Emma Sihler and Devin Seyler, two seniors at Helena High School, are graduating with one of the most prestigious honors a high school student can receive.
Sihler and Seyler were recognized as two of the 161 U.S. Presidential Scholars this year for demonstrating academic achievement, leadership, citizenship, service, artistic excellence and contribution to their school and community.
Of the 3.6 million students expected to graduate from high school in 2018, 5,200 qualified for the awards. The students were then evaluated and narrowed down to one man and one woman from each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico and from U.S. families living abroad. There are 15 students chosen at large, 20 U.S. Presidential Scholars in the arts and 20 U.S. Presidential Scholars in career and technical education, according to a press release issued by the U.S. Department of Education.
The students will attend a ceremony in Washington, D.C., on June 24.
Both Sihler and Seyler said their high school accomplishments and next step in their academic career wouldn’t be possible without great teachers at Helena High School.
One of their biggest high school accomplishments overlaps with each other. In Science Olympiad, Seyler and Sihler each won three individual gold medals and worked as a team to win a gold medal in the optics event. The individual and team wins helped Helena High School win the state Science Olympiad competition.
Seyler won the Science Bowl for the last two years and Envirothon the last three years.
“I kind of have a monopoly on the science stuff at Helena High,” Seyler said.
Seyler is also the co-captain of his cross country team, and plays in both the wind symphony and jazz band. He is president of the National Honor Society.
After attending the National Youth Science Camp and the North American Envirothon Competition this summer, Seyler will study particle physics at MIT in the fall. He’s not sure what career he plans to pursue, but developed a passion for physics with help from his high school teachers.
“It’s the right combination of math and science,” he said. “You get to see how things work at their largest and smallest levels.”
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Seyler said he’s looking forward to meeting people in college who are interested in the same things he is and is excited to live in a city.
With his senior year in its last few days, Seyler said he was most proud of hauling a teacher’s classroom couch up Mount Helena. Because students in his AP Literature class already took the AP test, they had a more relaxed final and were supposed to hike Mt. Helena to recite something important. Seyler and a group of students hauled the couch in shifts to sit on it during their finals.
“Then we had to carry it back down, which was less fun,” he said.
Sihler will attend Montana State University in the fall as a Provost Scholar. The scholarship is one of the best offered at MSU and includes full tuition and a stipend as long as students stay in good academic standing. Sihler plans to study cell biology and neuroscience.
Sihler said she’s excited to start classes and focus in on what she wants to study, but said with help from her teachers she’s been able to better understand her interests.
While a state championship at Science Olympiad was one of Sihler’s most proud moments at Helena High School, she also participated in mock trial and is co-president of the outdoors club. She performs at Grandstreet Theatre and serves on its student advisory board.
Sihler is completing a volunteer internship this summer at Shodair Children’s Hospital, where she’s helped author a paper on genetic sequencing.
Claire Pichette, a Science Olympiad coach, said she thinks Sihler and Seyler have been successful due to their attention to detail.
“They’re both just super impressive, hard-working kids,” she said.
Pichette said she spent hours in the concession stand with Sihler and Seyler to sell hot dogs to get to state and national Science Olympiad competitions. When the hours feel long, Seyler and Sihler always have a way to make it fun, Pichette said.
“They always let everybody in on the joke. It results in team bonding,” she said. "They’re always being leaders and allowing younger kids to feel like they’re part of the program.”