Among all the award-winning seniors graduating from Lexington's public and private high schools this spring, only one can claim the title of Presidential Scholar.
Allison Wood, a 17-year-old from Bryan Station High School, recently was chosen as a 2012 Presidential Scholar. She is one of only two scholars from Kentucky and one of only about 140 nationwide.
Allison will personally receive her award from President Barack Obama in Washington on June 16, along with Kentucky's other 2012 Presidential Scholar, Rassan G. Walker from duPont Manual High School in Louisville, and other winners from around the country.
Allison, a daughter of Winston and Katherine Wood, said she was "fairly confident that I would do well" when she applied to the scholars program last winter. "But I never thought I would actually get the award," she said.
Not many people do.
Candidates are chosen based on outstanding scores on the SAT and ACT exams. Only about 3,300 candidates were named this year out of the roughly 3 million students graduating from U.S. high schools in 2012.
After more winnowing, the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars ultimately selects as winners one young man and one woman from each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and from among U.S. families living abroad. Also, 15 winners are chosen at large, along with 20 other Presidential Scholars in the Arts. Lathan S. Vargason of Hancock County High School in Lewisport was named a Presidential Scholar in the Arts.
The honors programs, which do not provide monetary scholarships, began in 1964.
Allison credits all the hard work she put in during high school, the support she received from her guidance counselor at Bryan Station, and the experience she gained in the school's Spanish Immersion program.
"I think the immersion program gave me an interesting perspective, and the variety of classes I received in the program made me much more culturally aware," she said. It also made her fluent in Spanish.
She particularly credited the help of Bryan Station counselor Ann Hurt, who was familiar with the Presidential Scholars program because she had advised several other applicants over the years.
Hurt said she advised one other scholar winner from Tates Creek High School in the 1970s. She said she was particularly pleased to see Allison come away a winner.
"Allison is a quiet, modest, and unassuming person who leads by example not words," Hurt wrote in the statement she submitted along with Allison's application to the scholarship program. "She is obviously intelligent and hard working, but she wears her academic superiority with grace and humble charm."
Hurt noted in an interview that Allison had to overcome some challenges along the way. Initially, she wasn't comfortable as a public speaker, but she worked hard to make herself effective at the podium, Hurt said.
"She is so deserving," Hurt said. "I'm really proud of her."
Now, Allison is looking ahead to her next step in life.
This fall, she will be a freshman at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University, where she plans to major in computer science with perhaps a minor in Spanish or robotics.
Allison, who became interested in math and science in middle school, said she sees computer science as a way to use her academic strengths and explore new technologies.
She began using a computer at about age 5, noting she got some help from her father, who is a computer programmer.
She's also an accomplished viola player, having been a member of the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras since sixth grade.
She said she'll continue to play music at Carnegie Mellon.
"I'm very invested in music, and I'm really excited to start college," she said.