EAST HARLEM — A local high school senior was one of 141 students to be honored as a Presidential Scholar — a prestigious title recognizing the country's most distinguished students.
Javier Spivey, an 18-year-old senior at La Guardia High School, found out that he would be receiving the honor last week while he was rehearsing to play Capulet in Romeo and Juliet in Miami.
“I got there and the minute I started rehearsing I looked at my phone and saw all of these congratulatory messages,” he said. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, I think I’m a Presidential Scholar. I had to step out and call my parents.”
To become a Presidential Scholar, Spivey first had to be accepted into the National YoungArts Foundation. YoungArts nominates a handful of students to be Presidential Scholars. Then a committee, appointed by President Barack Obama, chooses from students across the country.
The National YoungArts Foundation, which boasts Viola Davis and Kerry Washington as alumni, required Spivey to perform different songs and monologues as part of the application process.
“I did a monologue from 'Freak' by John Leguizamo, who is a very, very big idol here to me," Spivey said. “Just being a Latino person in theater, it's huge. What he did, just really capitalizing on his life and his experiences saying there’s a story whether it’s the little Puerto Rican or little Dominican kid growing up — that means so much to me.”
Previously Spivey has worked with Javanna Productions, a nonprofit that puts on theatrical productions around the city and raises money for charity, and performed alongside Broadway actors at Shakespeare in the Park, he said.
“We were incredibly excited and just really proud of Javier,” said LaGuardia’s principal Dr. Lisa Mars. “It’s absolutely amazing what he has accomplished.”
While it is rare for a student at LaGuardia High School to be named a Presidential Scholar, it is not unprecedented. In 2011, another student, India Carney, received the award, also through a YoungArts nomination.
She went on to UCLA and is currently a contestant on the The Voice.
A few days after being named a Presidential Scholar, Spivey found out he got accepted into his dream school: Carnegie Mellon University’s Musical Theater Program.
In June, he will work with Emmy-award winning choreographer Debbie Allen and perform during a gala at Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center.
"It's overwhelming," he said. "It's all part of the journey. I wouldn't have gotten a Presidential Scholar if I hadn't gotten in YoungArts in the first place. Every step of the ladder has been so incredible."