SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — There was some extra excitement in Riley Nold’s third period chemistry class last week.
That’s when the senior at Washington High School found out he was named a 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholar — an honor only 161 high school seniors in the country receive.
“It feels good to be recognized for putting hard work in and trying to excel at my academics,” Nold told KELOLAND News. “It’s humbling to see all these other people who are doing so great around the nation.”
According to the U.S. Department of Education, a student is chosen based on “academic success, artistic and technical excellence, essays, school evaluations and transcripts, as well as evidence of community service, leadership and demonstrated commitment to high ideals.”
Nold is one of three South Dakotans chosen for the award, joining Sioux Falls Christian senior Brooklyn Kate Pater and Gregory senior Samantha Timanus. The award usually comes with an expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for a ceremony. Nold said the plan right now is a virtual ceremony but that could change.
Nold, the son of Sioux Falls School District assistant superintendent Jamie Nold, has learned to adapt to changing conditions alongside the COVID-19 pandemic. As a junior last year, Nold said it was hard to transition to online classes, noting Advanced Placement tests looked much different than what students were preparing for at the beginning of the year.
“I was very thankful to be in class for this last year of high school,” Nold said. “It made things a lot easier for communicating with teachers and being generally motivated.”
During his time at WHS, Nold said he felt “very supported” and credited his teachers for continuing to push him to take harder classes.
One of those teachers is Adam Smith, a physics teacher at WHS, who Nold nominated as his most influential teacher.
“It’s hard to take an award for teaching Riley physics because it’s probably the easiest thing in the world,” Smith said. “He generally wants to know how everything works and understand the world. He works really hard to solve interesting problems and find interesting solutions.”
Smith called Nold “curious, talented and motivated” and added he wasn’t surprised by the Presidential Scholar honor.
When he’s not focused on studies, Nold said he enjoys the outdoors, biking and hammocking.
Next year, Nold plans to attend the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. He will be getting a double major in math and physics, while aiming for a 5-year program for a Master’s degree. Eventually, he said he’d like to pursue a doctorate degree but hopes to learn about different career paths through internships and research programs.