Blue Valley North senior Jordin MacKenzie has been selected to be a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts, one of the highest honors for aspiring high school artists.
Why it matters: MacKenzie is the first student in Blue Valley district history and also the first in the state of Kansas to win a Presidential Scholar in the arts distinction.
The bigger picture: Established by an executive order in 1964, the U.S. Presidential Scholars program aims to recognize and honor some of the nation’s most distinguished graduating high school seniors.
Within the larger Presidential Scholars program are particular recognitions for students who excel in the arts and also in career and technical education fields.
Overall each year, up to 161 seniors nationwide are selected as U.S. Presidential Scholars, up to the 20 of them specifically selected for the arts.
Selection process: To be eligible for the arts nomination, students have to be accepted in the YoungArts program, a national foundation that helps artists of all ages cultivate their skills.
Once a member, the young artists then attend National YoungArts Week, where they spend their time fine-tuning their craft and also interviewing for the Presidential Scholar nomination process.
MacKenzie’s story: For MacKenzie, her passion for music first began at a young age, as musicians like Elton John and Taylor Swift inspired her love for singing.
By the age of seven, she began writing her own songs, and, by 11, she was producing her own music.
“I pretty much learned by just failing and listening to songs I loved and trying to replicate what I was hearing,” MacKenzie said.
With the help of mentors along the way, her passion for music grew into her releasing her first song while in eighth grade.
Since then, she has had some major breakthroughs with her work, including having her music featured on The CW show “Batwoman” and writing the theme song for popular podcast “Don’t Tell My Mother!”
Giving back: MacKenzie also tried to find ways to help others through her passion for music as she became older.
She, along with her sister and some friends, created a small volunteer group called Vintage Voices, that has gone to memory care facilities to sing classic songs to the residents.
“Our grandfather has Alzheimer’s, so it’s important to us to kind of help out people who struggle with that disease,” MacKenzie said. “We found that singing old songs to them reignited some things in their brain … because music really has this power to unlock those memories.”
Future plans: In the fall, MacKenzie plans to attend the University of Southern California, Thornton School of Music to study music production.
She also has plans to keep writing and producing music, including releasing her fourth extended play music album this summer under her artist name “Jo MacKenzie.”
Other recipients: A total of nine Kansas students were selected in April as semifinalists for the 2022 Presidential Scholars Program.
From that list, two other Kansas seniors besides MacKenzie were named Presidential Scholars:
- Guari Yadav, a senior at Olathe North High School
- Shekhar Kumar Gugnani, a senior at Fort Scott High School
In the past 24 years, Blue Valley North has had 11 U.S. Presidential Scholars, though MacKenzie is the first in the arts field.
Key quote: “I couldn’t believe I was selected. I just never thought that I could be that person,” MacKenzie said. “It’s hard to see yourself as that person who gets the Grammy or gets the big award, so seeing that, and getting the validation that like, wow, you won that award, it was really nice.”