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Cindy Lei is a Lincoln Height native with hopes of attending Harvard University.

Lincoln Heights -- Abraham Lincoln Senior High School senior Cindy Lei was one of the 6,000 students chosen to apply for the U.S. The Presidential Scholar Program.

Each year, up to 161 students are named as Presidential Scholars, one of the nation's highest honors for high school students. The program was established 1964 to recognize some of the nation's most distinguished graduating seniors for their accomplishments in academics, leadership, and service to the school and community.

In order to be considered for the program, Lei has to write four essay responses and submit her application by the end of February. Students chosen as U.S. Presidential Scholars receive an expense-paid trip to Washington, D. C. in June and will receive a medallion at a ceremony sponsored by the White House, in commemoration of their achievements.

Lei has lived her entire life in Lincoln Heights. Her parents were farmers in China before they immigrated to the U.S. As a first-generation American, Lei had to navigate the academic system on her own.

“They're like, is this what normal kids do? They apply to these programs and get awards? ” Lei said. “They don't brag about it because to them this is what I do every day.”

This year, she’s the captain of her school’s Science Bowl in which students participated in a game with lighting rounds of questions in different science-related topics.

Cindy Lei (on the far left) with her team at the Science Bowl

Cindy Lei (on the far left) with her team at the Science Bowl competition in 2020 before the pandemic. "We just placed 16th out of 42 teams at our regional, which is one of the most competitive in the nation," Lei said. "We were all taking photos at LADWP, where the competition took place. In this photo we're all making hearts with our thumbs and index fingers, or at least trying to. It's a hand sign my algebra 2 teacher, Mr. Yom, made up for our advisory class."

“We practice so that we can actually anticipate the answers to the question before they're even read, so people buzz-in with these God-like reflexes,” Lei said. “This year, because of COVID they changed it so there aren't any buzzers anymore. Now it's just a really funny meeting where everyone is arguing and people are trying to shout answers at each other.”

Lei’s dream school is Harvard University. Not so much because of its prestige but because it’s one of the few universities to offer History of Science as an undergraduate major. Lei says she’s a STEM student with a love for science, but shares the same passion for history and English, along with other humanities and social sciences.

“I like them too much to basically give it all up to just study STEM in college,” Lei said. “To me History of Science is like the perfect way to merge all these different worlds together.”

Her dream job is to be a science communicator where she can share her knowledge and excitement for science. “I really, I want to be in a job where I have creative freedom.” Lei said “As a science communicator I can do films, write books, make YouTube videos, anything as long as I'm teaching others about science.”

As for the next generation of students, this was Lei message to them:

“If you work really hard and with a little bit of luck, the opportunity will drop down in front of you. You'll know what to do. You'll take advantage of it and you'll take it all the way up to the White House.”

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