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Saint Stephen's student named Presidential Scholar

Piano virtuoso.

Basketball co-captain.

SAT ace.

The list of accolades is lengthy for 18-year-old Elan Q. Nguyen, of Bradenton.

Yale, Harvard, Brown and Penn all want her.

And someone thinks she deserves some recognition.

This week Nguyen was one of 141 high school seniors from across the country selected as a 2009 Presidential Scholar. To win the award, students must demonstrate outstanding academic achievement, artistic excellence, leadership, citizenship and community service, according to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

“Every year for nearly half a century we’ve been honoring America’s best and brightest students and every year they continue to make outstanding contributions to society while reaching milestones in their academic pursuits,” Duncan said. “This year’s Presidential Scholars continue that trend. They are shining examples of excellence in academics and in the arts and are role models that all students should emulate.”

Nguyen said she learned of the award after she finished taking an Advanced Placement exam Monday at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School, where she has attended since the first grade.

“I didn’t believe it for quite a few minutes,” she said Tuesday. “I’m really thrilled. It’s quite an honor.”

Next month, she and her most influential teacher — Bernie Yanelli — will travel to Washington, D.C., to be honored.

“Maybe I’ll meet the president,” she said, chuckling.

Jan Pullen, head of school at Saint Stephen’s, said Nguyen has a 4.0 grade point average and is a member of the National Honor Society.

She also scored a perfect 1600 on the SAT.

She plays the piano, is a four-year varsity basketball player and is student council president at the school of 725 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

She’s an award-winning pianist. She was a winner at the Florida West Coast Symphony Young Artist Concerto competition in 2006.

She’s a fan of Chopin.

Her favorite piece: “Ballad in G Minor.”

“We’re so proud of her,” Pullen said. “She has taken advantage of every opportunity given to her, and she has challenged herself to take the most rigorous courses.

“Her leadership skills are excellent, and she just does it all with humility,” Pullen said. “She’s a remarkable lady, and it will be fun to watch what is done with her life. She will go on to pursue great things. ... She could do anything. She’s got the whole world ahead of her.”

Yanelli, who teaches economics and AP U.S. History, called her the most extraordinary student he’d ever taught.

“Her humility and sense of balance are most striking,” said Yanelli, a former international banker who has taught at Saint Stephen’s for the past four years. “My prediction for her success is extremely high. She is capable of doing almost anything she wants.”

He said he was honored she chose him as her most influential teacher.

“That’s stunning because there are a lot of really good teachers around her, and I feel very humbled by that,” said Yanelli.

But he’s excited to join her in D.C.

“It’s quite an opportunity, so I’m rearranging vacation plans to join here there,” he said.

Nguyen’s first experience with Yanelli was in the 10th grade when she took her first AP History class.

“I was overwhelmed, he called me and assured me he’d be there to help me through it,” Nguyen said. “He’s always been very involved and wants to know what I’m up to, helped with my college essays. He’s taken upon himself to help me explore my interests and help me succeed.”

Elan’s father, Tri Nguyen, is proud.

Her mother, Thuy, isn’t surprised.

“I’m very happy for her,” her mom said. “She does so many things. She’s so studious.”

She is the youngest of three daughters. Her sisters, Diane, 26, and Sarrah, 31, also attended Saint Stephen’s.

Because Nguyen studies a lot and has so many extracurricular activities, sometimes her mother said she doesn’t see her until late at night.

“She has a curious mind,” she said, laughing. “When she was young she read books about how things work.”

Nguyen has been accepted to attend Yale, Brown, the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard.

Harvard, it is, she said.

“I like the feel of Cambridge. It feels so vibrant and alive there and everyone is so intelligent,” she said.

The financial aid and a small academic scholarship were also a perk.

She says she wants to work in the food industry.

“I like eating food, looking at food, playing with food. So something in that area,” Nguyen said, laughing.

Saint Stephen’s, she said, has given her all the support and encouragement she needs.

“I’ve been very lucky to go to my school, it’s small enough that the teachers and administration have accommodated me ... worked hard and done extra work so I would be challenged.”

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