Like most high school students, Thomas Hughes finds some subjects require more work than others. With his interest in science, Thomas said chemistry is “fairly easy.” But he’s taking a second semester of physics and AP calculus that require him to study more proactively, he said.
Yet Thomas, the son of Kim and Michael Hughes, stands out among his peers nationwide. He received a perfect score on the ACT exam he took in December 2019, and recently learned he was a National Merit Scholarship Finalist, a reflection of his high PSAT scores.
His outstanding results in both the PSAT and ACT exams led to his selection as a candidate in the 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program.
Thomas said he was quite surprised by the nomination.
“I didn’t know it was an actual thing,” he said. He received an email with a link to the website containing application materials.
Along with more than 4,500 candidates receiving the nomination nationwide, Thomas is currently working on candidacy materials to submit for the program, including essays, self-assessments and his high school transcript.
One of those essays requires Presidential Scholar candidates to snap a picture of something meaningful and write about it.
“I have an idea,” Thomas said about the subject. “When I was really young I was fascinated with water.”
With a picture of a nearby creek or stream, his essay could illustrate his interest in science as a child.
Thomas’ and the candidates’ submissions for the Presidential Scholarship will be reviewed by a committee experienced in secondary and post-secondary education. That committee will evaluate the candidates on their academic achievement, personal characteristics, leadership and service activities, and the quality and content of their essay. The field will then be narrowed down to 600 semi-finalists and in April, reviewed further by the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars, who will select this year’s 161 scholars.
Depending on the circumstances, those seniors will be honored for their accomplishments during the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program in June in Washington, D.C., as guests of the US Department of Education.
Presidential Scholars are awarded the Presidential Scholars Medallion at a ceremony sponsored by the White House.
Waunakee High School Principal Brian Borowski called Thomas “a truly amazing student.”
“He has accomplished so much at WCHS and the accolades continue to come in. From having a perfect ACT score to Presidential Scholar, we could not be more proud of him,” Borowski said. “Thomas is incredibly hard working yet humble at the same time. Waunakee Community High School congratulates Thomas, as well as his family, on this incredible accomplishment.”
But the soon-to-be 18-year-old’s life is fairly well rounded. He plays piano and trumpet and has been learning Elton John songs on the piano.
“I’m also part of the Waunakee Community Band,” he said, adding that last summer, the band’s concerts were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He is also part of the Waunakee High School Jazz Band and a jazz combo. Somehow, Thomas finds time to work at Piggly Wiggly, as well. And he enjoys reading fiction. When the Tribune spoke with him by phone last week, he was in the middle of Suzanne Collins’, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” which he said is a “Hunger Games” prequel.
Thomas has finished his college applications to a few Ivy League universities, along with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and UW-Madison. He’s said he’s still deciding whether to major in physics, chemistry or engineering.