, tell it more like a story and take away some of the physicality from it. Personally, I talk a lot with my hands and that’s not something they like. I met other cool individuals, and I would do it again next year,” Feng revealed. 

“Make sure you have your poems completely memorized because you can’t really interpret the poem if you don’t have it completely memorized,” Feng advised to those interested in participating in poetry recitation next year.