Hazen graduate named Presidential Scholar

August 1, 2013

By Christina Corrales-Toy

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Shortly after Jon Fortescue received his diploma with the rest of the Hazen High School graduating class of 2013, he was on a plane.

Fortescue had little time to relish in his new existence as a high school graduate, because he had an appointment in the nation’s capitol, where he joined 140 of the country’s brightest students to receive their Presidential Scholar Medallions.

As a Presidential Scholar, Fortescue is among the nation’s elite students, honored for his academic success. Past honorees can now be found employed in prominent positions in the legal, political and business industry.

Contributed Jon Fortescue (far right), joins fellow Presidential Scholars from across the country as they meet Donald S. Beyer Jr., the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein (center).

Contributed
Jon Fortescue (far right), joins fellow Presidential Scholars from across the country as they meet Donald S. Beyer Jr., the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein (center).

None of that has much significance to the humble Hazen graduate, though.

“I don’t think that this puts me above anyone,” he said. “I don’t define myself by winning awards like this, and I don’t think my friends define me or themselves by their accomplishments either.”

The scholars were treated to a weekend visit to the nation’s capitol, where they met with government officials and acclaimed educators, authors, musicians and scientists.

They participated in forums with legislative aides and White House staffers, and met with former Presidential Scholars as well.

As would be expected with a group of academically gifted students, the scholars were not about to let staffers off the hook, throwing them hardball questions in the process, Fortescue said.

“We were tough on the White House people,” he said. “They brought up transparency, and then we countered with the National Security Agency scandal. They had fun handling that question, but they did a pretty good job with it.”

The most impressive person he met, other than his fellow scholars, was Donald S. Beyer Jr., the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, Fortescue said.

“A lot of people spent their time telling us how we were the future and how we were all amazing, but he specifically started his talk by saying, ‘Yeah, so it’s pretty cool that you all are smart,’” he said. “He was very funny, very world conscious.”

The scholars received their iconic medallions in a special ceremony June 16. The 141 students, most of whom were liberal, were a bit disappointed to see that President Barack Obama was not there, though, Fortescue said.

Obama was in Ireland attending the Group of Eight summit at the time. Instead, the 2013 scholars received their medallions from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

“Arne Duncan was very cool, don’t get me wrong, but they kind of advertised it as the president would be there,” Fortescue said.

Despite being a model student, complete with a near perfect grade point average and an impressive list of extracurricular activities, Fortescue, who will attend Santa Clara University, said he does not know why he was chosen as a scholar.

“I’m still very surprised that I won it,” he said. “Ironically, I think some of my best application essays were about how I was rejected from Stanford. A lot of the kids there got into those kinds of schools and I didn’t. Maybe those essays that were deeply personal and introspective helped me out.”

Fortescue will intern for Microsoft this summer, where he will put his computer programming skills to use. He taught himself how to program in middle school, just by reading some books, he said.

He will head to Santa Clara in the fall, and he hopes to study some sort of science.

“I’m thinking biology, physics, computer science,” he said. “I don’t really know though, I’m pretty open. I want to have open interests. I would love to minor in a language or minor in history. I love those kinds of subjects.”

From there, Fortescue hopes to obtain an internship with one of the many companies in the Silicon Valley, before eventually pursuing a doctorate.

“I would really like a Ph.D., mainly because I like the idea of researching something and making a contribution to knowledge,” he said. “You get to create knowledge, rather than just learn it, and that’s something I have a strong interest in.”

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