- Associated Press - Monday, May 18, 2015

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. (AP) - Scholar. Scientist. Artist. Athlete. Ambassador. Diplomat. Philanthropist.

That kind of resume can get you to the White House.

That’s where St. Joseph High School senior Jesper Ke is going, not as chief executive (yet), but as one of 141 Presidential Scholars selected by the U.S. Department of Education, The Herald-Palladium (https://bit.ly/1IDEKXs ) reported.

“There are a lot of great students. It’s very humbling that my hard work has been recognized,” said Ke, 18, son of Min and Leah Ke. He will attend the award ceremony at the White House on June 21.

In the fall, he will attend Harvard University, studying pre-medicine with the goal of becoming a physician.

Applications to become a Presidential Scholar are accepted by invitation only, and only 4,300 were submitted in 2015. Honors are awarded based on “academic success, artistic excellence, essays, school evaluations and transcripts, as well as evidence of community service, leadership, and demonstrated commitment to high ideals.”

By all accounts, Ke qualifies in each area.

“Jesper is a rare gem,” wrote guidance counselor Tracy Wagner in a letter nominating Ke as a Herald-Palladium Academic All-Star. “He is intellectually stellar, gifted and driven, but he also cares deeply about the world and its people.”

In his nominating essay, Ke spelled out his personal philosophy.

“I’ve made it my goal to bridge gaps when possible, to fight the fire of distrust with tolerance and fair judgment,” Ke wrote. “Whether I’m on the tennis court, in a political debate, or the classroom, I try my best to see eye-to-eye with others, no matter how much I disagree with their opinions. Who said that big differences automatically have to qualify as unwelcome flaws?”

Min Ke said it was apparent as early as kindergarten that his son was gifted academically, but he also showed “a kind, caring, compassionate nature.”

Before Ke even arrived at St. Joseph High School, he was seeking challenges and mentors, said math teacher David Foster, who was named by Ke as his most important academic influence.

“We’ve continued to inspire each other,” Foster said. “We have conversations about making your life matter, what life is all about, that it’s more than just getting the grades, about making the most of what he has.”

While still in eighth grade, Ke asked to take honors biology and honors chemistry at the same time during his freshman year.

The response was, “Well, we have never allowed a student to do that,” Wagner recalled in her letter. “We don’t want to set him up for failure.”

Ke assured everyone that he was up for the challenge, and his academic record is proof that he knew what he was doing, as he aced these and all the rest of his courses for four years.

He carries a weighted 4.53 grade point average, and ranks first in his class of 233 students.

He scored in the 99th percentile on his ACT exams and had a cumulative score of 2330 on his SATs, including perfect scores of 800 in math and reading.

Along with a full load of honors and advanced placement courses available at St. Joseph High, he took several online courses, including AP Chinese language and honors Java. He has taken three AP courses during his senior year.

Not content just to leave behind an enviable record, Ke helped design a computer coding course that will be taught at the high school next year.

He assisted in creating a survey that will allow students to give honest feedback to teachers, in an effort to improve the classroom environment, Ke said.

His academic transcript only tells part of the story. He is a piano prodigy who plays with the school’s symphony orchestra and at area nursing homes, and is captain of the tennis team.

He participates in the St. Joseph Public Schools Foundation; is a member of the Key Club and is its two-time president; and is a founder of Student Ambassadors, welcoming and guiding new students.

He is a Student Senate representative, a National Honors Society member, and a member of Science Olympiad for four years.

He organized a school-wide fundraiser that collected more than $1,000 for two students diagnosed with cancer.

His interest in medicine blossomed in high school. His mother is an acupuncturist and he has other family members in the medical field. His father is a retired nuclear engineer.

During the summer after his sophomore year, Ke traveled to Beijing and worked at the Institute for Cancer Research as an intern, helping in the lab and in collecting data.

“It was a very worthwhile experience,” Ke said.

He said his family has always been supportive of his ambitions, and added that the St. Joseph teachers and administrators have been open to his ideas.

He will be auditioning for the honor of giving the commencement address to his peers.

What advice would he give to incoming students?

“Don’t be afraid of a challenge that takes you out of your comfort zone,” Ke said. “You can’t get better just doing what you’re comfortable with. If you fail, you can use it as an opportunity to get better, or you can make excuses and stay the same.”

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Information from: The Herald-Palladium, https://www.heraldpalladium.com

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