Lawrence High School senior vies for national honor

Ariana Watson, a standout student, is one of 625 Presidential Scholars Program semifinalists


Graduation, an accomplishment for many, is just one small step for Ariana Watson, a Lawrence High School senior who has been selected for a national honor.

Watson was named one of 625 semifinalists in the 2024 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program on April 16. Semifinalists were selected from among 6,000 candidates who are set to graduate from high schools across the country.

“I was really excited, and I was really grateful to be able to make it this far,” Watson said.

She was invited to apply to the program in mid-December when she received a letter informing her that she had been nominated.

Watson will find out this month if the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars has chosen her as a finalist. Each year, the commission awards up to 161 students with the U.S. Presidential Scholar Medallion, honoring them for notable academic, artistic, career and technical achievements.

“Ariana’s ever present commitment to excellence sets her into this prestigious category,” Lawrence Superintendent Ann Pedersen said. “It is amazing to see the students as they rise through the system accomplishing goals along the way.  Seniors are especially exciting to see make their next steps and are rewarded for their talents with recognitions such as Ariana’s.”

Each year, 5,040 students are mailed candidacy material to apply for the prestigious honor. The majority of students selected have excelled academically, and 20 are chosen for visual/performing arts and creative writing and 20 for work in career and technical fields.

The U.S. Presidential Scholars Program was established in 1964 and has expanded over the years to include and honor additional categories of academic excellence.

Assemblyman Ari Brown, who also serves as Cedarhurst’s deputy mayor, recommended Watson for her career and technical fieldwork, due to her outstanding professionalism and balancing of many responsibilities, to the chief state school officer, Betty Rosa, who nominates five candidates in the career and technical fields category.

“She’s remarkable, student council president, very high GPA,” Brown said. “If there’s an organization, she’s in it. The credentials were unbelievable. She should basically be running for Congress, just a great kid. She definitely deserves the nomination and to hopefully be a finalist.”

Watson’s father, Vittorio, said after learning more about the program, he was elated for his daughter.

“Ironically, being brand new to hearing about the U.S. Presidential Scholars, I was curious about the program and who administrated the program, how she got nominated,” he said.

Watson said she believes her involvement in STEM programs at Lawrence High School helped her attain the nomination, since she has remained active in advocating for additional programming and opportunities as the only female in many of the groups. She has done algae biodiesel and renewable energy research for the last five years of her education.

She also holds positions as president of the student body, National Honor Society, Math Mentors, Quiz Bowl and DECA (formerly Distributive Education Clubs of America), and is a vice president of National Science Bowl. In addition, she’s a part of musical groups at Lawrence and leads in athletics. 

Outside of school, Watson volunteers at Northwell Health LIJ Valley Stream Hospital.

After graduation from high school, she plans to study mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.