Emma Clayton found out the good news while she was in a before-school class at her church.

Clayton, a senior at The ASK Academy, was scrolling through an email listing the 161 high schools seniors who were named as U.S. Presidential Scholars Wednesday and stopped when she read her own name.

“I sat in shock for a few minutes,” Clayton said. “I was selected as the female U.S. Scholar for New Mexico. I found out that I made it to the semi-finals on April 20 but did not expect to make it further.”

Clayton got some more good news Thursday when she learned that she is The ASK Academy’s valedictorian.

Clayton was named a Career and Technical Education candidate as part of the 2023 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program in March.

The Career and Technical Education candidates were nominated by their chief state school officers based on their accomplishments in career and technical education fields. Clayton was nominated by ASK Academy principal Nadyne Shimada.

“Ms. Shimada has dramatically helped me over the years, and I couldn’t have received this accomplishment without her,” Clayton said. “She was named as a distinguished teacher, and I truly believe she deserves that recognition.”

Shimada believes that Clayton also deserves her recognition.

“Emma is an extremely talented scholar who has a deep understanding of what it means to be a good human being,” Shimada said. “She is kind, nurturing, compassionate and empathetic to others.  She identifies needs, takes steps to fill those needs, and will assume leadership roles when necessary.  She embraces challenges and learns from mistakes and failures. Emma is a cheerful presence who will brighten anyone’s day.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona announced the 59th class of U.S. Presidential Scholars Wednesday, recognizing 161 high school seniors for their accomplishments in academics, the arts and career and technical education fields.

The other New Mexico scholar is Brian L. Han from Los Alamos High School.

“U.S. Presidential Scholars have always represented the future of our country and the bright promise it holds. I want each of these remarkable students to know: Your passion and intellect, pursuit of excellence, and spirit of service are exactly what our country needs,” Cardona said. “On behalf of President (Joe) Biden, I am delighted to join your family, friends and communities in celebrating your accomplishments. Aim high, share your talents and continue embracing opportunities to lead as your exciting future unfolds.”

The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars selects scholars annually based on their academic success, artistic and technical excellence, essays, school evaluations and transcripts, as well as a demonstrated commitment to community service and leadership.

Of the 3.7 million students expected to graduate from high school this year, more than 5,000 candidates qualified for the 2023 awards determined by outstanding performance on the College Board SAT or ACT exams or through nominations made by chief state school officers,  other partner recognition organizations and YoungArts, the National Foundation for the Advancement of Artists.

As directed by Presidential Executive Order, the 2023 U.S. Presidential Scholars are comprised of one young man and one young woman from each state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and U.S. families living abroad, as well as 15 chosen at-large, 20 scholars in the arts and 20 scholars in career and technical education.

Created in 1964, the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program has honored more than 8,000 of the nation’s top-performing students. The program was expanded in 1979 to recognize students who demonstrate exceptional talent in the visual, literary and performing arts. In 2015, the program was again extended to recognize students who demonstrate ability and accomplishment in career and technical education fields.

The Presidential Scholars Class of 2023 will be recognized for their outstanding achievement this summer with an online recognition program.

Clayton said her time at ASK Academy was vital to her success.

“I have been honored to attend The ASK Academy for the last seven years. It is an exceptional STEM charter school that strives to build self-directed learners through a project-based curriculum,” Clayton said. “The support and community it provides mean the world to me.”

Clayton, who will be taking her academic talents to Brigham Young University to study computer science and business, also expressed gratitude for her family.

” I would like to thank my parents, Daniel and Maria Clayton, and my siblings, Suzanne, Kimberly, Tyler and Megan, for all their love and support,” Clayton said.