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Missing Graduation : Presidential Scholar on Way to Fete in Capital

May 16, 1985|THERESA WALKER | Times Staff Writer

Kenneth Berryman, valedictorian of the La Canada High School senior class, will not be around for his commencement next month.

He has a more pressing graduation-day engagement in Washington: a White House reception for the 141 high school seniors from across the nation who were named 1985 presidential scholars.

Berryman, 17, is one of three California students named to the prestigious honor roll for academic achievement. One other California student was so honored for achievement in the fine arts.

"I'm sorry that I will have to miss my graduation," said Berryman, a straight-A student who is headed for Harvard. "But . . . I think that Washington takes precedence over my graduation."

First Honored for Academics

Berryman is the first La Canada High student to make the list based on academic accomplishments. Another La Canada High student was named a presidential scholar in the fine arts category two years ago.

The presidential scholars were picked by a 51-member commission appointed by President Reagan. The other California honorees are Aileen Chanco of Moreau High in Hayward, Christine Jolls of Los Gatos High in Los Gatos and Alan A. Wolf of Dos Pueblos High in Goleta.

Two scholars, a male and a female, are chosen from each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Another 15 are picked at large from across the country. Twenty others are selected for their achievements in the fine arts and two more are chosen from American families living abroad.

Berryman and the others will be honored June 17-21 in Washington. While there, they will receive medallions from the president at a White House reception and will watch performances of the fine arts recipients at the Kennedy Center.

They will also attend a reception at the State Department and participate in seminars with government officials, including Secretary of Education William J. Bennett.

$1,000 Scholarships

The winners will receive $1,000 scholarships from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, a private philanthropic group.

Berryman was surprised at his selection. "I thought that the odds were more or less against me," he said. "I've put in a lot of hard work, but any of the 500 finalists could have gotten the honor. I don't feel I deserve it any more than the other finalists or any of the semifinalists."

Students must score in the 99th percentile on the Scholastic Aptitude Test to be considered for the honor roll. After making the initial list of 1,500 semifinalists with his high SAT scores--780 points out of a possible 800 on both the verbal and math sections of the test--Berryman was recommended by his school counselor.

The list was whittled down to 500 finalists based on recommendations, academic activities and essays that the candidates had to write. The presidential scholars were then picked for their potential to succeed.

Clover Moffat, Berryman's counselor, said she had no trouble recommending him for what she called "the Cadillac" of all high school academic recognitions.

"He is probably the brightest young man I've had the opportunity to work with over my 20 years in high school," Moffat said. "He's the finest student I've ever counseled."

Berryman's list of school achievements testifies to his aptitude, Moffat said.

At La Canada High, he has been a National Merit Scholarship winner, an honoree of the American Academy of Achievement, a state finalist in Student Congress and top scorer in the Los Angeles County Academic Decathlon.

Many Activities

Berryman was also president of the math and French clubs at school and belonged to the California Scholarship Federation National Honorship Society and the National Forensic League, school officials said. In his sophomore year, he tutored other students in math and science.

His parents, Charles and Jo Berryman, and his brother, Christopher, a junior at La Canada High, will also attend the week's activities, family members said.

Berryman's grandparents, who live in Arlington, W.Va., had planned on flying to La Canada Flintridge for the June 20 graduation ceremony, but instead will congratulate the graduate in Washington.

"It will be a real family celebration," said Jo Berryman.

Besides family members, the presidential scholars are allowed to invite a teacher to attend the activities. Berryman has invited Fred Hansen, a math instructor at the school since it opened in 1963.

Praise for Teacher

"I had him as a teacher for four years," Berryman said of Hansen. "Of all my teachers, he certainly was the most influential. He pushed me along to the point where I'm very advanced."

Besides the honors that have been bestowed upon him, Berryman's scholarship also paid off in his acceptance by four of the top universities in the nation: Harvard, Yale, Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Berryman, who wants to be a research physicist, picked Harvard because, he said, "it's the best place for an all-around education."

But, before he heads east to the Ivy League, Berryman will spend his summer close to home--working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the orbital mechanics division. He will work on finding a new method for solving differential equations used in plotting the orbits of spacecraft.

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