(Editor’s Note: Hunter West is the son of Clay natives David West and Beth Burns West. He is the grandson of former Clay High School teacher Phillip West. This story is reprinted with permission from The Daily Independent.)
Story by Mike James
The Daily Independent
RACELAND Learning for its own sake has been part of Hunter West’s life since his preschool years, when the encyclopedia was his storybook of choice.
And now the Raceland-Worthington High School senior’s hunger for knowledge has been noticed in high places — namely, the White House.
West learned this past week he had been named a Presidential Scholar, one 161 high school seniors in the country to achieve the honor.
The United States Presidential Scholars Program, established in 1964, combs the ranks of outstanding high school seniors each year, choosing an initial slate of candidates on the basis of ACT and SAT scores.
That made West almost automatically a candidate — e aced the ACT in 2017, a feat attained by about one tenth of one percent of test-takers nationwide.
Unlike some academic honors, application is by invitation only — students are not allowed to apply on their own and may not be nominated by a school, teacher or relative.
“Hunter is possibly the most gifted student I’ve ever worked with. He has the innate ability to learn. If we don’t have the ability to teach him, he teaches himself,” said Rebecca Clere, West’s academic team coach. “This is a huge big deal, a major deal. Only 161 students in the entire United States and two from Kentucky and our little small town of Raceland produced one of them.”
Once chosen as a candidate, West completed an application process that includes background materials and an essay, all of which were vetted by a commission that chooses the scholars.
Other than a trip to Washington D.C. for a ceremony, the program doesn’t bring with it any direct benefits — no monetary award or scholarship dollars. However, West sees it as a validation of his lifelong dedication to hard work and education.
“I have worked my entire life, especially in high school, to try to succeed and be everything I can be and put my best effort into everything I do.
“To get the honor is like the last chapter in my high school career, a culmination of my high school work,” he said.
It is a learning career that started before he was even in school. West remembers the set of encyclopedias on his babysitter’s shelf during his preschool years; on days it was his turn to choose the pre-nap story, he would pull a volume off the shelf and turn to an entry he found intriguing.
In school he gravitated to mathematics and science. He joined the academic team, which “allowed me to study and learn things not conventionally part of the educational curriculum and to cram obscure science facts and math formulas into my head to excel,” he said.
“I like to stay busy. I do better when I have a lot on my plate to prioritize and work out a sequence for my internal schedule.
“I don’t do well when I don’t feel like I’m being very productive. I feel miserable when I feel like I’m wasting time.”
“I’ve had Hunter since he was in eighth grade, and watching him become a young man has been an amazing thing,” said school librarian Mary Johnson, who teaches West’s college-level English class. “He stays so busy and I’m amazed at what he can accomplish in a day.”
West and the other Presidential Scholars will travel to Washington D.C. in June to receive medallions in a ceremony and meet government officials, educators and others.
West’s mother Beth is a special education teacher at Worthington Elementary and his father David is president of Trace Creek Construction.
“They’ve taught me since I was old enough to understand the benefits of working hard and giving my best effort . . . they both set an example with their work effort and dedication,” he said.
West expects to enroll in the University of Louisville as a mechanical engineering major.