When Katherine Rule walked out of her three-hour-long AP literature exam May 4, she was overwhelmed by her buzzing cellphone and a barrage of congratulatory text messages. The Cascia Hall senior, known as Gracie to friends and family, called her mom in the middle of her calculus class to find out what was going on.
“She said ‘You made it!’ and I said ‘I made what?’ and she said I made the presidential scholar,” Rule recalled. “I was so surprised.”
Rule was selected by the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars as one of 160 U.S. Presidential Scholars who were chosen out of more than 5,600 candidates.
The U.S. Presidential Scholars Program was formed in 1964 to recognize top-performing students around the country. Scholars must be invited to apply and are chosen based on academic success, school evaluations, essays, artistic excellence, community service and leadership.
Rule is the first Presidential Scholar from Cascia Hall Preparatory School since 2001.
Each year, one male high school senior and one female high school senior are chosen from each state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and American families living abroad. The U.S. Presidential Scholars Program also selects 15 at-large scholars, 20 Presidential Scholars in the Arts and 20 Presidential Scholars in Career and Technical Education.
Ryan Tom, from Chisholm High School in Enid, was also named a Presidential Scholar.
For the essays portion of the scholar application, Rule wrote a series of essays about her service and academic experiences. In one, she wrote about her time working with the Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless and the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice. In another, she detailed her work on the first part of a two-year science research project.
The project, which she presented at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair this year in Phoenix, evaluated the anticancer properties of honey and propolis, a resinous material collected by bees, and their effects on cancer cells. Rule spent 400 hours working on the project this year alone.
“I had 144 hours of lab failure,” Rule said, “but my failures through my project drove me to a better conclusion and results.”
Rule attended the conference with members of her Science Research Team, for which she served as the group’s president this year. The team comprises 12 students, from freshmen to seniors, who work on individual projects.
“I got to mentor a lot of other younger students and help them learn more about science and further their passions in science fields,” Rule said.
Sally Fenska, Rule’s AP biology teacher and research mentor, said that it’s Rule’s propensity to help others that sets her apart.
“She’s a standard setter,” Fenska said. “She sets her goals really high and encourages others to set their goals high, as well. She dreams big, and she encourages others to do the same. That’s special. To me, that defines a presidential scholar.”
Although she loves everything science, one of Rule’s biggest passions is music. In her longest essay for the scholar application, she wrote about how she had always wanted to be in a band.
“It talks about how I started off playing the piano and the cello, and I eventually realized that there are no cellos in rock bands, or there are very few, so I picked up the guitar,” Rule said.
Rule, who graduated from Cascia Hall as one of four valedictorians of her class, is headed to Vanderbilt University in the fall, and she plans to double major in molecular and cellular biology and chemical engineering. She had a few offers from other top-notch institutions, but Vanderbilt stood out to her and offered her a full ride.
“A lot of those places gave me an attitude like ‘Oh, you’re lucky to be here,’ but Vanderbilt seemed very open and accepting,” she said. “It really seemed like a place I could be at home — and I also really like Nashville.”
The U.S. Presidential Scholars Program does not provide scholarship money, but all scholars are flown to Washington, D.C., for the program’s annual awards ceremony in June.